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QothW: Where has your journey in clay taken you; either geographically, aesthetically, philosophically, product wise?

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Marcia asked just lately in the Question pool. .  . where has your journey in clay taken you; either geographically, aesthetically, philosophically, product wise? Otherwise to quote an ancient philosopher and I think it was a Dante,  but I may be wrong. he said literature can be interpreted : literally, metaphorically, allegorically, or metaphysically. so your answer can be in the previously mentioned categories.

This question for me has a lot of connotations. Hmmmm where to start. . . I retired in 2009, teaching art, and much of that Ceramics, helped to mold my skills, and yet limit them. I became better at most. . . doing, throwing, handbuilding, glazing, firing, and much more that I had to demonstrate. If it had to be done in the studio at the HS, I became better at it. I learned so much by demonstrating, because one of my strongest beliefs about teaching art was that you had to be able to do, and do and do. Whether you taught drawing, painting, ceramics, metalcraft, printmaking, weaving or what ever. If you didn't have a well rounded background in all of this, it limited the media you would present to the students. Imagine teaching HS students just drawing, colored pencils, watercolor, and cut paper. . . . if I were a kid I would be like. . . YECH! So the first thing that Ceramics did, was anchor me in one spot teaching, and working to improve my skills. 

However, after the first 10 years of covering the being able to demonstrate, I decided to start my own studio, sell, do shows and be more in the open. I started doing shows, and joined the Blair County Guild of Craftsmen, was president for a few years, did the Penn State Summer Arts festival, even demonstrated one year. I found after about 7 steady years of that that I could not sustain the pace of teaching all day in the Spring, making pots at night, and doing it all over for weeks on end to get ready for Summer shows. So I cut back, but kept some of the yearly orders and such.

After retirement, I have traveled a bit, and Ceramics has caused a few detours. We found a Chamber of Commerce trip to China, price for my wife and I was really reasonable. . . Shanghai and Beijing. Then I saw that there was an extra side trip you could take to pay more to Xian, to see the Terra Cotta warriors> > > SOLD!, Lately it has been trips to NCECA, something I could never take the time for before. I have met so many people, seen so many pots, demonstrations of great artists, and met some of those that I have heard about for years. Truly exciting. 

I guess I don't live and breath ceramics like many of you, but way down deep there is a place where something throbs or beats, and whenever I come near clay it is screaming at me to make something, anything, just do it.  Life is better because of it being there for me, and my wife, she knows if I'm grumpy. . . "go out to the shop, and stop moping around".

So where have you gone with clay?



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I spent the last 4+ decades traveling selling ceramics-I still do some of that.It used to be 20,000 miles a year on my show vehicle. Now its less than 5,000. this past year.

I have traveled more for diving/underwater photography  than clay in my life but I always blend some ceramics into a trip-weather it was to a clay pottery village this past winter in Cambodia or bringing home a teacup from 150 feet  deep from a shipwreck in Truk lagoon in the 80's(our Pearl Harbor for the Japanese in WWII) I did 3  dive trips trips to Truk now called chuuk in past 30 years.I tend to take ceramics as gifts when I travel and return with some as well. I brought a fire brick back from New Zealand via the Solomen  Islands diving. Hand carried that brick across the pacific. I like to find ceramics underwater  as well and figure out how old they are where they are from.Is more challenging than say a museum with labels.

I tend to find and visit fellow professional potters like myself when traveling . Its usually all on the spur of the moment.

Clay is only one of my passions and my interests are many so its not all consuming for me. I enjoy traveling without selling pots just as much and now maybe more.

Clay has been my economic engine for so long its hard to separate it from me.I always liked museums full of pots or just as happy looking at shards from long ago in the desert-its all the same really. I plan on a trip to Taiwaian and seeing the cheese pots there at the huge museum. I have been lucky enough and successful enough to give back to the ceramic world some of what I have learned and traveling has been part of that process for me. I have volunteered later in life kiln building and teaching afar for free and thats been rewarding.Just reaching one person who gets the bug I got as a high school student  would make this effort all the better for me.Thats already happened so its all gravy now.


In terms of product -I started out making what I wanted to make and using glazes I liked. I learned that what I liked only a few like so I over time make what sold well. Now I make what sells well and use colors that sell well-its not what I would have done long ago.  I love brown stoneware-the public likes that but they like brighter porcelain colors much more. I'm in this to be able to support myself well so I make what they want.Its a small price to pay to be paid to work everyday in my studio.Thats my product story.

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@ Mark: very interesting life! If you need tips for Taiwan: I am your man (ehm, well...)

As you all know, I was a piano teacher in another life. Never liked teaching much because I was always so furious when I noticed that the students didn't practice properly. Then clay came into my life. First as a therapy for my hands, than as a rescue for my soul. I am hooked and I can't imagine a life without clay anymore. I am sure I will pinch a small bowl on my deadbed.... But I am still living and want to do so until I am at least 107 years old. My journey in clay has taken me to flying again. I have fear of flying and refused to enter an airplane for more than 20 years. Then I was elected to the Advisory Board of Potters Council (now ICAN) and I was so very proud that I decided to go to the first meeting at NCECA Providence. After that it was NCECA Kansas City and after that I was flying around half of North America to make up what I missed. My journey in clay has taken me also to Asia. It started with filling in for an Austrian colleague to organize an exhibition in Korea. Later I did exhibitions in Taiwan and Japan. This year alone I was in Japan and 3x in South Korea to organize Biennales. All those implementations of Symposia and Biennales pulled me a bit away from creating clay objects myself. But I was working in my studio again the last 2 weeks and was happy as a king (well more like a queen). My journey in clay has taken me also to write articles for ceramics magazines and to having an own series called "In studio with..." in the magazine New Ceramics. All in all I think that clay rescued me in more ways than I can count, and clay is what I am staying with for the next... let me count.... 47 years!

@ Pres: thank you for this wonderful question!


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Up until recent years, my journey has been more mental than geographical. To me it has been about self-determination. I was not raised to pursue a creative career. As a kid I was a fairly typical STEM nerd, and just accepted that I would pursue engineering or medicine. Luckily I also had great art teachers in middle school and high school who sparked my interest in doing something else. (I am still friends with my middle school art teacher, who was a very young teacher back then, so our ages are not that different. She is one of those people slowly populating her kitchen with nothing but my pots.) It was tough for my parents when I announced I would be a design major. They were terrified of the "starving artist" stereotype. But in college I also found professors and classmates who didn't think I was doing anything strange. Two worlds. It took a couple of decades but my parents aren't worried about me anymore, and I think they are actually proud. 

I did not have to take any math or science in college, due to my AP exam scores. I thought my STEM days were behind me. Little did I know, I would soon become obsessed with pottery, and now all of my nerdy training in high school has been put to good use. Well, I can't say I've ever encountered any calculus in the pottery studio. But there's plenty of algebra and geometry, plus chemistry and physics. I've learned that these things that I found so uninspiring in high school are interesting subjects after all! Now that I see their practical applications. And as hard as I tried to reject them, these things are part of who I am too, inherited from my family, and I'm lucky for that. 

My favorite part of the journey is self-employment. Trying to balance my creative values wih financial responsibility and capitalism. It's a multi-dimensional puzzle that has made my life interesting every day. I treasure this the most.

In recent years, now that I am a full-time festival artist, my journey has become geographical too. I love road-tripping to far away shows. I've now gone as far as Boston and Chicago. I've learned that any city or town with a quality art festival is also a fun place to visit. The new city I'm hoping to visit in 2018 is Raleigh. Fingers crossed that there will be a weekend full of vinegar-based BBQ sauces in my near future. 

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I began art classes at the Philadelphia College of Art at age 11 in 1961 because I must have scared my family by drawing all the time so they sent me to art classes in downtown Phila. -an hour and 10 minutes commute by subway and bus.I think that would be different in today's world for a puny little girl to make that trip alone dragging a big portfolio and tool box. Often I would stay in center city for hours stashing my portfolio and tool box in a public locker in the subway station then, exploring the colonial area or free museums. I went to the same school for college and began as an industrial design major,  took an elective in ceramics and I was hooked. As students we built our own kilns, had several professors with a different one each day of the week with different assignments. Often guest artists would give presentations at the college: Wendall Castle-woodworker, Robert Arneson-father of Funk Ceramics, Rudy Staffel-ceramist, Fritz Dreisbach-glassblower..As a second year Crafts maker , official area was "dimensional design" , we took classes in wood, glass, jewelry-making and ceramics as well as design and engineering. 3rd and 4th years were much more intensely focused on the major area. In 1968, fired my first raku with Paul Soldner. After that I went to Graduate school in Southern Illinois;  took a year off worked in Boston for a while and associated with Mudflats Pottery helping design a kiln there .Then moved to Upstate N.Y.  as a resident potter/ caretaker at a religious estate,  building kiln and propane burners and establishing a pottery studio on the 50 acre estate.I got a commission for a dishes in a hippie type restaurant while there.  I returned to graduate school and got involved with diesel burner design and built a kiln for diesel fuel. Published the design in Studio Potters 2nd issue having met Peter Sabine and Gerry Williams publisher and editor of the new magazine. Moved to Phila. and established a studio while seeking teaching positions after graduating with an MFA. I was hired to teach at Eastern Montana College and needed to rebuilt 2 kilns before classes started. I replaced a very eccentric teacher who was fired for his student/teacher relationship. The male students refused to take courses from a woman..for one quarter.  The female students assisted me in building the 2 new kilns in two weeks prior to the beginning of the semester. We had a very successful pottery sale for Christmas and the male students returned to ceramics for the Winter Quarter. In 1977 I built a  Rammed Earth studio with my students at my home in Huntley , Montana and published an article about that in Ceramics Monthly.  I became a frequent visitor to the Archie Bray Foundation and would take my students there on annual excursions. In  1985-86 I had a Fulbright Research Grant to research the ethnic origins of practices  of  traditional Spanish potters. -Greek, Iberian, Moorish, Roman, Celtic. I visited 48 locations across the country sometimes visiting several potters in one town; published catalog of drawings of pottery in my host institution, a pottery museum in Agost; El Museo de Alfareria . I was on a panel at NCECA  on Cross Cultural experiences.   I published articles in Ceramics Monthly, British Archeological Reports, Crafts Magazine, and the NCECA sharing much of what I had learned during my Fulbright. During my teaching in a poor state and with rural schools, Developed courses for summer school focusing on running programs with little or no budget. We called it Primitive Pottery but that became politically incorrect. Then I called it Pottery for Montana Teachers with no Budget.  Then called it low tech ceramics. We dug clay, processed it. Had pit firings. I had numerous Native American students mostly Crow, Cheyenne and Sioux  It was very popular.Once while digging clay in the Pryor Mountains we drove to a nearby vision quest site but got surrounded by a herd of wild horses that appeared out of the mist. life changing event.  Product influence Horse images on Raku.. In 1991 I was invited to share hosting a group of Soviet Ceramic Artists from the Soviet Artist Union. I did host Vladimir Petrov  sharing him with Radcliffe in Boston. In preparation of his visit, I called to ask them to ask him if he fished. They were shocked. He had a great time in Montana. I took my students, Vladimir, and his sculptural pieces from Billings to Flagstaff and on to the NCECA conference  in Tempe. When the group reunited in Tempe, they compared their US experiences. Vladimir won and gained 5 pounds! Six months later in 1991,  I was invited to participate in the first symposium with American (ceramic) artists in Dzintari in the town of Jurmala in Latvia, shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Then  I was invited twice to month-long ceramics Symposiums in Uzbekistan in '92 and '93 followed by a Fall semester at the Banff Center in '93 and a second Fulbright to Uzbekistan for 5 months in '94 teaching and doing research at the Tashkent Institute of the Arts during a sabbatical year.. I have written about these experiences and given lectures to community groups. By the time I retired in 2000, I decided I would need a refresher/stimulus by doing a residency every few years. I began in Iceland in 2000. Then The Bray, Italy, France, Indiana, Italy again.  I really enjoy  the intimacy of a small professional group from a variety of places around the world.  So my journey has lead me to mountain studios in Spain to rural Steppes in central Euroasia. I have learned that ceramics is a common language that covers creating, throwing, decoration , loading firing kilns. I think clay people share a certain degree of humanity created by this humbling medium. I love the energy of the crowds in the hotel lobbies at NCECA where shop talk is rampant and passionate. I have learned that the journey continues even staying in one place finding contentment in the solace of the studio and the unending paths that develop there.


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Geographically-clay has taken me from digging it up as a kid in my backyard in NJ (which inspired my life-long interest in the stuff), to many exhibits and museum exposures in NY & DC, to earning a BFA in ceramics from VCU School of the Arts in VA in the ‘80s, to a pivotal anagama kiln firing in NH a few years ago, to having my own in-house studio. For a 70 YO, I have not been much of anywhere else: as an adolescent we traveled down Rt. 1 from NJ to Florida on a family vacation; in my 20’s I spent a week in the Caribbean once, the highlight of my travels; went to  SAMHSA conferences as a work requirement so that added St. Louis, Baltimore & Boston, but didn't see any pottery except in the Boston MFA; spent 2 dreadful weeks in LA searching for/trying to rescue a very ill homeless relative (eventually successful but didn't even get to a museum), and; spent a long weekend in Chicago a few years ago visiting a H.S. classmate—went to a quality craft fair-saw some great clay work. That’s about it. I do know NJ, NY, & VA -all of it- including clay venues- like the back of my hand. I have met Tiny Tim & Dave Van Ronk, Candy Darling was my friend, and I have been in Walter Cronkite’s townhouse (friends w/his daughter) if that counts for anything. I once interviewed Jenny Holzer (conceptual artist).  None of ‘em had any pottery on display...I just threw that in there to show off.  Between a limited budget and aversion to crowds I don't see NCECA in my future, but a friend in So. Carolina has invited me to tour the Seagrove community and I plan to take her up on it-after I get to go to Nova Scotia, courtesy of my sister. I hope to see some older aboriginal clay work there. 

 Aesthetically-I have an educated respect for, and enjoyment of, the usual suspects throughout the history of the craft, and the art. My own aesthetic re: clay is all over the place, mostly rough & tumble and often about those happy accidents, tho I am slowing considering becoming more refined. That being an inside job, not just what the eye & hands do, not sure how that will work out. Tacked on to my aesthetics is a commitment to "give back" or contribute pro bono to the field in some manner.  I set up the web site for the NH Potters' Guild and have donated functional smalls for non-profit fundraisers.  

Philosophically-I take the 5th.

Product-wise-the last things I made were 3-dimensional porcelain Christmas ornaments--and proud of ‘em. This year I have been experimenting/testing, making some “smalls”,  learning more about small business/marketing/website building, developing contacts, and making a few face-pressed “masks”. Next year I will focus on small trays, a line of tea light holders, catch alls, limited bowls, and desktop items (business card holders, penholders, and such). My plan is to have unique items for sale online. If my daughter is up for it, she will be handcrafting “statement” necklaces for my pendants and beads (the latter mixed with commercial beads). 

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