Sunday, October 23, 2011

Potting Frenzy for UMC prep

Come check out my latest pottery this November!

United Maine Craftsmen Show

at the Augusta Civic Center
November 12-13, 2011
(Link to show info)
click on the Augusta Show "details" for more info.

Cobscook Pottery & Fiber Arts Annual Holiday Sale
November 18-20, 2011
Lubec, Maine
pottery, sculpture, weaving, jewelry
(Fri. 3:00-7:00, Sat. 10:00-5:00, Sun. 12:00-4:00)
Refreshments, holiday cheer, raffle, ready-to-gift packaging!

Serving bowls, honey pots, and rice bowls waiting to be bisque fired.

A hodge podge of bisqueware awaiting glaze.
(sake bottles, rice bowls, tea bowls, tumblers)

Bello, our beautiful 14-pound feline elder.

We long for these moments...sweet, soft, purring, napping Bouli. This is NOT how we usually see her, though!!!! Quiet moments are rare. She is usually 100% feisty-ness..... tearing up the house, breaking things, and tormenting Bello!

No Bouli, you are not being knighted by King Bello.
He is merely reminding you who is really in charge in this house.

Furry pantaloon-clad Bouli chases-down Bello and presents to him her best sumo-wrestling moves.

Bouli walking across greenware platters, moving toward the newly thrown fragile wet vases.....
Nothing is safe in the pottery cave when she is around!

It has been about five weeks of potting frenzy in prep for the United Maine Craftsmen show. Lest a few mug handles and trimming of three vases/lids, I have completed the heavy-duty chore of hours-on-end of wet work. Against all seasoned-potter advice, I worked at the wheel for ten hour stretches to meet goal. My list of "to-do" was much longer but yesterday I finally had to throw in the towel and tell myself that I need to step back from the production work and move the focus more fully into my sculpture. The next three weeks will still be full of mega amounts of glazing and a firing schedule like no other in the past with three more bisque loads and up to eight glaze fires. The glazing, though tedious, is not as physical as the potting and is less brain-work. I will be able to walk away from the glazing table for long stretches and not worry about losing a piece. When creating the wet work, I need to adhere to the clay's drying schedule: add a handle or trim at just-the-right-time. The forming part of the process is picky and certain steps must be completed at precise moments or else the piece is lost.

All this pottery is not only for the United Maine Craftsmen show in Augusta, but also for my annual open-studio holiday sale here in Lubec. I normally hold that sale the weekend of veteran's day, but due to the UMC show in Augusta, I bumped it back a week to November 18-20. That's two major back-to-back selling events that I need adequate inventory for.

Between teaching, my MFA work, and the pottery production, I have not had spare time. The work schedule begins upon waking and ends when supper and bedtime are near. When I get home from my teaching job at school, I change into pottery duds and head into the "cave".

Pottery is one of those jobs that does not fall within an eight hour day or 5-day a week work schedule. When relied upon as an income, it's serious business. The schedule ebbs and flows with the seasons. Spring is for summer prep, then summer is extremely hectic with tourist season, and autumn is busy with holiday sales prep. The "down-time", if such a thing exists, is January and February.

I sometimes think people have a hard time understanding that pottery is work, and rather, think of what I do as more of a hobby. There is this stereotype romantic version of potters who are back-to-the-earth hippies playing with mud in a very relaxed nonchalant sort of manner. My studio time is not that image. It is a job for me, and though I love that I am able to work with my hands with a material that I connect so fully with, there are parts of the process that I wouldn't mind skipping. I don't like reclaiming clay and wedging, nor do I enjoy glazing, cleaning the studio, or making mug handles. I DO LOVE throwing at the wheel, handbuilding, carving, and trimming. But add to my "dislike list" dealing with taxes, insurance, supply orders, and anything related to paperwork. I am a one-woman-business playing all the roles: designer, fabricator, marketer, bookkeeper, delivery person, maintenance, inventory, and janitorial specialist.

All said and done, I am so grateful that pottery is a skill that I have. I am able to do something that is such a part of my heart and soul and share it with others. I can think of no better job than one that is built around my passion and slightly neurotic obsession with clay.

I think back often to when I first started blogging. I made the statement that I would never be a production potter. Such irony that I am now doing that on a small-scale level. I didn't think that I would enjoy production work, but I am discovering that I really do enjoy it. There is this satisfaction that I feel when I see multiples of an item lining the shelves. I watched a squirrel storing nuts a while back and thought that I am like that squirrel. I feel a sense of safety, and accomplishment, when I see that there are plenty of bowls or mini vases. I am like the bear, too, preparing in advance for my winter hibernation. There is lots to be done before the snow flies!

There is not much else to report. I have been nose to the grindstone with deadlines all around me and it is crucial, for the moment, that I remain focused. I am still feeling my way around being a part-time teacher and relying more heavily on my job as a potter. MFA semester is in full swing and I need to be ready for end-of-semester presentations in December and must also keep focused on that. Everything that I am doing now lays the groundwork for where I will be down the road on this incredible life journey. It is a head-spinning time with all the multi-tasking, but it is all meaningful.

On the homefront, it is cat-mania. Bello had a rough spell a while back. He seemed to be severely depressed, losing weight, showing some physical symptoms of unhealthiness. He was hissing and growling at me and seeming despondent. Bouli's presence has turned his world upside down. Until her arrival, he had all of my attention. I have started spending special alone-time with him most nights in his "safe-space" out of Bouli's reach. Bello is starting to return to his old self again and is starting to stand up for himself more. Bouli likes to chase him and tries to play, but he usually wants nothing to do with her. He is starting to jump in my lap again, cow Bouli down off the bed once in a while, and in general is trying to reclaim his time as King Kitty. Until recently, he would run away from Bouli growling and begging to be let outside. The past couple weeks, though, he stands his ground, growls at her, and she most times will walk away after a few attempts to pounce at him. I am still holding out for them to be best pals at some point.

Sunny Sunday - and I am heading down into the dark cave. I have eight tankard handles to attach, and three vases to trim with adorned lids. After that- I switch into cognitive mode and work up sketches for a new sculpture. I have been seeing images in minds-eye that intrigue me though I haven't been able to put concept with them beyond the form that is calling to me. Will see what happenes. Sometimes I just need to jump in and create....and do the figuring-out later on.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Art-filled weekend in Kennebunk

Painter Richard Brown Lethem in his studio.

Richard Brown Lethem painting a portrait of Roberta Cantlon during Lubec Arts Alive, 2009

Bruce Iverson demonstrates painting an "Enso" during our
weekend seminar at Heartwood College of Art
Hmmmm...It looked so easy when he did it!

I practiced and practiced the "Enso"....
never thought I would have such a difficult time trying to paint a circle!!!!

When the workshop ended, I had a whole pile of attempted sumi painting.

Heartwood College of Art's (Amazing!) MFA Pioneer pod.
Megan, Shanna, Stephanie, Carol, Sherry, and Bonnie
Photo by Stephanie Lind

I just returned from a few days out of town that were filled with amazing people and art. I am now into my fourth semester of the part-time, low rez MFA program at Heartwood College of Art and this past weekend was our seminar. We only get on campus as a whole "pod" once a semester. That time, though short, is brimming with philosophical conversation, constructive critiques, book discussions, and concentrated immersion in an art form. The days are long but always meaningful.

The drive to Kennebunk is a good six hours from Lubec. I try to make the most of my time by squeezing in quick visits with family and there is usually a long list of errands to run as well for items that are not normally attainable in our neck of the woods. With my new teaching schedule this year, I was able to take a more leisurely pace, which meant that I could to slip-in a one hour (not long enough!) visit to Richard Brown Lethem's studio before the commencement of residency on Friday.

Brown lives less than a half hour from campus, so the logistics were perfect. I had never been to his studio before but had been wanting to for the past three years. I first Met him when he came to Lubec in 2009 as a representative UMVA artist who took residence here for our first ever Lubec Arts Alive event. I had seen what Brown could do in the way of portraiture and had peered at his work online, but I had no idea how prolific an artist he is until I saw his studio firsthand. He toured me through a large barn with rooms divided throughout. Each room was stacked with more than fifty years of paintings catalogued by date. The size of each canvas was not diminished by the vast space of the two-floor building. Instead, they fit just perfectly on the large open walls in the main bay. The side areas, perhaps once stalls, were walled-off for stacked painting storage and a smaller gallery-type room. A second, smaller barn houses Lethem's carpentry workshop where he makes his own frames and an upstairs large and brightly colored painting studio. It was an honor to see his recent work in progress, and to hear first-hand telling that he is focused primarily on beginning with a color field then superimposing the images that reveal the stories. Lethem's hues are bold and the strokes highly expressionistic. Faces are distorted and animals show up in dream-like scenes. It's sort of like Chagall meets Dali meets De Kooning, but with lots of layers and texture.

I hope that over the course of my life as an artist that I will be so blessed to be at least half as productive and passionate as Lethem. It was a real privilege for me to be able to view his work in his personal studio with him as the tour guide. Thanks, Brown!

Arrival at Heartwood began with laughter and potluck as our pod reunited for the first time since last March. We have a new pod-mate who is just starting her first semester and happily she is a perfect fit. Friday night is when we begin the critiques of current projects. Our pod is diverse in a few ways but that diversity brings richness to our experiences. Our ages span many years and we travel from Maine, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Our specialty areas vary from graphic arts/printmaking, to glasswork, ceramics, metals, and fiber arts. We are teachers, travelers, gallery owners, and museum workers. We have lived interesting lives with interesting stories and each individual person in our group brings something unique to the whole.

Saturday was an intense, full day of immersion in Chinese calligraphy and sumi brush painting. our instructor made it look so simple, but as soon as I made my first mark I realized the high degree of technical ability and centering required to make something appear so simple and elegant when in truth it is very difficult to achieve that appearance. In Chinese calligraphy and sumi brush painting, there are many "rules" such as the direction a line takes, the amount of pressure the brush meets the paper with, and even the way a brush is to be held in the hand. I think the awkward positioning of the brush really threw me off. After eight hours of making symbols, circles (enso) and bamboo, I was fairly certain that I would not be adding "sumi" to my list of artistic conquerings. I will leave that to the masters. However, I will admit, that the next day the paintings started to look better to me. But any sumi expert would clearly notice that my "deer horns" need much work, and the bamboo stalks and leaves for that matter, too. Bruce was a wonderful teacher and exuded much patience. Our group can be a wee bit feisty at times, but he managed us just fine.

Sunday is the last day of residency and is notorious for the super-duper thinking round table: hours of mind-expanding criticism and discussion. It's the "heaviest" part of the weekend and often stirs emotions as we discuss topics relevant to the art world and make the connections that we as artists have. I always leave those discussion with a full mind and the drive back to Lubec gives me time to filter through it all.

I am so glad that I chose the Heartwood program for my MFA. It is a great fit for my personality and work ethic and because it is part-time I am able to continue my work as a teacher. Because the program is low-residency, I am able to do my studies while living six hours from campus. I may only be in my fourth semester, but have already felt how I have grown as an artist and human being. I have been blessed with excellent mentors in the program and the teaching style is very much in line with my own teaching philosophy and personal ethics. Thanks, Berri and Susan, for creating such an amazing program! I know that the new "Surface Design" program beginning next fall will be amazing too - wish that I could go back and do undergrad studies again just to experience that!

Sunday night I was able to stay in central Maine with my parents and spent some time catching-up. It had been almost two months since I saw my family, far too long, and we were able to spend an evening talking over dinner. Next morning I was up at 4:15 a.m. with my mind already in full tilt about what projects I would like to do when returning back to the studio. I hit the road early and made it home to Lubec before dark, where I found two very bent-out-of-shape cats because I had been away so long. Chris seemed chipper and fine, but Bouli and Bello sure let me know about their disgruntlement.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Do Artists Always Wear Black?

Shanna Wheelock, 2011
Ceramic, light, metal
Photo by Leslie Bowman

Hammond Hall, Schoodic Arts For All
Winter Harbor, Maine

Abby Shahn's "Save the World" globe.
Thanks, Abby! You did a great job organizing the "Worlds Seen and Foreseen" show in downtown Skowhegan!!!

Portrait of me.... Photo by Leslie Bowman

Do artists always wear black? I guess that's a silly question. But as I was preparing yesterday morning to head out, sporting black shoes and a long-sleeved (very cool, I might add, Liberty Graphics) black Tee, I "asked" Chris, should I wear my black or purple polartec? I was already slipping the black one over my arms when Chris responded "artists always wear black." He said that when he taught at University of Tennessee that the art department was a sea of black fabric. I remember back to my own undergrad days as a fine arts student at USM. Indeed, my closet was filled with the color void. But for every black item, I owned an opposite, brightly-colored garment. Maybe tie-dyed, maybe bright orange, some sort of funky wild concoction of hues and patterns always took residence on a neighboring hanger.

It is a stereotype that artists are brooding, dark souls who walk around in goth fashion. So yes, yesterday I wore a lot of black, but, black goes with anything! Yesterday it just happened to match perfectly the dark, rainy morning, and yes, I had been in a quieter, more introspective mood this past week while trying to overcome rather than succumb to that change-of-season chest cold. I just happened to need a long-sleeved, relatively warm shirt to wear with jeans. It did have a moon on the design which seemed fitting since I was delivering a sculpture for an exhibit about light. But my interior mood was anything but brooding. If anything, the rainy day lifted my spirits. I love the rain. A mellow ambiance makes perfect for working in the studio.

Rather than brooding souls, artists should be known to be deep and introspective. Most people have a range of emotions that run the gamut from "skippy-dippy gleefully happy" to the "best-not-to-talk-to-me-now-funk". Artists are amongst the most intelligent and caring beings that I have ever met and rather than seeing the world as a depressing pit of near non-existence, they see truth, which sometimes is ugly, and because of that channel a sense of hope to create a better reality. Sometimes the world we live in sparks pain, but art is cathartic and artists have at their disposal great means to work through the pain. I sort of see me as an example of that. For those who know me personally, they know that I am a generally optimistic person who wears a smile. Yet, my sculptural images are sometimes pain and despair-filled. I have come to the conclusion that it is because I am a person that believes we can AND SHOULD work toward a peaceful existence - one that is gentle, caring, loving - that my work exemplifies a more painful and destructive force that I feel needs to be recognized and abolished.

So yesterday, I did wear black, and yesterday, I was in an upbeat optimistic mood: the best I had experienced all week. Chris and I started our day early for a two-hour drive to Winter Harbor. We were delivering my Incendiary sculpture to Hammond Hall, a performing arts center under the direction of Schoodic Arts for All. The show features illuminated artworks that will adorn the space with light as days grow darker heading toward winter. It was a joyful morning visiting with other artists. John McMurray was there, the artist who worked with us this past summer on the Lubec Arts Alive kinetic herring. I also got to meet Mary and Jane who were overseeing the delivery of work. I loved their energy! After the delivery, Chris and I stopped off in Machias for a quick lunch, then it was on to a hardware store for me to pick out some lumber for the sculpture that I am currently working on. I will reveal details of this new piece later on, once it is nearer to completion. Right now it is a hodge-podge of components that make little sense and even to me are mind-boggling. I am looking forward to creating the base structure this weekend so that I can begin to make sense of it all.

I haven't blogged in two weeks. I have been trying to keep up with the demands of a heavily-divided life. I thought that teaching half-time this year would open up all sorts of extra time, which I guess essentially it did, but that time has been quickly filled with more work. I am busy with pottery production for upcoming fall and holiday sales and continue my work in the MFA program at Heartwood College of Art. Slip in a bit of salsa-making, veterinary appointments, pottery deliveries, broken kitchen appliances, everyday household duties, jury duty letters and a "quick" fourteen-hour run to Skowhegan (where artists who were protesting war were very brightly dressed!). All this was on top of a week of Chris being sick then me unfortunately following right behind him. There hasn't been a whole lot of down time. I even somehow fit in the role of interviewee on Geno's Washington County TV, discussing the arts scene in Lubec, which was an interesting event for sure! (Sorry, I forgot to ask when it will air. When I know, I will let you know.)

Chris has been super busy as well, teaching women's studies this semester for UMM and dividing his writing time between the novel and his poetry. Whale Sound (see link below) just posted his poem "Gods Reflect on Creation." It is an audio file read by Nic Sebastian. She does a great job with it! Check it out!

Gods Reflect on Creation, audio file (click here)

Without further adieu, I think I will mosey on downstairs, greet Bello and Bouli, shower, trim pots, then continue work on the sculpture. An hour ago when I looked out the window, day breaking, it appeared to be a bit overcast. I am hoping for another long day of dark and stormy to keep me in this awesome, focused non-brooding mood.

and...keeping with the theme of wearing is some music to help start your day.