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A humbling experience


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#1 Pres

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 10:00 AM

I left home on Thursday afternoon excited to be going to my first pottery conference. The slate of professionals demonstrating had a mix of veteran potters with younger established potters. I had high hopes of returning home rejuvenated as the winter freezes are almost over here in PA. Eight and a half hrs. later I was getting a room and settling in for the night as it was past 10pm. Next morning with the GPS to guide me I showed up at the Randolph Arts Guild to be directed to the conference at the First Baptist Church. The church had a large meeting hall that I walked into seeing a stage of 3 potters with large flat screen TV's behind. To my left was John Glick, center was Cynthia Bringle, with Jack Troy directly in front-what a hand to draw to! They demonstrated all morning while bandying back and forth with good humor, and Jack read several thought provoking poems about life and clay. Three very different styles of functional pottery, varied techniques for surface treatment, and firing. To watch these individuals together was marvelous. After an excellent lunch, we had Ronan Perterson, Martha Grover, and Jake Johnson on stage. These three were also in very different in technique from the flowing organic porcelain forms of Martha's, to Ronans utilitarian colorful earthenware, and Jake's organic functional stoneware. Each had their own style, their own philosophy about clay, and their own personal voice. Wonderful interplay on stage, as they demonstrated throwing of forms, Martha throwing "bottomless", Jake pinching forms off of the hump, and Ronan with broad measured rims. They spoke back and forth about what was important to them with the forms they were making, and interjected tidbits about family life and life as a potter. The day ended with an excellent meal, and back to the room to bed.

Next morning the venue was reversed ending with the veterans, as they trimmed pots they had made, decorated forms, and talked about their work. We had more poems from Jack, more philosophy about sales and pottery from Cynthia and John. In the morning the youngsters assembled and trimmed. Martha assembled a multi-spouted bud vase with pulled dogbone handles. Ronan cut the bottoms out of pots and distorted them adding new bases, while Jake assembled a teapot and made salt and pepper sets. The day had been exciting, insightful, and very humbling. I began to wonder if what I was doing was even worth pursuing, and so I left the last session conflicted as I headed to dinner. After dinner was to be a trip out to Dwight Holland's house. The way I was feeling, I almost didn't go, but decided to anyway, after all I had traveled Eight hours, maybe never to come this way again.

The trip to Dwight's house was quite something. GPS will travel works well if you have the right address all the time. Alas I didn't have the right address so I went back to the The Exchange where dinner had been to get better directions, and finally made it. Walking up to the house in the dark the first thing I saw was a large elk rack hanging off the wall, hmmm. Inside the door to the right, I was suddenly breathless, there on the walls, on shelves 2-3 deep, on the floor were pots-pots everywhere. I felt almost claustrophobic, the walls wanting to close in on me. So many fine pieces of pottery in one place, and as I turned to look across into the room further, crowded with conversing people, I saw more pots, casseroles here, pitchers, floor vases, jars, everything imaginable. Deep breathes later I started to gather my poise, and looked closer. We had been told by Dwight to pick pots up, feel them, enjoy them; I dared not. So I looked, working my way across the room. At one point looking at a shelf full of casseroles and bowls " Any of these seems familiar" Jack Troy asked. I had seen them before, in pictures, black and white and color, but here they were. I was told Jack yes they were familiar. He asked me about a piece on the end " who did this one" I couldn't answer him, it looked like salt glazing, but I was so uncertain of anything I answered "I don't know". "Warren Mackenzie" was his answer. We discussed things a short time ending with look and learn from Jack. I felt shamed, that I couldn't place pieces I had taught about without my notes! Had I not known anything, was what I had done for so many years just a shadow of what I should have could have done? These thoughts were with me as I went from room to room, looking all through the house, every room had its shelves of pottery every room priceless in the gathering of the history of 20th century ceramics, and the windows other pots gave on ceramics through the ages. Thousands of pots all in one home! I finally lifted some of the pots, felt them, learned form them, looked more closely at them once I got over the overwhelmed feeling I had when I walked into the house. I also learned a few things too. The size, the colors, the textures, the scope of what these pots were in person were not anywhere near what we saw in books and magazines. Nor was the understanding of the pieces the same when seen as in a museum, as it was when touched, felt with closed eyes, and enjoyed by being right there to do so. I also realized, that part of my inability to identify the Warren Mackenzie or others on the table was that I had only seen them in books or magazines, my understanding of these pots had been flawed all along.

Don't wait like I did until you are in your later years to go to a ceramics conference! Get out, take the time to see the wonderful people out there working in person, get a chance to see good pots up close. Live a little!

I also wish that when you post pots in the forum, or in the galleries that you will give some reference as to size. Seeing a Robin Hopper vase that stands 20" tall when your perceptions from books may say 14" gives you an inaccurate understanding of the piece. Not important you say? Let me approach it like this. We all know The Picnic on the Grass by Seurat. We know that it is a large pointillist work. So what. I had thought that I knew it also, until I saw it in Chicago years ago. I walked a room, turned a corner and there it was between two large doorways. It sublimated the walls, the room and everything in it. The control it had of the space due to is size, its color, the glowing vibrancy of the the small dots interacting with each other had a power beyond any understanding from a book. The sheer size was breathtaking. I finally understood the Picnic on the Grass. so post some reference to size in your work pictures, or show them in context to something we know as size. We as artists have always had to photograph our work to show the work and only the work for shows, but does that show the casual viewer everything they need to know; I think not.

After I got home, I walked out to the shop the next day, and looked at some mugs I had made before leaving, handling them, looking them, and breathing quietly. I realized in the end, that maybe I should continue on, I had some orders to do, some thoughts about pots I could pursue. I'll muddle through. . .

Simply retired teacher, not dead, living the dream. on and on and. . . . on. . . .                                                                                 http://picworkspottery.blogspot.com/


#2 JBaymore

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 10:50 AM

Nice piece of writing, Prez. Posted Image

best,

..............john
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#3 Chris Campbell

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 11:31 AM

I got the opportunity to meet Prez at the conference and it was fun to talk with him ... SO glad you did not pass on Dwight's!! I have posted images from the conference in the Potters Council area under 'Why Pottery'.

The key to Dwight's pottery collection is that he wants you to touch them. He wants you to put your fingers in the exact spot the potter did. He leaves out every pot he owns. He has donated his collection to East Carolina University on the condition that they are never sold and that the students can always touch them ... the grad students can even take them to the studio with them.
Below are some images of his pots and one of Dwight with his newest acquisition ... needed a pick up truck and some helpers!!

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#4 TJR

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 11:54 AM

Prez;
Beautiful, inspirational writing. We all need to see great work now and then to get inspired. It is always good to question what you do at some point as well.I have been feeling a bit low as I moved my studio and it is in a shambles. My 14 year old daughter said;"Dad, when are you going to start making pots again?"I guess I needed to be inspired as well. I am sealing the floor, so have moved everything to one half of the studio. I looked at my wedging table sitting there, and it is calling to me.
Regards,TJR.

#5 Stephen Robison

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 02:55 PM

Wow what a great conference. What a great way to get lubricated for NCECA. When I lived in NC it was such a great treasure for the NC Clay Conference to happen. Every year it was one at least one student would come back to me with great stories and buckets full of information for their peers. ECU is getting quite the collection. That will add to their already excellent clay program!!
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#6 Pres

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 03:54 PM

I got the opportunity to meet Prez at the conference and it was fun to talk with him ... SO glad you did not pass on Dwight's!! I have posted images from the conference in the Potters Council area under 'Why Pottery'.

The key to Dwight's pottery collection is that he wants you to touch them. He wants you to put your fingers in the exact spot the potter did. He leaves out every pot he owns. He has donated his collection to East Carolina University on the condition that they are never sold and that the students can always touch them ... the grad students can even take them to the studio with them.
Below are some images of his pots and one of Dwight with his newest acquisition ... needed a pick up truck and some helpers!!


Good to talk with you also Chris. I talked with so many people over the weekend, but will probably not remember all of the names. It was nice to be among clay lovers. Thanks to everyone, and their kind comments.

Pres

Simply retired teacher, not dead, living the dream. on and on and. . . . on. . . .                                                                                 http://picworkspottery.blogspot.com/


#7 phill

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 07:40 PM

wow thanks for sharing! i loved reading it, and it reminded me of my recent visit to the Pucker gallery out in boston! they let you pick up their $40,000 pots without blinking an eye. crazy! i got to fondle pots by a few hamadas, phil rogers, brother thomas, randy johnston, ken matsuzaki, and a couple others whom i am not familiar with. it was great! i was so inspired and learned so much! a lot of shoji hamadas pots were very heavy, which was encouraging to me. seems like he wasn't as concerned as the US tends to be with how light pots "must" be.

#8 JBaymore

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Posted 07 March 2012 - 08:40 AM

a lot of shoji hamadas pots were very heavy, which was encouraging to me. seems like he wasn't as concerned as the US tends to be with how light pots "must" be.


Having worked with the Mashiko natural clay........ it is easy to understand the functional production aspects of the thicker wall sections. Plus "folk pottery" in Japan was traditionally not typically a thin ware. It all "fits". Not any "lack of skill" there.

Yes, the Pucker Gallery is a treasure. They are always supportive of visiting ceramists. We frequently have our students visit there and they are always very generous of their time and expertise. They always have a fabulous collection available to experience. (Hey... buy something there occasionally too.)

best,

.............john
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Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

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