September 2009 Archives

anatomy lesson

Two weeks ago I fractured my tibia while walking two dogs. One of the dogs had run off on the scent of something and when I called him back he came running full tilt and ran directly into my knee. The collision knocked me down and I knew that I could not walk. I told the dogs to get my husband, but they had not seen enough Lassie episodes to understand. They licked my face. I scooted on my butt closer to the house until he could hear my calls for help. A trip to the emergency room refreshed my understanding of anatomy. The tibia is the big bone in the lower leg. Now I am on crutches for eight weeks.

morandi-coffe-maine-2009.jpg By nature I am a multi-tasker  But navigating on crutches has taught me I have to slow down and be a uni-tasker. I cannot carry things when I walk, so I draw what is in front of me. I can't put any weight on my right foot, so for the moment, I have let go of clay work. My drawing keeps my mind engaged with what I see in the use of pots and what I dream of making when I get back to the studio.


"I'm a painter," says the sculptor June Leaf, "but sculpture is my anatomy lesson."


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cup-box-map-2860.jpgFor an artist traveling through different landscapes it is like pausing to reorient the compass. Suddenly, the terrain and the assumptions of how the light moves across my vision shifts into a fresh arrangement. The change in daylight and my desire to document  and translate it through my hand is undeniable. Over the years I have kept journals as I have lived and traveled through France, New York City, Maryland, Mexico, Japan, Korea, Italy, Virginia, and Maine. I don't invent landscape, but work from what is in front of me. I distill the grasses outside of my Virginia studio window into brushwork on plates. The horizon line in Maine is transformed into lines on square plates. The geography of the Maryland clay mine is physically integrated into new shapes. Revisiting an island off the coast of Maine for the last twenty years reorients my compass on an annual basis. The isolation and retreat from the normal interruptions of life serve as a compass, clock, and kaleidoscope all rolled into one. As the twist of the barrel reorients color, Maine grounds my soul with cold water and solid time for reading, writing, and painting.

Stancills-16x76.jpgThe exhibit northeastsouthwest opened last night in The Plains, Virginia at Zigzag Gallery. Both Warren Frederick and I have work in the show. Warren's photos are beautiful reminders of varied geography of Stancill's clay mine.  I have two cup boxes (one shown above) and two artist books created in Maine. The exhibition of cartographic, geographically-oriented, and explorer-bound art includes a total 19 artists both local and from around the globe who move through space to collect place. The exhibition is open from Thursday, September, 10  to Sunday, October 4, 2009.

risk and certainty

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cw-text-plate.jpgI realize that part of why I like writing on the computer is that I am certain it can be read. I have the luxury of spell-check and the potentially rich pool of web resources. I can quote and link with the click of a finger. When I write by hand it is fast and a direct link to my mind, but it is illegible for most. My handwriting is a form of hieroglyphic chicken scratch. It holds the risk of misspelling and incomplete letters. My loopy shorthand, substituting for the careful penmanship that I was taught in third grade, is perhaps the purest form of irregular communication.

Cwhite loose bowl.jpgI have started teaching two classes in the last few weeks that are at either end of a spectrum. One is an introduction to the potter's wheel and the other is a graduate class called asymmetrical wheel. In the beginning class I am teaching about structure and the students are hoping for the certainty of a useful small bowl. In the other, I am asking them to take risks, to step outside of the habits of their usual modes of work. In both cases I have asked the students to think about why they want to make things by hand.

Contemplating this semester's curricula, I have reread David Pye's 1960's thoughts on the nature of workmanship of risk versus certainty. At any stage of making things an artist shifts back and forth between the two poles of the workmanship: that of risk and that of certainty. The range of the spectrum goes from free to regulated depending on how we use our tools and hands and skill. In my asymmetrical class I have asked the students to let go of the idea of centering in order to throw. I have asked them to slow down and respond to the clay to change their expectations and bring their experience to the clay  as if they were rank beginners.

koie_bowl.jpgDuring class I was reminded of meeting Koie Rjoji in Iowa in 2004. Koie has a way with both clay and tools that produces work with wonderful freshness and physical energy. Whether Koie was throwing on a traditional kick wheel or an electric wheel he had an organic sensitivity to the use of tools and clay. He brings a material thinking to the clay that is intuitive, tactile and asymmetrical. He approaches clay that others might find unusable and finds stimulation and solutions in the way one might find inspiration from a very difficult individual.

kuroda bowls.jpgTaizo Kuroda on the other hand manages to use the forces of clay, centrifugal force and gravity to convey the freshness of touch and a distilled view of pottery form.  As I revisit my own work and the work of artists that have provided inspiration, it seems whether we come from a modernist sense of design or an organic attraction to material there is still room to explore experimental paths of pottery, to find an intriguing balance between risk and certainty.