Monday, January 30, 2012

Sake Sets for Your favorite Valentine

Sake Sets
by Shanna Wheelock of Cobscook Pottery

Just in time for Valentine's Day!
Give your sweetie a unique gift this year:
A handmade stoneware sake set by the easternmost potter in the United States! Better yet, include a bottle of Sake and a gift certificate to his or her favorite Japanese restaurant.

Sake Set in Mossy Forest glaze

Sake Set in Northern Lights Glaze: CAT NOT INCLUDED
She's just our over-zealous, extremely curious, feline product model

Sake Set in Barley glaze

Sake Set in Seafoam glaze

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Full Swing in the Cave

Sculpture in progress

Production work has begun after a six week hiatus.

Bouli is my sidekick when I am working in the pottery cave.

When not asleep in the pottery cave, Bouli is a handful on the main floor: climbing, jumping, exploring, and breaking things!!! This past week I had to tape all the kitchen cupboards shut.

Things are humming along here. It's a good thing, too. I might have gotten used to that leisurely pace of only teaching and MFA work to contend with. I went back into the "cave" for pottery production a couple days ago and am starting to ready for the season ahead. I have some fairly hefty goals and want to be prepared so that I don't feel the usual "running around like a chicken with my head cut off" for opening of the shop.

The house is kind of upside-down right now. There is a slew of paperwork strewn atop the tables as I analyze previous business decisions and set intentions for the next year or so. The "cave", which was cleaned better than it had been in two years, is now splattered with slip muck and tools while mounds of plaster-infused clay that had been used for mold-making covets nearly every inch of workspace. Greenware pots are lining the shelves and sculpture is scattered here or there drying and waiting for the next step.

The living room has been turned into weaving central with skeins of lushly-dyed yarn calling to the warp. A tapestry in the beginning stages is tempting me away from some of my other chores. I know that I should first take care of the most urgently deadlined work, but on a winter's day it is hard to say no to the warmth of a nearby stove and view of swirling snow outside the window.

January and February used to be my "down time". Living in Lubec in winter the first seven or eight years could been likened to hibernation of an entire town. Everything was shut-down by 6:00 and nary a soul was to be found on the streets. The town has been experiencing a renaissance the past couple years and now there is always something happening between music, theater, and the arts in general. The new restaurants have bravely kept their doors open for winter folk, and for that the town is appreciative. It astounds me that I now have to, here in little Lubec, Maine, set aside specific time (as I did last weekend) to cut myself off from the hubbub. I think most artists understand me when I say that time alone, with your own thoughts, is crucial to manifesting artistic ideas.

Winter, the kind with snow, finally began here on Friday. It was short-lived though. I shoveled steps, decks, ramps, and pathways blanketed by six inches of heavy white stuff until my arm muscles turned wobbly. My mittens were stuck frozen to the shovel, and despite the frigid temps, my head under hat was laden with sweat. I felt like I had just finished an exhaustive hour-long gym workout. But like I said, the gorgeous winter snow was short-lived. Rain soon swept in and reduced the mass to about an inch or so of undulating ice. I have yet to try the car on the long downhill rink we call the driveway. A walk to the mailbox yesterday revealed coyote tracks, emerging from the woods into our drive and across the road. Bello, my feline walking companion, curiously sniffed the tracks, looking about with caution. I suspect that the coyote had walked as we did only a short time previous.

I love Sundays. I love how the world slows down just a bit, for just a while. I am going to step away from the computer and the chores and head into the cave, which has become the warmest space in the house since the new insulation was installed. Bouli will no doubt rest nearby, my guardian cat. Bello will occasionally saunter in, mewing and asking to go outside, perhaps to explore, but most likely to take respite from Bouli, who can't seem to leave him be for long.

I am grateful for my life. Grateful to be an artist. Grateful to view the world through artist eyes.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Unplugged....sort of

Clay form ready to be molded with plaster

Plaster poured into clay forms:
1) will be a hump mold
2) plaster will be the finished sculpture
3) will be a slump-type mold for clay or wax

Clay removed and voila! A hump mold, slump mold, and relief sculpture.

This morning I had breakfast with Buddha. Well, not in the literal sense. I mean, I woke up and laid in bed for eight hours reading the book "Breakfast with Buddha" by Roland Merullo. The timing was quite poignant. See, this past week I decided to take some time to "unplug" from the world: No news, TV, phone calls, email, facebook, etc. Just time to "be". My friend Diane does this sort of homestyle retreat at least once a year for several days. I feel consistently envious. My self-induced hectic life always has a to-do list a mile long with looming deadlines. Though a lover of reading, most of what I read is research oriented to learn something specific. Pleasure reading, like a really good fiction novel, falls low on the priority list. Sad, I know.

So I decided that I would do a 36-hour retreat. I would turn off the phone, talk to no one, read/watch no news (which always gets me riled up), set aside work issues, as well as things that I feel "need" to be done. I started to map out my two precious days of "just me" time. Then it dawned on me that if I were to actually make a plan with time slots for each thing I were to do, then that would be just like any other day. I decided to do something different. I decided to have no plan. I would do, merely, what I felt like doing, when I felt like doing it.

So, today I woke at 6:00 a.m. and reached for "Breakfast with Buddha." While reading, I had breakfast. And tea. And snack. And lunch. I laid in bed the entire time with Bouli and Bello devotedly at my feet, occasionally on my chest, purring loudly to let me know that they liked this new pace and the extra attention. We didn't leave the comforts of the warm silent space (except for food and bathroom) until I finished reading the entire book.

I loved this book. Not only because it was humorous, but because I could relate to the main character. I wish I could say it was Volya Rinpoche that I related to, an enlightened sort, rather, it was Otto, the skeptic who had much to learn.

The book made me ask myself questions like "Why do I find it so hard to meditate?" or "how much money does a person need?" or "when does a person consider themselves rich - materially or spiritually?" and "how much of our lives do we control versus what is fated for us?" "What are the most important things, and how would I live my life if I had no barriers?" All questions I've asked myself before, but since I had all these hours of "unplugged" time, I thought I might as well ponder the answers.

I have tried formal meditation many times, but never felt successful. My mind does not slow down. The most peaceful I get is when I am at the potter's wheel or weaving. I think back to one experience a few years ago when I was at a weekend retreat. I had chosen to attend an afternoon session facilitated by a man that was much like the character Volya Rinpoche. As a non -meditater, I was not prepared for what I was about to partake. It turned out that in this afternoon session we were to sit in silence and not move until we felt moved by something beyond our own something metaphysical, or spiritual; to be like a leaf, that has fallen on the ground. It does not move until a wind comes along and moves it.

Uh oh. Not my idea of fun.

For two hours I sat silent, cross-legged Indian style, not moving one bit, focused on a single nail in the wall. I never did feel moved by spirit to jump up and dance or perform some sort of "be a palm-tree" choreography, as a few others did. (and honestly, I thought they were bullshitting to look cool) Instead, I experienced my entire body falling asleep, except for my mind. My mind was just as active as ever, but when we were to each take a turn at describing our experience, I found that the words did not come out so easy. This was not because I could not think of anything - but instead, it was because even my lips and tongue had fallen asleep. My words came out, to my embarrassing surprise, slurred and nearly inaudible. Hell, what do I mean by nearly? I'm positive that no one understood what I said. I felt like a fool.

It was indeed a strange sensation, and an interesting experience. But I would be lying if I didn't say that I was happy to have the two hour "workshop" behind me. Kudos to those who practice formal meditation. It is harder than it looks!

That memory sparked another. I can say that once in my life I felt that my mind had emptied. It was the most incredible sensation. At another weekend healing arts retreat, I participated in a firewalking workshop. I had done this a few years previous, too, and still, met the current challenge with a certain level of anxiety. Preparation consists of hours of sharing feelings with a group, building a trust, and releasing negative thoughts and anger. To enter the coals with a less than pure heart could mean burnt feet. We were encouraged to think about our intentions and what we hoped to experience or learn. Knowing that my mind always felt cluttered, I focused on one request to the powers that be....that I experience a clear mind, to know what it feels to have no worries.

Despite hours of mental preparation and having walked coals before, I still felt my nerves rise a bit. But it was a magical late summer evening. As we began our walk, flames giving way to glowing orange coals, the lake came to life with the cries of loons. I walked the coals once. Silently. Reverently. Each person took their turn, some more than once. When all were done, silence was broken and those who shared the experience felt a new kinship with one another. Coals were raked until danger of fire subsided and everyone parted to return to their cabins for sleep.

I walked back to my cabin alone, down a tree-lined, heavily rooted path. As I walked, moonlight beaming the way, I felt a lightness - and an emptiness - that is impossible to fully describe. It was like I was walking consciously and knew my way, but my mind was clear. Everything around me became more intense: the moonlight was brighter, the trees greener, taller, the sounds of crickets louder. I could see, feel, hear, sense everything more intensely. I felt no thoughts in my mind except an awareness that I felt empty, peaceful, but incredibly sensitive to the life around me. It was an amazing feeling, floating above ground, like the huge burden of everyday mental ping pong had been lifted. I'll always remember that feeling because of its rareness.

After reading this morning's book, and recalling such intense experiences these two times in my life, I feel an urge to try to recapture these two sensations - one of my mind being alert and detached from my body, and the other sensation of sensing all fully with a mind that is completely cleared. And what of the two could be bridged somehow - would that be the total mind/body experience to the fullest extent?

I am now a mere thirteen hours into my thirty-six hours of unplugged retreat, and well, I kinda feel done with the silence for now. I know it sounds strange, but this taking it slow and easy kinda day has worn me out! After reading, I spent three hours in the cave sculpting and listening to music. I'm kinda missing talking to my husband. The cats look at me when I talk to them, but there is no reciprocation other than a blink or a yawn or a stretch for affection. I have (obviously) given in to the computer and broken my vow of temporary symbolic silence by writing this long blog which will then be posted and the link emailed. Other than that little break in the "plan" to have no plan and be unplugged, all feels good. It's supper time and I look forward to waking tomorrow to do...???? It's the great unknown. I will see what moves that leaf waiting for the wind to blow.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A New Semester Begins at Heartwood College of Art

Below is a recent piece that I finished, a three dimensional model for an installation
about military recruitment.

Let's Make a Deal
Shanna Wheelock, 2011
3D model for installation, 36" x 24" x 12"
Wood, ceramic, fabric, paper, acrylic paint, found object

Let's Make a Deal
(front side, view from top)

Let's Make a Deal: Curtain #1

Let's Make a Deal: Curtain #2

Let's Make a Deal: Curtain #3

Let's Make a Deal
(backside, view from top)

This week marks the beginning of my fifth semester in the Heartwood College of Art MFA program. I have spent the past couple weeks working out some new ideas and soon I will be able to step into the studio to begin the physical manifestation of my visualizations. It's kinda funny how the process works. Two weeks ago I felt solid about my plan, but then my mentors chimed in with their thoughts and it gets me to rethinking everything. Ultimately, the decision becomes my own, but there's just enough of a curve ball to make me doubt, then eventually come to a space where I once again feel comfortable with my (sometimes altered) direction. The thing about direction, though, is that it can change in a flash. Sometimes we choose this way or that, and sometimes we are veered by another force. Much of life is a combination of both.

Joining the program at Heartwood has had profound effects on my thinking and actions as an artist, teacher, and human being. A program such as this is NOT your typical educational experience where you step into a classroom, listen to a lecture, take notes, then recall facts for an exam. It is unfortunate that much of education is that way. Instead, with the MFA program at Heartwood, we are forced to think and create our own path. We have mentors who guide us in the process, who provide an immense amount of feedback, and offer an objective eye. It's easy, as the artist, to be too attached to your work and idea that you can forget that other eyes see and interpret your work in different ways. Art is, after all, a powerful form of communication, and we all know how lines of communication can get tangled!

So, I am beginning a new semester and am eager to jump into the materials. I have two spaces in which I do most of my creating - one being the dark 'neath earth dingy, clay-dust clad cave where I sit at the wheel or sculpt with clay. The other space, in much contrast, is part of my home - a favorite nook with a futon where I can get warm and cozy while I sketch, research, and write. I hop between the various spaces depending on which part of the process is on tap for the moment. The past few days I have spent time reorganizing my spaces, clearing out the supply closet, and taking inventory, all the while allowing the art images to flow through my mind. I have a couple of sculptural goals this spring, one being to create an installation piece for an upcoming show in June, and the other to work with a specific color. Color. Such a simple concept, right? Well, color is what I would consider one of my personal areas of struggle. I am very much comfortable with form, which makes sense since I am a sculptor. It will be interesting to see the path my work takes this semester. It's always a surprise for me. No matter how attached I feel to a plan, inevitably, things change along the way.

I will still continue to hone my skills as a juggler in the circus of life. Yep. Multitasking at its finest. I am bumping up production with my pottery and setting new goals, balancing my sculptor and potter self with my teacher self, all the while continuing to teach art in public school.

One of the major pluses about the MFA program at Heartwood is that it is both part-time and low residency. It's not an online course even though I use email for some correspondence between campus meetings. Rather, it is a program where we meet on campus twice a semester for intensive seminar weekends and presentation critiques. The schedule was specifically created for people just like me, who might be teaching or working some other job. Luckily most students in my pod are teachers and we not only support each other in our teaching roles, but we work on a similar timeline. It's perfect for the self-motivated working artist who needs flexibility in scheduling. Two courses a semester is half a full time MFA program so it takes a bit longer to get my MFA, but I couldn't imagine trying to handle a full time program on top of my other work commitments.

Speaking of commitments, I am continuing my work with Lubec Arts Alive and we are getting ready to begin planning for this next summer's event. Some of our committee members (well, more than half!) are in other locations for the winter months so it will be a gentle re-entry into community planning mode until everyone is back in town and on board. Time to get the binder organized and go over last years event to see what goals should be set for future, and check in on the financials. I love community organizing - but absolutely hate fundraising. Luckily - our community has been very generous with supporting artistic endeavors - both financially and with volunteering. Thank you!!!!!

It's a quiet Sunday morning so far. Mom has been visiting us here downeast. We've enjoyed a relaxed schedule and time to talk. Meals have been a notch above the typical food prep in our kitchen, and that has been quite enjoyable. (see pic below). Today she heads back home to central Maine - where life moves at a different pace with lots of traffic, strip malls, hordes of people, and appointments. Winter in Lubec is a whole different experience. Hopefully she heads home feeling well-rested and rejuvenated. Me, I'll snuggle into that futon for a reading and sketch session then head down into my cave to see what kind of earthly mess I can get myself into.

Many years off and on as a vegetarian I have succumbed to culinary pleasures recently that include four legged, winged, and finned beings. The guilt was particularly piqued two nights ago when talking to the little lobster before she met her unfortunate demise. While I felt a certain degree of guilt before, during, and after consuming the sweet crustacean, Bouli did not exhibit one iota of remorse. Turns out she quite enjoys lobster and makes no apologies for it.

And - for you poetry buffs out there..some links about my husband's writing.....

link to Bangor Daily article

link to chapbook:

Lastly, a link to an interview with Chris that was recorded and archived last summer by Jane Crown's Poetry Radio. Ecellent interview. takes about 15-20 minute before the conversation gets rolling with some excellent poetically philosophical's an hour long....but well worth the listen.