“Recognizing how influential art is for defining culture, we believe it’s critical to support equitable access to the arts, especially for the young minds whose creativity, imagination and capacity for self-expression shapes the future of our world” – buonaforma
It’s a home-grown business, an entrepreneurial exercise, a ceramics lesson, a multi-sided collaboration, a technology eye-opener and a new arts angle. And if you follow the arts in and around Teton County, Wyoming, and frequent Instagram, you’ll no doubt have been introduced to three lively little ceramic forms.
Frank hails from a family deeply embedded in Jackson’s philanthropic and artistic communities. His parents, Don and Maryellen Frank, have been socially and politically active in our region, establishing thriving businesses. Painter Lee Carlman Riddell and her husband, photographer Edward Riddell, are his aunt and uncle. Another uncle, Len Carlman, is a well-known environmentalist and attorney. Aunt Susan Carlman is an artist and musician.
You could say the family shares a sense of purpose.
So it’s no surprise that Peter Frank, who graduates with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Denver’s Computer Science Department in just a few weeks, is a self-starter with heart. When tasked with creating a business model he immediately gravitated to his fascination with the emerging technology of 3D printing.
“The essential idea of bringing these forms to life using high-value materials sprang from my recent immersion with 3-D printing,” explains Frank. “So last summer, when I first purchased my printers, I started printing small sculptural forms depicting wildlife, and we very soon began selling those right here in Jackson.
“The most surprising thing about working with Peter is that I had no idea how far he was going to take his ideas and all the info I gave him about clay.” ~ Jenny Dowd
Frank began teaching himself about the capabilities of 3D printing simply by jumping into the project. Adding to his knowledge daily, he worked the printer’s technology, modeling and designing functions to see how far he could go. Sharing his creations with colleagues, friends and businesses, he received a lot of feedback—critique that’s daunting for many creatives, but only served to fuel Frank’s determination to find the right formula. His first printing material was plastic.
“When I was back in school, I started hearing that ‘these were really interesting, but the plastic material is not very exciting,’ laughs Frank. “Most materials are nicer and more eco-friendly than plastic. So the question became how we could incorporate a higher grade material and still take advantage of what 3D printing has to offer. There’s a kind of disconnect. For high-budget corporations already on the edge of technology, not only is it doable to print in materials like, say, glass—you can do extraordinary things. So there was the question of where the interface, the niche, comes in.”
Up until this project Frank knew virtually nothing about ceramics, and he couldn’t find anyone doing the kind of process he envisioned: printing a finished ceramic piece directly from a computer-printer. Teaching him a little more about ceramics is where local ceramicists Jenny and Sam Dowd of Dowd House Studios came in.
“The most surprising thing about working with Peter is that I had no idea how far he was going to take his ideas and all the info I gave him about clay,” says Jenny Dowd. “We gave him a crash course in the basics of working with clay, and you could just see his wheels turning. He saw possibilities he hadn’t expected, and we were surprised about the possibilities of 3D printing with ceramic resin. It’s been so exciting to see how he takes what he has learned from clay and adapts it to his ideas.”
“We’d just started some prints and the material wasn’t really working very well—we had a lot to learn about glazing and firing temperature; there were infinite things about ceramics that were out of my scope. We pivoted to slip casting, and Sam and Jenny have been key in teaching us how to slip cast properly, teaching us all the small steps that lead up to something like our custom finishes,” Frank recalls. “They even loaned us a kiln that’s in our garage right now! This is amazing, because we can work much more quickly—it’s a slow process and every little bit helps. It takes about 14 hours to test the printer and get a result. And it takes anywhere from a day to a week to design something to be printed, depending on how complex it is. Our ultimate goal is to be printing directly in ceramics or metal or glass, pieces with much higher value. And because we can do this in-house, we have a lot of diversity in what we are able to offer. We plan to do limited edition runs of original designs.”
All together, it can take up to four days just to change a single variable in the process, one tiny design tweak. The Dowds, adds Frank, are going to create their own limited edition of the three buonaforma vessels, a bisque-fired set.
How does Frank tell the computer what to print?
“Great question! It’s a multi-step process, of course. A 3D modeling software design program, Fusion 360, allows you to create your model and save it as a 3D printable file. Once you’ve designed the model, it’s imported into a ‘slicer,’ which basically interprets the model we have created and prepares it for printing. Imagine slicing one of our vessels into a huge number of tiny slivers—you’d see something similar to the rings inside a tree trunk. The computer reads those slices, and it builds the form one slice at a time. The computer actually speaks the language of the form, the model; and figures out how to print it.”
While buonaforma’s technology is fascinating, it’s the artistry and awareness of making positive social impact that drives Frank and his team. Buonaforma translated from the Italian means “good form.” Doing good is a core value of the company. The company sponsors organizations engaging in positive social impact . Each of their designs benefits a different non-profit that has in one way or another influenced the company itself. One percent of sales from each piece is donated to an organization matched up with that particular work.
They encourage us to eat healthy (kale smoothies), practice mindfulness, read, explore, be good to our neighbors and generally find our own path to enlightenment.
“Dawn embodies the new beginnings of a sustainable future by incorporating simplicity into everyday life,” states buonaforma. Its proceeds benefit the Children and Nature Network, an organization “working to ensure safe and equitable access to the outdoors for all.” Ignite, a shape conjuring up the vision of a flame, symbolizes our passion for learning and has a mission to bring equal educational opportunity to all children. Its proceeds benefit FIRST, a non-profit “inspiring young people to be leaders and innovators in science and technology.” Finally, Morph “recognizes the rapidly evolving world around us and signifies our passion to create change for good.” Its sales help benefit the notable arts non-profit, Americans for the Arts.
The debut of a collection of studio photographs has evolved into a takeover of Instagram and what feels like a newly hatched culture. These playful little vases have developed personalities. They’re friends, and they want to be your friend. They encourage us to eat healthy (kale smoothies), practice mindfulness, read, explore, be good to our neighbors and generally find our own path to enlightenment.
Dawn, Morph and Ignite do have their own personalities, says Frank. They play off each other because they all spring from the same place.
“The original story of our designs, what we call freestyle design, began with all sorts of inspirations and events that are personal to us. We’ve spent countless hours experimenting with shapes. You’ll notice that these three share their base shape, they have the same design curve,” says Frank. “Our design sessions consist of imagining and working a shape and all the possible variations on it we can dream up. We’re kicking off with these three because they allow flexibility to really play….we can pick and choose our favorites! We have a V-shape we’re working on that may become a new piece.”
Buonaforma certainly feels launched; even so, Frank says he’s still working towards an official embarkation for his company. And in order to build awareness, buonaforma is already offering a way to win one of their limited edition vases or wine glasses. You’ll get a chance to win by entering your email address at www.buonaforma.com/gift .
Ceramicist Sam Dowd is impressed by Frank’s rate of progress. He’s fast-forwarded his comprehension of glazing and surfaces that experienced potters rely on, says Dowd. He’d love to see Frank experiment with scale and explore projects in functional sculpture.
“With Peter’s background in mechanical engineering, his budding interest in ceramics and his creative energy, it’s going to be exciting to see where he takes these projects,” says Dowd. “Collaboration is a lesson we can all learn from.”