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.

IMG_5515

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:

IMG_5542

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.

Jump to the Left

It's been a while since my last post, almost a month actually. I have had such good intentions of blogging (I REALLY HAVE!) but life keeps getting in the way, and not always in the best of ways. The recent developments in the Jerseyville General Store have been both physically and mentally exhausting. I am still trying to wrap my head around the serious repairs that need to be done before we can move forward in some areas of the building (ie. the workspace/store). The safety of a potter and her partner are priority, and for the worrisome (like myself) cause for stress and unravelling emotions.

Still, we putter on. My studio has recently done the Time Warp and taken a jump to the left (or rather, several jumps..) in order to proceed with the repairs mentioned above. I've also had to refrain from putting up my shelving, which results in constantly covered tables, especially after a full day of making. Last night I weighed out glaze on the floor, and I currently have ware boards of pots balancing on chairs and windowsills. My disorganized semi-studio is an accurate reflection of my brain these days.

IMG_5584

 

The silver lining is that I'm making pots, if but slowly.

 

A Philosophical Rant

I finally made it back to the studio today, after a four week hiatus. With the holidays and shows, plus a full-time job and several dates with my mom to sort out the crawlspace, I have had very little time to put towards making pots. It has been a depressing four weeks. Today, I finally had a day off and started the morning throwing mugs. I haven't thrown in what feels like AGES, and, because my studio is temporary, I never got around to setting my wheel up the way I would like. I can't get comfortable - I always feel too high or too low. My legs start to ache (not a good sign) and my back tingles. Once we move and I set up the new studio, I may try throwing while standing up. I have taken a break to drink some tea and while the kettle was boiling I thought "I haven't blogged in a while". So here I am.

Earlier this week I gave a workshop on behalf of the Pottery Supply House to a collection of teachers from the Halton District School Board. They have recently banned silica in all of their schools, and so PSH developed a silica free clay body for them to use. My workshop was to introduce the new clay to the teachers, show them some basic techniques they could use in their classroom, go over common tools, how to glaze and decorate, how to load/unload their kilns, and finally, how to use a kiln sitter and computer control to fire the work. All in under two hours.

This was my first workshop, ever. I spent weeks leading up to it playing with the new clay, putting together sample projects and making sure I had examples of each project in its various stages. I am a comfortable public speaker, but I've never taught anyone about clay before (unless you count Jesse, who mostly listens to me ramble and picks up tidbits of information over time). The idea of teaching 30 teachers was strange, and daunting.

I loved it though. Not only did I get to encourage using clay in elementary/secondary schools, but I also learned  several things that night:

1. How to talk about what my hands are doing  - this sounds much easier than it is. When you become so familiar with a task, you don't always think about exactly where you are putting pressure, or how much, or how thick the wall actually is (because, of course, they wanted a measurement and "thin" won't cut it).

2. How to work and talk at the same time - I've always wondered how Tony could carry on a humorous conversation while throwing giant jugs and intricate mugs. Man, it's hard. I can barely work while people are looking at me, let alone during a  discussion on my philosophy of "visual interest".

3. How to answer questions and entertain

and most importantly

4. YOU ARE NOT AN EXPERT

After having to answer so many questions that I wanted to read up on later, I truly felt like I still had so much to learn. This was a humbling point.

I've never thought that I was an expert (I am a babe in the ceramic industry) but I did think I knew a lot.. I went to school right? That should count for something. But, in reality, I have years and years ahead of me of experiences to be had. I've only taught one workshop, to (virtually) non-ceramic folks. I still have a lot to learn.

However (here's where the philosophical bit comes in), I don't think that anyone can ever be an "expert". The world is a big place, it holds a lot of people, and a lot of stuff. There are books written on EVERYTHING, you can look ANYTHING up on the internet and there is SO MUCH of it. There is just too much, to be an expert.

On countless trips to the West coast I heard discussions about Ontarians (or "Easterners") and how "wrong" their ideals were. Wanting to have a big house and a fancy car was the wrong way to approach life. Those Ontarians were selfish and thought they were the center of the universe. And Toronto?! Who would want to live in that city, where it's too noisy and stinky, and everyone is miserable?

And locally I've heard discussions about "them hippies" and the single moms in the townhouse complexes. Those pot smoking, free-love, long haired freaky people, and the low-income families with "too many children they can't afford". They're lazy, and our tax dollars are only supporting their lack of motivation. They think they can get by in life without a REAL job?

Too many people think that they are an expert. That they know something that everyone else in the world is oblivious to. But really, the only thing we're an expert on is ourselves. We've all had different experiences, we've lived in different homes, encountered different people, and had varying financial situations. We know NOTHING about the people we judge.

Even in a work industry, I don't believe that anybody really "knows it all". Sure, there are people who have mastered certain techniques and are well educated, hell some people even have a PhD in clay. There are people (like my co-worker Jon) who are encyclopedias of ceramic materials and processes. There are excellent throwers and skilled handbuilders, there are wood-firing "gurus" and raku celebrities. But I can't believe that there is nothing left for them to learn. There will always be SOMETHING for all of us to learn.

I think it's about time we face that, and look forward to learning something new. The world is a big place.

Sudur-Tingeyjarsysla, Iceland

Rant of the day, over.

Emily Schroeder Willis

esw2 What about her? .... I love her work. ADORE even.

What do I love most about it? The pinch-ey finger marks? The voluptuous curves?  Luscious glaze? The overall whimsy and delicacy? I don't know - I can't choose. There are SO MANY qualitites that I am over-the-moon in awe of. The hard truth is that she makes excellent work, and I wish my work were as excellent. These pots are the essence of my love for pottery.

I miss making pinch pots and coil pots. I have spent a lot of time throwing over the past few months, in an attempt to build inventory for shows and sales. But the fact is, I miss manipulating clay without tools. I miss throwing slabs around, I miss attaching parts - designing and building. I especially miss holding a ball of clay and seeing what I can make from it, with only the methodical movement of my fingers (and maybe a scoring tool).

esw1

Please visit Emily Schroeder Willis' website and fall in with her work yourself. Warning: Drool .. it might happen.

Follow the Signs

I have stopped making pots for a few weeks and have instead been pricing, tidying and decorating for show season. I even mopped my studio  (my lungs are delighted). To top off the winter-cheer it snowed last night, just in time for my annual holiday sale and open house this coming Saturday November 30.

The party starts at 10am and the early bird gets the worm - the earlier you come, the more pots there will be to choose from. There will lots of lovely functional art for everybody on your holiday list, and all sorts of snacks to enjoy while you shop! Come by between 10-5 to check out some great work, and shop handmade this holiday season. Look for the painted signs!

sign

postcard_template_us