A series I am working on for Artists of Hawaii 2013 consists of five hand-sculpted, small Keraflex porcelain boxes. Titled Debris Contained, the boxes and their contents are echoes of my large mixed-media installation Hung Out to Die. That installation consists of three tulle sacks containing life-size ceramic-doll body parts and baseballs, suspended from a six-foot-high, brushed-steel rack. The concept of play and toys was used for inspiration, along with a play on the words “Hung Out to Dry,” to illustrate metaphorical remnants of broken lives, broken toys, and unfulfilled promise, whether from man-made or natural disasters.

The five miniature boxes of Debris Contained echo the large installation in content, yet they are diametric opposites in scale and containment—the soft tulle bundles have morphed into hard porcelain boxes. As in Hung Out to Die, the boxes and their contents are metaphorical remnants of broken lives, broken toys, and unfulfilled promise.

The work is so painstaking; it has taken quite a bit of time to get the project together, along with the other things I do. In the photo I am working on a small leg and making the toenails on the little foot. I have to use magnifying glasses to see what I’m doing. It takes at least two to three hours to sculpt one small body part. Three sets of body parts are off to my side ready for the first firing. The figures in the top row, to my left in the photo, are being used for models. They belong to one of the completed boxes and already have been fired, which is why they are slightly smaller because of the shrinkage occurring with the porcelain at high temperatures.

Each porcelain box contains identical, unassembled, hand-sculpted white porcelain miniature doll body parts, a clothlike ragdoll, and undecorated, tiny ceramic baseballs randomly placed within. The toy baseballs provide a contemporary note, while the ghostly rag dolls again add a macabre touch. Dolls and toys are intrinsic to mankind; children have always had toys large and small. These anthropomorphic white ragdolls and doll body parts along with the contemporary baseballs signify a union of the past, present and future.

Keraflex is the trade name for a special kind of paper-thin porcelain that is somewhat difficult to work with. All five Keraflex boxes have been made and high-fired to Cone 10 in an electric kiln.

In addition, the miniature body parts and baseballs for two of the boxes have been sculpted and fired to Cone 11, so they are complete. I’ve been working steadily to finish making the body parts and baseballs for the remaining three boxes in order to bisque fire them, and then high-fire them at Cone 11 in an electric kiln.


Artists of Hawai‘i opens Sept. 19. Roberta Griffith is one of 11 artists currently working on a body of work for this biennial exhibition.