Erma Duncan - founder
An edited portion of an original article published in Ceramics Magazine, September 1982
ERMA DUNCAN, Pioneer of Hobby Ceramics…
Women go everywhere and do everything now, up to and including training as astronauts and being seated as a Supreme Court Justice. Their achievements are not lessened by recognition of the fact that the pioneering efforts of previous generations of women have made their way easier. One such pioneer is Erma Duncan, founder of Duncan Enterprises [now called iLoveToCreate].
Ceramics didn’t exist as a hobby when Erma Duncan began making her first ceramics more than 40 years ago. The glazes and underglazes then available were intended for factory mass production of finished ware, kilns were primitive and unreliable, and an independent ceramics artist had to deal with innumerable problems, such as incompatible clay bodies
Erma didn’t set out to be a pioneer. Like all artists of vision, she wanted to create her own beautiful concepts in the medium of her choice. In the process of discovering solutions that raised ceramics to a leisure art form that amateurs could enjoy, Erma encountered so many requests for instruction in her hobby that she began teaching at home, and later founded Duncan Enterprises. Her efforts were ably and aided by her husband, Lee, and her sons, Bob and Dick, and the guiding principal of the Duncan family enterprise was that reliable quality products could and should be made available to hobbyist.
We are proud to salute Erma Duncan, pioneer of hobby ceramics.
(The following is Erma’s story in her own words, captured in 1982)
"It wasn’t hobby ceramics when I started, just ceramics, and factory ceramics at that. I heard about ceramics from a cousin in Los Angeles. I went to Los Angeles by train and took three lessons from a factory worker. I made my first piece…a bowl that I modeled by hand and cut out in a pierced-work design. It had a crackled glaze and was very nice for a first effort. The clays were cruder than the ceramic slip available today and there were no studios and no colors for hobbyists. No one knew anything about ceramics except for the finished ware manufacturers who wouldn’t share their knowledge with anyone. Everything was considered to be a trade secret. Underglazes were just powdered colors that had to be mixed and glazes had to be made from frit. Kilns were clumsy and unreliable. I had to work out everything for myself."
"I’ve always been a painter. My mother’s hobby was china painting and I learned that and watercolor painting from her. As a young girl, before I married, I gave china painting and watercolor lessons in several of the small towns around Fresno. After I’d learned how to cope with the difficulties, I sold finished ware to Fresno stores and gave people lessons. But the actual business started in our studio on Blackstone Avenue. All of the techniques we use today in Duncan’s magazine are the result of those early trial-and-error davys. Lace draping is one of the most dramatic of all decorating techniques. Cotton lace and fabrics can be draped, even gathered with a needle and cotton thread. The new synthetics won’t work, of course, because they melt. Only natural fibers leave a memory in the clay. The big differences are the development of brushes for every decorating purpose and easy-to-use Underglazes. With the correct brush, even a beginner can quickly learn to decorate in a professional manner. My son, Dick, developed the first non-settling glazes. Duncan was the first to make homogenized, suspended glazes that wouldn’t settle. Before then, it was so difficult to glaze that we used to dip pieces for customers because their brushed-on results were so poor. Our first product that we sold was press molds. Other studio owners who saw them wanted to sell them to their customers. That was the start of our Duncan Distributors. After that, we set up distributors all over the United States."