Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lessons learned....and not learned

No matter how long I have been working with clay, or how much I think I know, I learn every once in a while just how little I actually do know. After twenty years with my fingers in the mud it is good for me, I suppose, to be brought back into the reality that pottery is an often unpredictable process. It is a good lesson in letting go of expectations.

I just fired my first glaze load of the season two nights ago. I was in a hurry to get the load through since soon I won't have electric to the barn as of Tuesday (that's a whole other blog post!). And it never fails, when I am in a rush and drive myself insane trying to meet a deadline, something inevitably goes wrong. I know, you would think I would have learned my lesson by now. But I haven't. I fell back into my old pattern of 16-hour days , near non-stop work to get pottery glazed and fired. It doesn't help that I am trying to finish up the last two weeks of school, am organizing a huge community art project, and applying for grad studies, all at once.

Walking around like a zombie during the day, somewhat sleep deprived, my mind buzzing wildly, I got those darn pots glazed! Loaded the kiln late Thursday night, and Friday morning as I set of to school, started the kiln. It has a computer module that seems to work fairly accurately. Chris works at home most days, so he monitors the progress and makes sure all is safe.

I was feeling pretty relaxed by 7:30 p.m.: ware glazed for the second firing, first load near completion. In fact, the cone 5 load was just about done, only 50 degrees from completion. I walked into the house and started to make dinner. Heard Chris walking about upstairs. He called down to me, in a somewhat nervously questioning voice "is the kiln still on?" I replied, "Yep. Will be done in about a half hour."

He immediately came downstairs and walked out to the barn. Uh oh. He had forgotten and turned on the heater upstairs (big electrical surge when the heater cycles and the kiln at the same time). He came in and told me that the module was flashing "Err". (that means error!) Crap!

I turned the kiln back on, programming it for a cone higher than previous. The plan WAS to shut the kiln off manually at 2170 degrees...however, constant watching every twenty minutes didn't work as well as planned. Three hours later, I had fallen asleep. When Chris went out to check on temp, it had climbed quickly to well over 100 degrees more than I wanted.

It took about 15 hours for the kiln to cool down enough for us to open it. A bit depressing to see that some long-awaited pieces were a disaster. But all wasn't lost. The mead mugs came out as I had hoped, earthy and masculine in appearance. The spiral bowls that I have made for years, and seemed to have the system down perfectly, well, those bubbled and pitted and bulged in areas. Icky for sure.

I have the second glaze load cooling now. I will be able to unload later this evening, and am hoping that the kiln Gods feel I have learned enough of a lesson. That it isn't worth it for me to work myself into the ground for a deadline. Balance of time is much more healthy and productive in the long run.

We'll see.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Busy Busy - No big blog this week

Given that this has been a super hectic week and it is holiday for many, AND I missed my usual posting on Sunday, I am not going to do my usual lengthy blog. It was a wild, fun week meeting Carol and Andrea from Figures of Speech Theatre. Then I was on the road to visit with family and friends while Chris stayed home to prepare lectures for his online ethics course at UMM. Now I have a zillion things I need to do to prepare for this coming week.

I will be back next weekend with a deeper post about all the wonderful art happenings in my life and around Lubec. I hope everyone enjoyed beautiful weather the past few days as we have! I am off for a long walk to breathe in the warmth and sun, clear my mind, and return with energy to get all the things done that I need to get done today.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Wild Week of Art, Town Meeting, Firing, and Glazing

Artist Eric Hopkins, in his Rockland studio, explains his creative process to students.

The highlight of my week was the field trip to Rockland with my fifth and sixth grade art students. I wasn't too excited about the early rise (4:30 a.m.) and four hours each way on a bus with kids totally jacked on mountain dew and other assorted sugary confections, but once we were in Rockland, it was all worth it.

After an early lunch in the courtyard, we began our tour of the Farnsworth Art Museum, which houses, I would guess, Maine's largest collection of regional works. Students were divided into two groups and led by docents to view and discuss works, focusing on mood, theme, and historical backgrounds of artists. Lubec students were most excited to see Andrew Wyeth's work, but were equally impressed with Louise Nevelson and Robert Indiana's sculptural works.

After the museum, we ventured upon the gallery and studio of Eric Hopkins. I must admit, I was a bit starstruck myself since I have LOVED Hopkins' work for years. I have tried my hand at painting, but feel that I have never been able to just let go and express - I get so caught up in "doing it right" that I miss the bigger picture. But Hopkins' work is full of expression, it's colorful, wild, fun, and spiritual too. If you aren't familiar with his work, you must check it out. He paints a lot of aerial scenes, inspired by the images he sees (and feels) when flying. Very cool stuff!

An interesting moment for me was watching the care a student used when holding one of Hopkins' blown glass seashells. The student walked slowly to a table, glass shell in hand, eyes focused, and almost as though holding his breath, gently and slowly placed the glass piece on the table. I knew then that my students understood the value of these works on a deeper level than I had imagined.

It was an interesting contrast, and a great lesson, for the kids to first visit a museum, where the lights are dim, voices quiet, the space with a feeling of sacredness, almost as if in a church. They understood not to touch artwork, or horseplay, or holler across the room. I think this sometimes gives students the idea that art is unapproachable, although it helps to develop a deeper reverence. In contrast, we visited Hopkins' studio - where the art was colorful, alive, room brightly lit, windows and doors wide open, and the artist was completely approachable, welcoming, vibrant, humorous, and willing to share a part of himself. They now have a better understanding of artists and the process of being an artist and how the art world operates in general. This experience will stay with these young students for a lifetime.

My week didn't slow down. Thursday night I had to speak at the town board meeting about the upcoming community art project this summer: Lubec Arts Alive 2009. (original name Arting-up Lubec). We have a committee together here in Lubec, ideas are flying, excitement building. I have been working closely with Natasha Mayers who is drumming up support amongst UMVA members. this will be the first of its kind in Lubec: a week-long interactive arts event where several projects are occurring simultaneously throughout town. I plan to begin a blog about the event within the next few weeks as more details are finalized. But keep it on your calendar for August 17-22 to come to Lubec if you want to see great Maine artists doing what they do best! I suggest making reservations at the inns, motel, and campgrounds before they are all booked. The weekend of the 14th-16th is the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, just down the road a stretch - so make plans to attend both events and take in as much "way down east" art as possible. And don't forget, we have the most amazing Summer Keys live concerts on Wednesday nights too, during the summer - free! A new shop is opening downtown, I think it is called "Wags n' Wools" - with fabulous yarns and dog supplies (strange combo, I know!). Of course, there is shopping at my nifty little studio, and Northern Tides, find the best chocolate at Monica's Chocolates. The hikes are amazing, ocean views breathtaking. Lubec has changed so much since we first came here nine years ago. We really do love living here.

Enough tourism speech for now - I must get back to the studio for glazing. I hope to fire the kiln by mid week. The first glaze firing of the season is always the most exciting!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Projects Night at Lubec Consolidated School

(Photos above: student artwork for this year's Projects Night. To Donate to the art program, see info at bottom of this post.)

This past week ranks right up there with one of my busiest weeks ever. This always happens as the school year begins to wind down. We have five weeks before summer break and there doesn't seem a minute to catch my breath. That being said, this particular week is one of my favorite weeks in school.

Project's Night at Lubec Consolidated School is the first Thursday in May. The days preceding the event, students and teachers hustle and bustle about in the classroom, halls, and outside on the playground to prepare for parents, siblings, and townspeople to visit and view what they have been up to that particular year. I love seeing all the creative projects in the classrooms, kids' excitement, and feeling the energy as everyone works to meet the deadline. In kindergarten, you walk in and find life-size cut-outs of all the students sitting at desks with a sampling of the years' assignments in front of them. In fourth grade, Egyptian life-size drawings and handmade clay beads, and a wall of poetry written by our young writers. Third grade displayed dioramas of animals in their habitats, along with poetry and research papers about the animals. Fifth and sixth grades made science projects. The art room is full of artwork: masks, wire portraits, Japanese tea bowls, linocuts and collographs. Hallway bulletin boards are packed full of colorful displays. Great projects everywhere!

Being the art teacher, my job is to set up the art show. The task begins about two weeks prior to the actual exhibit. All students K-12 sort through their art portfolios to select their personal favorite piece of artwork. Then I spend hours mounting and adding names to the pieces. As the big day approaches, I begin creating the annual art newsletter that highlights some of the years events in art class, and this year also prepared informational handouts for donations. When Projects' Night arrives, the custodian scrambles to clean the cafeteria space after lunch so students may begin to deliver the mounted work and art portfolios. My husband shows up, as well as our friends Nicky and Judy, and their dog Shanti, to do a super speedy hanging of the show (all done in under three hours).

After a half hour at home to wash and dress-up, we head back to school and find that cars have filled the parking lot and lined the street. The school is bustling with activity - parents "oohing and aahing" at the great things their children have accomplished. The cafeteria is filled with people looking at the artwork, and sorting through art portfolios, amazed at how talented their children are. At 6:15 folks congregate on the stage for a chorus and band performance. The hour and a half whizzes by quickly.

As always, Projects Night was a huge success. We are all exhausted the next day, but proud of what everyone accomplished. The next five weeks of school will be equally busy - as we head out on field trips (Farnsworth Art Museum next week) and welcome theatrical enrichment programs into our school (Figures of Speech Bunraku Puppet Theatre in two weeks). Grades need to be done, records written and filed for next year's classes, inventories complete, senior discovery projects finalized, awards nights banquets, high school and junior high graduations, prom, and the packing up of classrooms for summer cleaning. All the while, teaching within the classroom continues. My head is spinning.

When I was a student in school, I had no idea what my teachers actually endured in their profession. To an outsider, it looks like a pretty simple job, done at 3:00, summers off. To an insider, the truth is far different. The hours are longer than any other job I have ever had, the pay per hour is pitiful, the retirement plan is shameful, the responsibilities are enormous. To survive the rigors of being a classroom teacher, it truly must be a calling.

As with all schools across the nation, there are harsh budget cuts that affect programs. The art department is seeing hundreds of dollars less for supplies for next year's budget. We are also trying to raise money to purchase a display cabinet for student sculptures. Displaying student work builds self-esteem and brings awareness of the arts. To help with art supply purchases, display cabinet, and enrichment programs, mail donations to:

Lubec Consolidated School
Attn: Shanna Wheelock, Art Teacher
44 South Street
Lubec, ME 04652

Make checks payable to:
Lubec Consolidated School
Please include on memo line "Art Fund", and include a note with check that states that funds are for the art program. Thank you!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Full Circle

The big project this weekend was the cleaning of the barn loft. I hadn't looked up there in nearly eight years, and had never before actually walked up there. Eight years is plenty of time, apparently, to accumulate a lot of junk. We weeded through boxes, old painted house trim, chairs, easels, windows, rope, pipes, camp bed, squirrel nests, and rugs. The neatest find was an old box of artwork that I had made maybe twenty years ago. I had the realization that my artwork, though it has evolved and grown, has not necessarily changed all that much, rather, it has kind of come full circle. I found an old drawing that I did, nearly 20 years ago, of peace symbols and guns. Interesting, I thought, since my "Machine Series" the past few summers has been about War. Then I remembered that yep, I was heading in an activist direction from an early age. In a high school of nearly 1000 students, I was the only kid to join the group "Beyond War". So that was interesting, to revisit that part of me from the past.

The loft looks great - all cleared out. Chris and I are thinking that down the road we might be able to turn that space into a little reading/writing or some sort of creating nook. But for now, we have bigger remodel plans with the new studio/office addition that we are having built. Finally! An indoor studio space that can be used year round. It has been such a challenge these past few years to not have a winter space for clay. Especially frustrating since the passion and ideas don't stop flowing just because the winter months have arrived. If all goes as planned, we should begin building the end of July. Lots more updates on that project down the road.

We also moved the greenware pots out to the barn. Yey! I think we are in the clear of below freezing temps at this point (hope so anyway!) and the pots should be safe. So happy to have the pots out of the house and the kitchen table and floor back for their proper use (piling-up other junk and papers, of course!).

I have been busy writing for various projects. The big student art show is this Thursday at school, so that meant pulling together an art newsletter of sorts, kind of the year in review. Wow. We accomplished so much this past year in our arts program! I am trying to get things finalized for our field trip to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland next week, and the following week, we have this super cool presentation by Figures of Speech, a Bunraku puppet theater performance of Nightingale.

Aside from all that (my head has been spinning the last couple weeks) I am applying for an MFA program, which requires lots of essay writing. Also, the Lubec art project planned for this summer is moving forward. I have been working closely with Maine artist Natasha Mayers to bring some great artists to our area to lead several site-specific art projects in a week-long arts event in August. I will add updates on that as we get closer to the date (and decide on the actual name to use in publicity!). I just had a group of super neat local artists and art lovers over last week to get things moving. It's a project that requires great passion and energy, and I know we will pull it off - and it will be grand! Now, crossing fingers that we get the grant.