Old Milwaukee

I'm sitting in the B&B at Pinecroft Centre for the Arts, waiting for my shift to stoke the wood kiln. - my fellow woodfirers are either on shift, wandering the property, or making lunch. So I thought I would take this much needed, FORCED down time to catch up on some blogging that has been neglected. (Sorry, again, for being such a brutal blogger).Last month was the 48th annual NCECA conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For the third time, I flew down to the States to spend a week in a hub of clay related enthusiasm, education, celebration, and engagement. I finally got the chance to see Emily Schroeder Willis' work in person, purchase a few new pieces for my collection, and touch a LOT of pots. Some of the highlights for me included the National Juried Exhibition "Flow" that was installed at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Gallery Expo (being able to touch pots is always a highlight) and the exhibition put on by the Archie Bray Foundation.

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The week is magical, but I always leave NCECA with a mixture of emotions: inspired, motivated, depressed, frustrated, euphoric... the list continues. Experiencing such a large amount of clay work in such a small period of time is WONDERFUL in so many ways. Through looking at work up close and personal I can try to understand how they were made - what techniques of process were used, what conceptual ideas were at play. The opportunities to learn and discover are endless, helped along by the fantastic panel discussions and speakers.

For me, there is also a sadness that comes along with the territory. There are feelings of incompetence and failure, herded along by loneliness, "nobody-ness", and confusion. I leave the week with questions running through my head like a hamster on a wheel. They are cyclical, never ending:

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What do I need to do to make work of this calibre? What skills do I need to learn? What level of education is most necessary? What am I doing wrong? Or right? and How can I feel comfortable with the work I make now, at this point in my life? How can I accept that growth is a process, and a long one at that?

When I come back from NCECA I feel a little empty, and at a loss for what I SHOULD make, and where I SHOULD be taking my career. I end up spending days cleaning the studio instead of making work. I organize my glazing area, I mop and soak the tables, I stack wood and water the plants, and pace. I stand in the middle of the room, with my hands over my mouth and pace, and stare.

Yam Pancakes

I mentioned in  Kitchen: Old and New how much I love cooking, and eating. During highschool I studied in a culinary apprenticeship program - at that time I was certain I wanted to be a chef (at times I have also been "certain" that I wanted to be a surgeon, psychiatrist, model, archeologist, actress, film director, photographer etc). Though pursuing a culinary career is not in my future, I learned a lot in that program. As a child I grew up with two parents who loved to cook and there were very few nights that they weren't home. So we lucked out and had home cooked meals everyday -  however, this meant that I didn't know the first thing about making mashed potatoes, let alone a velouté or béchamel - I had never had to cook for myself. My apprenticeship taught me all of that and more. I learned a dozen ways to cook eggs, how to properly pour a glass of wine, and to love cooking with lots of butter. I think cooking school solidified the fact that I am a meat eater. I couldn't be a vegetarian to save my life. My love of food grew rapidly, and my love was not just for food in general, but for "fancy" food. I craved ornate salads with berries and nuts. I desired rich, creamy sauces garnished with herbs and carved fruit. My love of food presentation grew with my love of quality meals. Arranging a plate was like painting with flavour, texture, and colour; piling vegetables as high as possible was a challenge I delighted in. A plate's shape, the curve of a bowl, the width of a rim: these were all factors that influence the overall look of a plated dish.

I'm no chef, but I believe this part of my life may have been where my love of pottery started - even if I didn't know it then. It was definitely the beginning of my love for food, meal sharing, entertainment, hosting, and cooking.

I'm not a food blogger, but here's my dinner from a few nights ago. We had some leftover yams from yam chips the night before, so I made pancakes. I had never made them before, so I thought I'd share my revelation with you guys.

I used two yams for Jesse and I. It made three pancakes.

1. Grate yams into a bowl 2. Beat two eggs and add. 3. Add spices (in my case paprika, chipotle), salt, pepper, diced onion and garlic. (Again, not a food blogger (or a "recipe" type cook) so use your judgement and taste buds to figure how much you want to add!) 4. Mix with your hands - this is the fun part. 5. Sprinkle in flour little by little until the yam consistency just starts to hold it's shape (like cookie dough... but shredded yams). 6. Heat up coconut oil in a frying pan (Roughly 1/4" - 1/2" deep?) - you can get coconut oil by the tub at a bulk food store, for cheap. 7. When it is HOT, drop in a spoonful of yam mixture and flatten with a spoon. (You should hear crackling when you put the mixture in) 8. Flip over when browned. They are done when both sides start to look pancakey (that speckly brown look, ya know). 9. You can put your pancakes into a warm oven until they are ready to serve on a beautiful plate. Remember, half the taste is in the appearance!

photo(1)I served ours with HIGH-FAT yogurt (don't skimp on the fat, life is short), refried kidney beans, tomatoes, and sweet peppers. You could also use sour cream, salsa, or guacamole. Throw in some cilantro, parsley, and scallions and you've got yourself some Mexican yam pancakes.

I also think they would be delicious with bacon and marmalade for breakfast. With a drizzle of honey and icing sugar.

Here's my pancakes on the first plate I ever bought, made by Michael Connelly. I picked up a set of two from the Artstream Nomadic Gallery at NCECA 2012.

 

A Lot Can Change in a Year.

At this time last year, I was in my final year at Sheridan College and was preparing to spear head my first woodfiring. I had participated in three up to that point, merely showing up for a shift in the middle of the night and receiving a few finished pieces out of the deal. This firing I organized myself, chopped the majority of the wood, filled one third with my work and spent 24 hours stoking the flames. At that time I was preparing to move back in with my parents, while my partner moved to the West Coast. A lot can change in a year.

In the past year I graduated college and exhibited work in Toronto, Philadelphia, Waterloo, Hamilton and Burlington. I moved to Wiarton and worked for production potter Timothy Smith and spent the summer re-learning how to throw. I moved back in with my parents (again). I had 8 firings in 4 different wood kilns. I ran my first workshop. I went to NCECA 2013 in Houston. I bought my first and second Ron Meyers pots. I made pots in three different studio spaces. My partner moved back to Ontario.

We bought our first house.

On Friday we are joining the "homeowners club" in the quaint village of Jerseyville. Our new home is just outside of Hamilton, far enough from the city to feel like the country, and close enough to take advantage of concerts, show opportunities, and Hamilton's monthly Art Crawl. We will have our own store, studio and garden. We might get chickens. We will have our own kitchen! ... and I will have lots of wall space to display my pot collection.

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I wonder what next year will bring.

Cattle

IMG_1825This week I am in Houston, Texas for NCECA - a massive conference where clay people from all over North America flock to look at work, buy tools and equipment, listen to discussions and lectures and most of all, socialize. This is my second year attending with The Pottery Supply House (my part-time job). We are exhibiting in the resource hall along with dozens of other companies that supply/manufacture kilns, equipment, tools, glazes, literature etc. As enjoyable as a week immersed in clay-related activities and networking is, I was at the point of a nervous breakdown prior to my departure from Canada. The Gardiner show is only three weeks away and I am taking an entire week away from my clay work in order to spend some time in Texas. Bad, bad, bad. So I spent the weekend pumping out dozens of doilies while watching episodes of BBC's Blue Planet and had some much needed outdoor time. We took my parents' dog Bentley (I call him Boo) on a long hike and then went to the beach where he dug big holes in the sand and repeatedly dropped his ball in the lake.

IMG_2040Monday afternoon we were off to Houston! Not only is the temperature significantly warmer, but the immediate arrival of sunshine and plants that are GREEN were extremely comforting. We set aside our winter jackets, boots and wool socks and donned sandals, sunglasses and shorts. It's lovely here in the South.

Houston is a beautiful city! Though this concrete jungle lacks in small pubs and quaint diners, I have rarely been to a city so full of joy - the abundant stretches of lawn, bamboo stalks and palm trees reflect rays of cheer as you walk down the street. Maybe this past winter in Toronto has felt particularly long - I have never enjoyed hot, humid air so much.

IMG_1922Yesterday we went to the NCECA Biennial and the NCECA National Student Juried Exhibition as well as several other small shows in Houston's Museum District. Though not impressed overall with the work at the Biennial, the Student Exhibition was quite delightful and had many lovely pieces that provoked wonder, thought and concern. Some of my favourites belonged to Shasta Krueger and Heather Davis.

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Today after 8 hours selling at our booth, my colleague Becky and I went to Santa Fe Clay: La Mesa, where 150 potters had work set out on long tables for the public to peruse and purchase. Unfortunately all of the pieces I wanted to purchase had already been donned with little red dots - somebody else had got there first.

Thankfully, NCECA has no shortage of pots. I went up to the Gallery Expo and bought myself a plate by Ron Meyers. I've always admired his work and came very close to buying a piece of his last year, when again, I was thwarted by that red dot. So on Tuesday when we arrived I started scoping out for his pieces and found several galleries at the Expo that showed his work. I had been eyeing this plate ever since and finally mustered up the courage to add it to my collection. My wallet is hurting, but I'm not - this may have been the best purchase I've ever made.

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