Holding the Pose

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There are hundreds of poses that we hold each time we make something by hand, from beating egg whites to a soft peak with an egg whip and a copper bowl, to trimming the foot on a wet clay bowl with a favorite Dolan trimming tool.  These poses become meditations, positions that we hold over and over again, hundreds and thousands of times in our lives, and can be moments of pause, relaxation, meditation, or moments of strength and power, locking into the habit with strong intention.

At best, these positions of familiarity are moments that I can relax into, recognizing that I have been here before, and that each time I make these moves, I am the same person, and I am a different person.

Years ago, Jack Troy and I spoke about making things, and how some folks tend towards the Guppies version of production, and others towards the Elephants.  The Elephants produce one offspring at a time, and the incubation rate is quite long and slow.  The Guppies produce many, many offspring, do it often, and even eat some of them to survive themselves (akin to recycling of my own work?).  While I don’t think that I’m consistently on one end or the other of this spectrum, probably most often towards the middle, the realization of how familiar these hand positions have become points closer to Guppies than to Elephants.

Yet every time, the bowls are a little different. Siblings of their current batch, cousins to the ones who came before.  We are always changing and growing, taking in new ideas and influences.  Thank goodness.

But my hands….my hands and shoulders and core muscles remember, and relax, revisiting again and again the left hand fingers barely touching the rim, the right pinkie finding the balance, the left thumb connecting both hands, and my eyes in soft focus.

Learning to Look: Jury and Crit Groups

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Crit Group: meeting to look, listen, and speak

Sometimes we are asked to come to the table not just with the work we are making in our studios, but with our eyes, our minds, and our hearts.  This past week, I was honored to take part in two jury sessions, one for the Over the Mountain Studio Tour, and the other for North Mountain Residency.

I adore these invitations.  As I work with other artists and makers to thoughtfully consider work that is often new to me, I find my mind expanding, considering new possibilities, other forms of expression, and am left a better person for it.

The Over the Mountain Studio Tour juries every February, and looks for local artists and makers who may be a good fit with existing members, from diversity of work to abilities to contribute to the putting-on-of-the-tour.  Applicants tend to be traditional, often craft related, but the word is out that we are encouraging new directions, contemporary work, and an open definition of what making in a studio may mean to new makers.

North Mountain Residency offers 12 individuals an opportunity to spend 3 weeks on a rural property that includes woodland and orchard, sharing a group house with private rooms and studios, and shared kitchen and living space.  Three-at-a-time, residents live and work together, focused on their individual projects, but also on intentionally building community.  Their values are exciting and progressive, and their applicants reflect their values.

Being exposed to this broad spectrum of creativity is an injection into the flow of creative juices, a call to action, a gallery visit.  Each and every applicant highlights their blooming practice, and I am humbled by their willingness to share their work and themselves.  I am changed.

To cap off the week, my regular crit group met. We are 5 artists who meet regularly, bringing new work to each meeting, and putting it out there for comment and contemplation.  While the process may be similar to the jury process, crit groups form a deep relationship. I know my group’s work more than any other artists in my community.  I see the challenges and changes, see work change from one session to another, and see themes carry through work. I also see new ideas and directions spring out of seemingly nowhere.  This I love, too.

Most intriguing to me is that while I may have comments for each of these groups that may or may not prove insightful or useful to the artist or organization, when I pay attention to my thoughts and comments about others’ work, I see that those reflections are important insights into where I am at this moment.  This paying attention is what moves my work forward, both in the studio, and in my communities.

 

 

Cleaning House:

While it may be windy and cold outside, the inside of the studio is getting warm again after a winter hiking hiatus.  Days spent with Black Vultures soaring over Antietam Battlefield hills, Muskrats dodging around the trunks of Box Elder trees and human detritus in Antietam Creek, and even the occasional passing pair of Mergansers coasting inches over the water, fade to inspiration as days transition back into the studio.

March 1, my traditional spring studio return date, was calm and sunny.  There were tasks awaiting, like firing off a hearty set of ceramic drawing pastel pencils made from mason stains and local materials, in hopes of adding the mark of my hand to my work in a new way.  These pastel pencils are hand-made, hand-rolled, and meant to capture gesture with a flair of color that is inspired by this winter’s wanderings, and encouraged by the many painters, botanical illustrators, and colored pencil artists that I am lucky to know and call friends.

Surprisingly, this year is my 10th year in this studio, this little woodland property here in WV.  To gently commemorate the year, I decided to clean and sort all of the tools, from the daily regulars to the deep-storage boxes under the working table. (Perhaps the first time in 10 years!) With an eye to handmade and unique pieces, and of course the regular work horses front-and-center, there is fresh energy and inspiration (and less clutter) awaiting next week’s foray into wet clay, again, as a true sign of spring.

And, of course, there are the gems of work already made that have caught my eye this winter, propelling me towards the next body of work to come out of the studio in 2018.  The turquoise ash glaze has been close all winter, and holds its own as we transition to warmer weather.  My mind is all over the place this year, from hand-fitting functional stoneware to riotous sculptures speaking to color and motion.  As usual, I can only imagine what will come of it all, what will become in the studio, and what will remain inspiration for the future.  It’s going to be a good year, and I look forward to sharing it with you….

 

Good Deeds, or Getting Things Into Hands

Update:  Two items are left: the L&L Econokiln K18, and the slipware collection…..

Pottery equipment that is just sitting around not being used always seems like a great opportunity to me, and I can’t resist lending a hand to get unused things into hands that want to use them.  Cool Springs Preserve, formerly Craftworks at Cool Springs, has a mixed-bag of equipment and supplies that they would like to sell and re-home, and that’s where I come in.

Contact me if you are interested in any of these things, and we can talk. The idea is to sell them to help finance programming, as they were donated as resources to a non-profit arts organization, and while Cool Springs Preserve does quite a bit of art, they are not becoming a ceramics studio…so perhaps you are, or know someone who is interested?  All prices are OBO….Pass it on:

Kiln #1:  L&L, Model J236 w/ Heavy Duty Elements (c10), External Control Tower, Dawson Model LT3 Kiln Sitter, 4 rings, 4 half shelves, 2 full shelves  ($200)

Kiln #2: L&L Econokiln, Model K-18, 2 rings, Dawson Model K Kiln Sitter,  Extra lid and floor, 3 full shelves  ($100)

Kiln #3: Test Kiln: Paragon Model E13, Dawson Model  LT3 Kiln Sitter ($50)

Sure Vent for Electric Kiln: Dayton 4C446, with duct hose and connectors ($50)

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Plaster Wedging Table:   27×27” table top, 32” tall, cutting wire ($25)

Brent Wheel: CX 1HP (old), Metal splash pan and plastic splash pan, 2 plywood batts and  Batt pins ($100)

Giffin Grip ($25)

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Underglazes: tub, mixed lot, must take all ($25)

Overglaze: C04, Amaco and Campbell clear dipping glaze, 2 containers, less than 2 gallons ($25)

Kiln Wash, Amaco, for electric kiln shelves (make offer)

Cones: box, mixed lot, must take all (make offer)

Stilts: box, mixed lot (suitable for small kiln, not large), must take all (make offer)

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Slipware: mixed lot, must take all: Serving bowls, dinner bowls, pitchers, pasta bowls, plates round and square, Kids plates, and bathroom sink (make offer)

Tile Cutter: 12” manual (make offer)

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Creating Containers: the process of wood firing kilns

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Wood firing crew at Joy Bridy Pottery, October 2017.

Twice a year, a small group of curious and hard working friends gather to fire my wood fired kiln for three days, round the clock.  It’s a holiday, retreat, vision quest, sacrament, ritual, work party…and quintessential process in the life of a wood firing ceramist.  We build these kilns that we can’t fire alone, and then we create a different kind of vessel.  Not a soup bowl or tea pitcher, but the more abstract and slippery container of community: the kiln firing crew.

Ursula Le Guin’s essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” has been on my mind lately.  In it, she describes the difference between the story of the hero (with a knife, sword, long spikey thing of choice) who tells the exciting story of winning, and the story of the container (gathering, holding, sharing) that tells the story of living.

  “If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it’s useful, edible, or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and then next day you probably do much the same again–if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all. Fully, freely, gladly, for the first time.”  -Le Guin

Wood firing is a creative act in so many ways, and no aspect is more abstract than the creating of this vessel, this firing weekend, that holds all of the participants within, allowing for their moods and preferences, strengths and weaknesses, to be.  We all show up as we are, get to know each other a bit deeper, cherish each other and the process, take care of ourselves and each other, live in rhythm of food and sleep, finish with a flourish, close the gate behind us, and go back to our daily being.  Definitely a ‘carrier bag’ experience.

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As the kiln cools, rain falls, Nina Simone sings her things in my ear, my thoughts meander around the significance of creating this community vessel of a firing experience.  It’s an art form, an honor, and a continually evolving experience that I could never do by myself.  Thank you to the crew of October 2017 for filling the vessel, and all of the crews that I have had the honor and privilege to create the vessel with in the past.  May there be many more.

Impermanence: Sculptures of Native Clay and Weathered Trees

Could You House Your Being Here?

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Rivers Gallery, June 30-August 11

Artist Talk: June 30, 5:30pm

Opening Reception: June 30, 6-8pm

“Native clay, weathered trees, my fingers and thumbs, and a continually evolving sense of animal-ness bring these works into being, the slow concentration of time spent wandering the rivers and ridges of these Appalachian foothills, condensed from hours, days, weeks, months and years of living in this place.   Connecting with our natural environment on a daily basis, the subtle yet pervasive details of this ecosystem, the seasonal cycle of plants and animal life that continue, often as oblivious of us as we are of them, infiltrate my imagination, bringing to life what I imagine to be my own animal habits, patterns and marks, my indigenous touch.

Cutting down dying trees, picking out limbs that already have a whispering voice, a hollow interior space and edges that have healed over time, watching wood weather, waiting for the stage that is still solid, but leaning into the inevitable fact that we will all return to the earth.

Digging clay from among rocks and roots, separating out for the smooth and ochre rich fine particles, soaking it down in an old bathtub with rainwater, laying it out to stiffen up, and aging it in bags for 18 months until it is elastic and lively.

I invite you to consider these materials and their deeply natural footprint.  They are solid and real: stable as long as they are kept out of the elements, and impermanent, simply returning to the ground as clay and carbon when they are allowed to reintegrate with their natural, dynamic environment.  As are we all.”

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“Could you house your being in this space, or is this the body, where we keep our sensitive spirit and heart, our pulsing organs and wildly running mind? Explore through the senses of another creature, find a small spot on the internal rim to curl up, to find comfort.  Accept the challenge to be closer to nature, to embrace unprocessed, un-purchased materials, and to find aesthetic value in something natural.”

 

Community Ware / Community Connecting

Sometimes the making comes from the urge to get a new and personal idea down, to advance a form in a new direction, to bring a surface to life in a specific and inspired way.  Other times, the making comes from the intention to be an engaged community member, and to do it in the way that I can contribute best…by making good pots.

This intention does not always come easy, but by not compromising on my skills and interests, I find that there can be a wonderful balance of true community utility (mugs and vases and race medallions that get the job done), and artistic expression and satisfaction, (taking the time to fit the form to the situation, and making sure that I love what I am agreeing to make).

This year’s Community Wares have taken me in a few new directions….one is the 25th Anniversary commemorative mug for Shepherdstown Farmers Market.  The form was an intentional choice, as it is not only an historic form, but also one of the earliest forms found in pottery, across cultures.  There is always something that has the ‘arms up’ form, as I call it: a slightly bulbous vessel towards the base that ends at the top in the shape that we make if we raise our arms over our heads in pure joy.  There was no other form to even consider.  (smile)

The images and writings on the surface of Community Ware bring a different kind of focus and pleasure…one of slowly writing and drawing, noticing and encouraging the slight variations of the hand.  From Middleway Days written in my own script, to the Mellow Moods or Sustainable Solutions logos, the process of interpreting the design, writing in liquid wax with a bamboo brush, rubbing away the surrounding clay with water and sponge (wax erosion), and glazing with a glaze that I formulated to break on the newly exposed edges continually amazes me when the kiln lid is lifted and the design is there, both recognizable and my hand’s interpretation.

Medallions are becoming more important in the studio (thank you, race organizers, for working with local makers!), and the process that I am working to hone, little by little, is also ancient.  It involves making a ‘positive’ of the medallion, just a little larger, carved by hand.  The second step is to fire the positive, make a set of press molds (clay pressed around the piece, then released), and fire them to a low temperature.  Thirdly, I make the actual medallions hand-pressing small balls of clay into the molds, over and over again, pop them out, let them dry a bit, hand finish and poke a hole, add my studio stamp…..you get the idea.  Many steps, each and every one of them done in the same way since the beginning of humans making things with clay.

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So, I owe my community a heartfelt Thank You, for the opportunities to make things that matter to you, for the gift of being part of our community in the way that I know best.  For being greeted with a smile, and introduced as ‘the potter’ or ‘the one who made that mug that you love.’  For the children who tell me that they wear their medallion to school.  You make it worth the effort, each and every little ball of clay.