Sunday, March 29, 2009

Made it to Another Spring!

The weeping cherry in the back yard is an ancient tree and here it is, blooming again! Weeping cherries are supposed to live 30 years. We've been in this house for 20 years and it was a big mature tree when we moved in, so I wouldn't be surprised if it was planted when the house was new, 40 or so years ago. When the kids were small, the weeping cherry held a large tree house and a swing. It has held countless nests and been home to squirrels, mourning doves, chickadees, woodpeckers, cardinals and more. Several years ago it started to drop limbs and the carpenter ants got to it. The children were grown and gone so the tree house came down. We considered cutting the tree down because it's so close to the house. But the woodpeckers really love it (we've even had a piliated woodpecker visit a few times!) so we thought we'd wait and see. And this wonderful tree continues to bloom every spring!

That's my studio in the back. I've been practicing a new technique for making platters and plates and really having a great time with it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Virginia Team on Design Style Guide

Design Style Guide is an online handmade home d├ęcor presentation website with a unique focus on handmade home design products, services, and events that promotes quality handmade Home Decor items to Interior Designers and Decorators and like-minded buyers. DSG has recently allowed members to form regional teams and, of course, I joined the (Made in) Virginia Team. Our team is so new that there are only 6 members, but it already promises to be a lively bunch! With me in this group are Virginians Janice Alexander from JKADesigns, Tracy Gordon from NewDominionBlues, Lisa Walker from WhimsicalXpressions, and Laura Trevey. I plan to highlight these talented artists and their Etsy shops, beginning with Lisa.

Lisa makes cards, frames and decorated glass candle holders and containers. The most delightful thing about Lisa is her secret identity: Lisa's alter ego is the Easter Bunny. She works full time for the Parks and Recreation department and has the pleasure of giving free rein to her alter ego every year and entertaining old and young alike, along with her sidekick, Taylor, who happens to be a chipmunk.
Knowning this it will come as no surprise to hear that Lisa "likes a little whimsy." She is inspired most by color as well as her family and friends. Her wonderful crafts certainly show it.

Lisa reports that the most challenging part of working in her medium has to do with reactions between her materials (such as tissue paper and mod podge used to make her candle holders), which can be very frustrating. But she has her trusty dogs, a chocolate Lab and a Sheltie, to keep her company througout it all!
Please visit Lisa's shop on Etsy, as well as the Design Style Guide site!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pushing the Limits

I already feel the Winter doldrums lifting and the creative juices beginning to flow again! Today was the first day of a 2-day workshop by Kevin Crowe that I'm taking at Manassas Clay. Kevin is a marvelous teacher who is helping push my skills to the limit so I can find my voice... and some of the pots I made today were really screaming out loud. Not that they are going to be keepers, but I can sense the possibility of a new type of energy.

I was telling my husband, Chris, about the workshop and mentioned that Kevin has asked us to bring an inspirational pot and a poem for tomorrow's class. This lead us to reading together some of the poems that Chris wrote as a young man and to a wide-ranging discussion of art, creativity, meditation, and life in general.

Sometimes inspiration is sitting right across the kitchen table and we've been wearing too many Winter coats to notice it's warmth. I can sense Spring just around the corner!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


My grandson's school is having a silent auction fundraiser. I told my daughter that I would donate some pottery. My intention was to donate several important pieces so that, together, they would make a significant enough contribution to the school. Today I found out that the organizers of the silent auction declined my offer of support. "They said they don't want housewares, Mom. They said that you could give them a couple of matching mugs for them to put in a pricey coffee basket." I was thinking of giving them some of my best pieces. I wonder who these people are who reject offers of support when they are out hat-in-hand? The person who rejected my work has never seen it. She rejected it because it was handmade or, as she said, "we don't want any homemade stuff." As if I were sitting at my dining-room table rolling out clay snakes and making ashtrays. I am speechless.

I am grateful for the great potters of the Etsy Mud Team who rallied to my support when I reported this and told them I was a bit down in the dumps about it. Please support the potters of the Etsy Mud Team and check out their work at Etsy Mud Team Catalog.

Oh, and about Jacob's school... please support it as well. Kingsbury Day School is a wonderful school for children with learning disabilities and Jacob has flourished there.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Making Pots...

An article in today’s issue of The Washington Post describing the “Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form Clay” exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art notes that people are increasingly taking up knitting and pot-throwing. It attributes to Nicholas Bell, a curator at the Renwick Gallery, the notion that this is a “reaction against the time we now spend working with ephemeral digital signals, rather than a sign of new things we’ve found to say with the hand-wrought.” Knitting a sweater might serve as an antidote to staring at a computer screen all day, but according to Bell, chances are that the sweater will look “an awful lot like another 100,000 sweaters that will have been made.”

This got me thinking about why it is that I make pots that look “an awful lot like another 100,000 pots that have been made.” In the past, I have agreed with Bell and held that my reason for making pots is to achieve a connection with others that I find lacking in today’s impersonal world. And, indeed, it is a special treat to see people ponder and handle different pieces until they settle on the one that calls their name. There are other more personal connections, like the 15 commemorative pitchers that I made for a group of Army spouses whose husbands were being transferred. They wanted to have something that they would use regularly and that would remind them of each other and their time together at Ft. Belvoir in Northern Virginia. Or, finally, the cereal bowl I made for my husband, inscribed with lines from one of the poems he wrote as a young man.

However, while connections (as well as the ego boost of people liking my pottery enough to spend their hard-earned money on it) are nice, the fact is that I am mostly an introvert, not someone that would be described as “craving to establish connections.” I am glad that my pieces find a buying public because otherwise I would be drowning in pots (my family and friends, long ago having decided that I’ve gifted them enough pottery, are wondering when I am going to actually buy them birthday presents!).

So, why do I continue making pots that look like 100,000 other pots? And, what is it that I have to “say”?

I think that it’s the process of making that I crave and that this is something intrinsic not just to humans but to all kinds of other animals. There is the bower bird who adorns its nest with bits of foil and other such “jewels,” for example. And I once read about a study of chimpanzees who were given clay and other materials such as feathers, beads and paint. The chimpanzees spontaneously made “art.” That is, they shaped the clay and decorated it for no purpose other than the “doing,” the joy of making. But if it’s about the making for me, why pottery? Why not something else?

I like the solitude, the aloneness in the studio, just me and my thoughts. Time standing stills; time rushing backwards to the land of memories and rushing forward to the land of hopes and dreams. It is the soothing meditation of the wheel going around. It is the growing and shaping of the clay between my hands, sometimes seemingly all by itself, other times requiring all my strength and concentration to get the lump of clay to take shape. It’s the physical aspect of it, the prodding and cajoling. It’s the learning anew how to make a pot every time I sit at the wheel as well as the way my hands seem to remember how to make pots. It’s the experimenting with new ideas. The continuous and inescapable changes of the clay from mud to stone: the malleability, the fragility and the hardiness of the pieces as they go through the cycle of lump of clay, bone-dry greenware and fired stoneware pot. Each pot is a bit like my own life, a lump of clay molded by people and events; a fragile, too tender being at times on the brink of shattering into dust; and the stone-hard woman who continues to endure despite all the cracks.

No, I don’t think of myself as a ceramist (artist), but rather a potter (craftsperson), enthralled by the muddy, mucky task of living. And, what is it that I have to say with my pots? Simply, I am!