Friday, March 8, 2013

A conundrum...

as defined by Webster's is 'a confusing or difficult problem'.  I guess this is where I find myself, and where I will start this blog post.  For you see, I have just had surgery on my voice box and am left silent, at least for the short term.  The medical issues surrounding me are perplexing, and without getting into too many details (at least not just yet, maybe later in another post as I learn more and see how things unfold), suffice it to say that I am approaching my studio work differently than before.  And here is where I wish to begin...

I have always stated that artists, and for those of us that are potters, should 'touch clay every day'.  Now I realize this is hampered by many circumstances that deny our ability to complete the task of touching clay every day.  But you know what I mean, I hope, when I say this as it is meant to imply that we should be in contact with our work daily, in some capacity.  I prefer it to be in the studio of course, but sometimes it is in writing, travel, conversation, reading, teaching, etc., all of which, for me at least, helps support my claim of 'touching clay every day'.   But the real claim, in times like these, when you are consumed with a personal issue that distracts ones thoughts so much, is to find your way back to the studio, despite the distractions.  Health issues are the ones that come to mind, for where are we without our health, and especially good health.  The distractions are mind-boggling, especially when they are your own.

I like to often say that 'no one gets out of this life alive', but the reality of that is comforted when you think you will have a million tomorrows.  How is it for those who know they won't?  What do you do then, and how do you prioritize your life?   My brother Ken, a Catholic priest, tells me no one should ever think of tomorrow that way since God does not give us tomorrow, only today.  Yesterday is gone and not to be changed, tomorrow may never arrive, so living for today is the only thing one can really count on.  Sounds good, but still... Now,  don't get me wrong here, I am not planning to leave anytime soon, at least if I have anything to say about it.  But still, a health issue that sidelines you like no other can certainly give you pause for thought.  I have been medically tested over the past four moths enough to make me feel like a lab rat.  And a couple of minor surgeries later (yes, minor, at least that is what I claim them to be since I did not have to stay overnight, even though I know better) I am still hoping for something that makes me feel more confident about the many tomorrows I plan to have.  So, about this art making thing...

I have mentioned before how I find courage in those artists who can work through difficult times, be it, health, war, emotions, persecution, or any such thing that would make going into the studio a challenge.  Sure, art can be the thing we use to vent these feelings and express where we are with it all, but really, it is not all that easy. Still takes courage.  So my challenge, is to walk those steps to my studio and find my voice, that has now been temporarily made silent through speech, within the work I make with my hands.  What do I want to say in clay, and how is it different from what I might say with words?  And after all, shouldn't they really be the same voice?  If not, why is one saying one thing while the other is saying something else? Maybe the courage I am seeking is not so much to physically walk to the studio as much as it is to confront the ideas I need to say that reside in my being, yet denied out through my hands?  How to make your work your voice, when you really do not have one?  Courage...and a lot of making of things, good and bad, that come from deep within yourself.  It can be done, and hopefully within the lifetime we are given. One day at a time.

To be consistent with offering an image or two, (I guess this is something I am committed to if indeed I am posting about work-in-progress, even if now I am looking at it more as life-in-progress...hmmm, a new title?).  Here are some stacking bowls I have been working on, early in development, but fun to do.  Sort of a diversion, so let's see where they go...and another of some slip cast vessels that I see as a wall installation.  I'll need about 50 to have the idea complete.  Working to stay focused...!

Monday, March 4, 2013

NC Potter's Conference

...a break from my studio work having just returned home from a weekend in North Carolina as an invited speaker (on the Pottery of the Ecuadorian Amazon), I am pleased to send in this report on the conference and the folks I met there. Beginning with a huge note of thanks to the organizers of the conference from the Randolph Arts Center (Director Derrick Sides, and potters Bruce Gholson and Samantha Henneke).

What a great conference, and equally great group of potters! Now in its 26th year, it was a healthy gathering of clay enthusiasts that welcomed everyone. The keynote lecture by Andrew Glasgow was fabulous, paying tribute to the long history of clay work in the state, and highlighting the importance of utilitarian pottery and how it serves to be part of a family history. A great speaker who delivered his message with passion, and demonstrated his love for the region, clay and its makers.

The demonstrators, Peter Beasecker, Julia Galloway and Tara Wilson did a superb job 'on stage', seemingly effortless in creating forms that were alive, creative and simply fantastic. The audience peppered them with relevant questions about their work, our field, and a sundry of other related issues that spurred on a lively dialogue between the demonstrators and their audience. I was mesmorized at times as I watched them work and listened to their thoughts on any issue that came up. Peter's thoughtful approach to clay, Julia's entertaining and inventive ways of working, and Tara's creative problem solving and ingenious approach to functional forms were a delight to see in action. What a great group of potters!

Face pots from the Pottery Center Museum in Seagrove

kiln junk yard

The last day's lectures by Peter Chartrand from Potter's for Peace, myself on the Pottery of the Amazon and Noah Scalin on creativity (and what a great talk he gave on the subject) all rounded out a three day event that went so well that by the time I left I felt so very comfortable in a new place surrounded by new friends.  This conference takes place every year (for the past 26) and while it is designed for NC potters, I would recommend it for anyone wishing to make the trek to NC and join in.  They typically have a strong selection of demonstrators and presenters, so you can count on next year's event to continue in that tradition.

Lastly, I was able to get over to Seagrove (the historic pottery community) and to visit the home of Dwight Holland (the man behind the development of the Potter's Conference).  The Seagrove area is fabulous in how it supports so many potters (I think they claim about 75).  It is weird to drive along and feel like you are in the 'yellow pages' under 'pottery'.  Every turn there is another sign on the road advertising the next pottery shop, and kiln stacks pop up here and there.  Not sure what it would be like to live in such a place, but being surrounded by folks with the same interests would certainly have its advantages (and dis-advantages too, I suppose?).  But it was sure fun to see it all, and from the ones I visited, it was time well spent.

As for Dwight Holland and his incredible collection of pottery, what can I say!  Forget the fact that he is a wonderful person to know, the one-on-one visit I had with him to view his collection was a pure delight.  I felt privileged to spend some time with him in his home, and to see his collection of ceramic pieces representing a who's who of contemporary ceramics.  He was so generous in allowing me to pick up any piece I wanted, and he knew about each and every one of them.  They are all precious for him, as they are for anyone of us who care deeply about contemporary ceramics.  And his collection is not limited to potters in the U.S. as he has numerous pieces from well known potters far and wide.  I think he told me he has about 2,000 pieces in all...amazing!  Again, a true delight, and it is no surprise to hear people in NC speak of Dwight with such admiration and respect.  A real treasure for NC, and beyond!

Anyway, a few images here to see, and now, I hope to get back in the studio real soon and turn my attention to the things I have stewing in my head and hands!

Ben Owen's kiln yard


Very large storage jar
Jugtown kiln yard