Learning to Look: Jury and Crit Groups


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….