Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Off on Holiday

Just a quick note to let my blog readers know that I have been traveling and super busy with the recent holidays - thus no posting! I will return to posting shortly after the new year. I hope that everyone has enjoyed this holiday season. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Inspired by Coral

Finally! I am working on a new tapestry!

I have been preoccupied this past month and unable to work with clay or fiber - and am so happy that my energy is returning so that I can begin a new piece. I found (bought) a beautiful little rectangle of coral a while back and have wanted to use it as a centerpiece on a tapestry.Yesterday I selected yarns that I thought would work well with the coral and warped the loom for a small project. Today, I began the actual weaving. The photo here shows just a few warp strings and the first two colors of the tapestry. I hope to finish it by the end of the weekend - but will see what the days bring.

It sure does feel good to be working again...even if it is at a turtle's pace!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Living at the Edge

We live at the easternmost edge of the United States in a teeny little town called Lubec. Living here is an experience like no other. How we got here was an unusual, unplanned bit of fate.

I am a native Mainer - but central Maine is a completely different lifestyle than "downeast." My husband is from Los Angeles. We were both living in Knoxville, Tennessee when the opportunity came up for us to move to Lubec. Chris' grandfather had a house here that was vacant and he felt it would be a perfect place for an artist and writer. So, we packed up the Uhaul and in three weeks time had a new home and life in a region of Maine that we had never visited before. Of course, we had a glamorous image in our mind...coastal cottage on a sea cliff.

As we continued our drive (a good 20+ hours) up route 1 in Maine..the road became increasingly more deteriorated, the treescape changed (spruce instead of lush maple and oak), and businesses were nearly non-existent. Now, being a town without a Wal Mart or McDonalds is fine, but this gave the word remote a new meaning for us! Here, there are no traffic lights for 50 miles. The eagles soar overhead and bear ramble through town. In winter, there is one, sometimes two, diners that are open for business, and the local market closes by 6:00. Gas and heating oil prices are higher, food costs more, and wages (if you can find a job) are pitiful. Sea smoke pours off the bay signaling another extremely cold day. If you lose power in a storm, Lubec is not the first town Bangor Hydro rushes to repair service to. If you need anything - say a new pair of underwear or a prescription filled - it is either a 70 mile or 100 mile roundtrip to Machias or Calais. And, our little coastal cottage on a sea cliff.....? We arrived to a house, no running water, trees overgrowing the barn entrance, kitchen ceiling being supported by a birch tree branch, no stove, and a 1920's era Westinghouse refrigerator that did a superb job of melting ice-cream and freezing vegetables. And, we have to barricade the cellar entrance every night lest the raccoons break in and tear things apart.

Yet, here were are, eight years later still living here. The first few years were challenging, to say the least. But sometime around our third or fourth year here we began to meet some of the most interesting and incredible friends. They are poets, authors, healers, musicians, artists, storytellers, dancers, peace activists, Buddhists, Quakers, Shamans, naturalists, world travelers, teachers, weavers, and organic farmers. These incredible people, coupled with the raw beauty of this area has us now understanding why people come here and call it their paradise. It is a hideaway from the mainstream where nature is still in charge.

We can walk out our front door and choose from a dozen or more hikes. We can launch our kayaks in South Bay behind our house or in Johnson Bay if we want to tool around the salmon pens. We once saw at least fifty eagles circling over Carrying Place Cove. There are ancient shells hidden in the clay beds at Mowry Beach. Here, you hear the real "downast accent" that the Stephen King movies never seem to get quite right. In summer, painters line the streets to capture the glow of sun's first light on buildings. On Wednesday evenings, Summer Keys classical and jazz music pours out of the Congregational Church. Crow Town Gallery has the tastiest food spreads at their art openings that feature "local" but accomplished artists. On Fridays we pick up the best tasting wood-fired bread from Ed and Diane's place, and we have the sweetest little natural foods market at Sun Porch Industries. Martha is always stocked with fresh breads, coconut milk, spices, rice and pastas which seem to be our main staples. And, if you feel like doing some international travel, just hop in the car and drive across the bridge to Campobello Island, Canada.

So, we have to live miserly to get by here and we are sometimes cold with all the drafts in this old house, and traveling to visit family is a huge production and expense...but the treasures of this little village are worth the extra effort.

To visit some sites about this area check out:{216C09B5-1156-4827-833E-B285802A912B},_Maine

(In the painting above: The view from Klondike Mountain - overlooking South Bay, behind our house. The posts from an old pier are still visible at low tide. The pier once was attached to a business that was part of the Klondike Gold Rush - yep, right here in Lubec! It turned out to be a scam.)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Machine

I began this series of work about four summers ago. At first, I just referred to these pieces as "spike pots". They were not typical of my usual work. They were spikey, menacing, ugly, and painful to pick up (mind you, some of these pots have literally hundreds of little prickly spikes).

I work intuitively. When I go into the studio, I often don't have a plan or sketch. It sometimes takes me a while to figure out the meaning (if any) to a particular work. I knew that these pieces were full of pain, far from the joyful and spirited works that I am accustomed to creating. It took me a while, but I finally found the connection. In my studio - I listen to either music cd's or NPR. At this point in time, I spent many hours listening to reports of war in the Middle East. While working, I would become emotional, and not able to comprehend how people could think that killing would be the answer to any problem. I thought about the children and innocents that are killed, or the young soldiers who have been told what to do, or what is right, before they are even old enough to form their own beliefs and values.

So evolved this series which I call "The Machine."

When folks see these pieces for the first time, there is no middle ground. They either love the pieces or hate them. I am not offended at all when someone doesn't like these sculptures. Even I can admit to their ugliness. They serve no function, won't look pretty in the den on a shelf, and aren't exactly the kind of gift you would send grandma at Christmas. After all, they do represent war. And what can be more ugly than that?

(Pictured above: "The General")

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Figure

I love to draw the figure, especially when I have an inspiring model. Modeling is more an art than one would think - to be able to find the perfect pose, then hold it, steadily, for an hour or more. Even ten minutes would be challenging for me! So I am extremely grateful when a skilled model comes along. I was fortunate a couple summers ago that Bonnie Beard hosted a wonderful model at her Crow Town Gallery studio space, here in Lubec. (You can see some of Bonnie's artworks at her blog, linked under my Blog List section, to the right of this site...scroll down.)

My first experience with the figure was as a freshman in drawing class at USM. I had never drawn a nude before, and fell instantly in love with the rubenesque shapes. It was in that same drawing class that I sculpted my first torso. I didn't know at the time, but I would continue to sculpt that similar figure until current days - twenty years later!

I hope to begin drawing the figure again. It's one of those things that gets put to the side when I have a deadline for a firing or need a tapestry to replace one that sold. Maybe I can add it to my list of goals this coming find an inspiring model.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mini Pots

The mini pot is the one item that I have produced easily thousands of over the my last twenty years of clay work. So when I say to people that I am not a production potter, well, this one throwing ritual of mine may debunk that myth.

The thing with the mini pot is this - I am amazed that I can throw such petite little pots - with such large, awkward hands. These little pots may be my one testament to grace. My usual mode of operation is anything but graceful. I bump into things, knock things over, break stuff all the time.

But I love to make these little, vulnerable pots.

Each throwing session in the studio begins the same way. Chris helps me by carrying out a big bucket of warm water. I grab 25 lbs. of clay and cut 12-24 small cubes off the block. I form each cube into a ball in my oversized hands, crank up the tunes (Shawn Colvin or Delco Ray perhaps), and sit at the wheel.

Now, I lost the on/off knob years ago - on moving day from Knoxville, TN back to Maine. The moving fella was carrying my wheel - I heard a thud - Yep, wheel on ground. Amazingly, the wheel still works, but...the knob never to be seen again.

So, I grab a pair of pliers, turn on switch, clunk the clay down, and center this mini-sized mound into a little beehive. From there, open, form, trim off wheel, place on board to my left.

Repeat up to 24 times.

Boring? No.

This is my ritual - my centering meditation, every time, before I throw the larger pieces. I use this time to experiment with form - like a little drawing thumbnail, only three-dimensional. And, I sell gazillions of them.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Moon Tree Series

I thought I better post some pottery pics before people start referring to me instead as the "Easternmost Weaver in the United States."

This piece is an example from my Moon Tree series, handcarved stoneware pottery that features a simple moon and tree branches with roots. Well, I say simple, but the carving process itself is quite time consuming. I have two other tall chalice type pieces as this one in the studio. In one, (see photo right) I glazed the tree roots a dark temmoku brown. I also have a piece ready for raku once I get the kiln set-up. I can;t wait to see that one complete, as it has decorative leaf impressions inside.

I have been using the tree theme in my work for many years. Perhaps I have some past-life Druid connection. Perhaps I am merely inspired by the woods and their natural beauty that surrounds me. Either way, I think trees are powerful for most people. They possess an awesome strength - enduring years of rain, wind, ice. I love to watch a tree sway in a summer thunderstorm.

Have you hugged your tree today?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Zati Maskmaking

Last year I was blessed to receive a Maine Arts Teachers Fellowship from the Maine Alliance for Arts Education. With this grant, I was able to work under the mentorship of weaver Susan Barrett Merrill. I first met Susan in a workshop about five years ago, and had wanted to work with her again ever since. My summer of fellowship was amazing! Susan led me through the seven keyforms in her book Zati: The Art of Weaving a Life. I was most excited to learn sculptural weaving techniques - especially to make masks. I had been making masks for several years, but always with clay. It felt awesome to blend my masking background with my new love for weaving.

The process of creating a Zati Mask is soul-opening, and time consuming. You begin with a visualization and an intention for what you want your mask to represent. I most times try to connect with animal spirits, although the mask above is my Hecate mask. My interest in mythology came through clearly, and a darker, more introspective part of myself.

The physical process of creating the mask involves the initial weaving of the face shape, then a warp-weft pulling of strings to create a three-dimensional look. The mask is felted onto a hood shape and embellished as desired. The entire process for me can take anywhere from 20-40 hours. I expect the next mask I make to take longer if I am able to complete my vision. It truly is deep-level soul work.

During my fellowship, I also built a cedar log Earth loom, a beaver stick Story Loom, and wove one of my favorite tapestries to date: Journey. Check out the photos to the right on my blog site. To visit Susan's website, click on "Weaving a Life", listed under my Website Links.

If you are an art teacher in Maine (visual, dance, music, theater, etc.), you should consider applying for the Maine Arts Teachers Fellowship. It is a great program that grants money ($5000!) to develop your own work as an artist. Click on Maine Alliance for Arts Education, listed under my Website Links.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Chris Crittenden: Poet, Philosopher, Eco-Feminist, Ethicist

Yes, I will shamelessly promote my husband's writing. He is a genius when it comes to words, and his writing is one of the things that attracted me to him about ten years ago. He has had hundreds of poems and articles published internationally and I am proud of his accomplishments. He keeps quite a rigorous writing schedule between working on his novel, his poetry, and editorials. It's more of a process than most would realize. He spends a lot of time holed-up in his office in the house, but when weather is a bit warmer, he writes in the meditation hut on the hill behind our house (see photo left). I asked him for a website link with some of his writings - and he suggested the Bolts of Silk blog site. You'll find it listed under my Website Links on the right of the website. Also, Chris' blog, Ghost Owl, is listed under my blog sites.

Now that we've established that I am a Potter....

I thought that I would change hats and show you the WEAVER me. I am fairly new to weaving. My first experience was on a tiny 4 stick frame with large-headed nails - made by my dad. I learned basics of warping and weaving (and I mean BASICS!) while a student teacher in Brunswick. I loved the meditative quality. A Type-A, work-a-holic person like me can always use something to bring the stress level down a notch!

The image above is fairly accurate to my current style. I begin with a small square tapestry, add a long, lush tail, then embellish with local natural items or other little baubles that I find in my travels. The piece above is titled Autumn Landscape. I used alder from our front yard and the ancient shell centerpiece was dug from the clay at Mowry Beach.

I'll write more later about my weaving and a recent fellowship that I received to advance my techniques. If you are interested in seeing more of my weaving (or pottery for that matter) visit the Website Link (to the right of this page) called "Shanna's Webshots."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

To Be or Not To Be.....That is the Question

I had a great conversation the other night with my artist friend Becky Wheeler. We talked about how she is throwing a zillion mugs for an upcoming craft fair. This made me think how much I despise making mugs. Well, not the cup form, but the attached handles. So I decided a few years ago that I would not make mugs, rather, my work would focus on soul satisfaction. Time is limited and I need to create only what I truly love to do.

As visitors to my studio keep asking me, "do you have any mugs?" I time and time again respond with the stock line "I am not a production potter."

So my question to myself is - am I even what someone would consider a potter? (Note: the title of my Blog is "The Easternmost Potter in the United States")

My major in college was ceramics, but we focused more on sculpture rather than the thrown form. I have steered away from the title of potter since I also consider myself an artist and when I think about my long term arts career, I see myself more as a gallery artist rather than toiling over making buckets of glaze, producing 100 mugs a day, having to eventually hire an apprentice so I can fill orders.

All being said, I found myself mass producing items this summer. And it wasn't because I had an order to fill, but rather, I fell in love with the new forms that I was working with. I love to make bowls. The bowl that feels perfect in the hand. The bowl that makes eating feel sacred. Then I have the mini pots...I have made thousands of them over the past twenty years. I don't feel them redundant, rather, I view them as my warm-up/centering exercise when I begin my morning at the wheel.

So I have come to think of myself, (I think!) as a potter, just this past summer. It isn't about trying to mass produce items that will sell. Instead, it is about the joy of potting as a meditation. Bowls that take me an hour and a half to create (rather than a thirty-hour sculpture) can be more financially accessible to those who want to own my work, but cannot afford the pricier "fine art pieces." I love the idea that folks all over the world this morning are sipping from one of my Yunomi cups, or eating their cereal from a spiral bowl that I made, and that their experience is all the more sacred or enjoyable because my hands were able to form that bowl or cup for them.

And who knows, maybe I will find myself making a few handles next summer....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


This is one of my favorite items that I have been throwing this past fall. Originally I called it the "healing cup" as it feels so soothing to sip a warm liquid from it. When Chris and I used the new cups for the first time, we had just hand-pressed cider at Jean and Dick's house. To drink warm, organic cider from our own trees, pressed by ourselves, in cups I made, felt sacred and healing and celebratory as well, for the Samhain season.

I have an interest in Japanese pottery and have been making the sweetest little rice bowls for a few years now. I just learned that Yunomi is translated "cup for hot liquid" So, these cups have come to be called Yunomi in my studio.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Photos of My Artwork...

Good morning from Lubec - where it is a chilly grey day (again) with the wind wildly sounding out. We are expecting some snow and rain - my favorite kind of day, perfect for sitting by the fire with a hot cup of tea.

This is just a quick post to let folks know that if you are interested in looking at some of my artwork, I have three albums created on a site called Webshots. Just follow the link below.

Pardon the lack of quality in the photos. A little Elf told me that Santa is bringing me a professional light set and cube for Solstice so that I can do a much better job with my photography in the future.

The photo above is called "Missile" from the "Machine Series". The pieces in that series were created as my response to the media coverage of war these past few years.

Have a great day!

Monday, November 24, 2008

This is a "Healing Quilt" made by my artist friend Diane Langley. Hand-sewn and steeped in healing herbs. She has an amazing sense of color, and a genuine healing spirit. You can check out some of her works at her website and blog:

Thanks, Diane! The magic is working!

Art Production Slowing Down - post holiday sale

This time of year, the art production slows down for me. Working in a barn is difficult when the temps in Maine begin to fall below freezing. My last firing was about two weeks ago, followed by my annual holiday open studio. I enjoy the day so much because I get to spend time chit chatting with folks and just having a good time in general - away from my usual hectic schedule. I am grateful for all the support that I've had - from folks helping to advance my career in the arts.

In the photo above I've displayed some pottery works in the new "Barley" glaze (named after my siamese cat) and my most popular item, spiral bowls in rutile blue. I also sell my sister's Indigo Iris jewlery in the barn studio. She has quite a following down here in Lubec! You can also see a few of my mom's little hand-painted rocks. Yep. The art gene seems to run in the family.

I will spend the next few weeks preparing for holidays, and when the new year rings in, I will go into "hibernation mode". I love the early dark days - which feel so cozy and relaxed. I will use that time primarily for fiber work, relishing the lush warm textures of angora, alpaca, and wool. My goal this winter is to learn to warp the floor loom. I also hope to finish the peacock-themed mask that I began last summer. (Masks can take from 20-40 hours or more to complete, so it is hard to find time to squeeze them in.)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gray and windy day downeast

My first blog entry, new to the blogging world! I am an artist living in the easternmost town of the United States, in the small fishing village of Lubec, Maine, with my poet/philospher husband Chris Crittenden, and our two felines Bello and Barley. We are surrounded by unfettered natural beauty - spruce, birch, and cedar forest bordered by various Cobscook Bays. Any given day we might find a bear, deer, pileated woodpecker, or porcupine in our backyard. The stars and northern lights are amazing to witness in a sky illuminated only by the moon.

I'll try to keep up with this blog once a week, posting my current works in clay and fiber or other artistic endeavors that are associated with my barn studio "Cobscook Pottery."