MCACA

Through a little luck, a dose of good timing, and some tenacity, I was asked to serve on Michigan’s arts council.  Little, muddy me.

Here’s how it happened: one evening in June, I found myself deep in conversation with a stranger at a gallery opening in Detroit’s Grand River Creative Corridor.  She was interested in my multitude of jobs and my experience with the local creative culture, along with my Detroit ‘hustle.’  I was my usual bubbly, effusive, cheerleader-for-Detroit self, and Nancy was curious, charming and thoughtful.  I made mental note that she was from Lansing, but didn’t think much of the encounter afterward.   When she called me a few months later, Nancy revealed that she worked in the Appointments Office for the Governor, and wanted to nominate me for a council seat.  Say what?

I became familiar with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs around this time last year, when they announced their grant awards for 2013.  Hoping for job postings related to art education, I scanned the websites of each the arts organizations in Wayne County that received program-related grant monies.  Though no teaching opportunities revealed themselves, my research was not in vain, as I discovered new galleries, theaters, and festivals in the area to keep me exploring for the next few months.  The MCACA dispersed $5.6 million last year to arts and cultural organizations for capital improvements, program and operational support, art education residencies, and regional regranting programs.

Grand Rapids Ballet Company will receive $39,000 in grant monies from the MCACA in 2014. (Chris Clark | MLive.com)

It all seems a little dreamy to me now: within a single month, I submitted my resume, signed a commitment, and was officially appointed by the Governor!

Sitting at my first council meeting in September, I was overwhelmed by my “peers” at the table.  From the executive director of Interlochen, to the CEO of Detroit Public Television, to the new director of ArtPrize; I felt way out of my league.  However, Governor Snyder consciously chose to appoint “an artist working in Detroit, under 30, with connection to community arts.”  I find it radical, in the best possible way, of course, to initiate such diversity in a decision-making body.  I take it as my duty to represent the underpaid and over-passionate contract artists who implement the grants that the MCACA awards.  While the highly lauded arts administrators and foundation heads at the table have incredibly important perspective on maestros and politicians, I’m thrilled to cheer for the small-town orchestra who just signed a union-deal with their musicians.   Each Council member has a part in crafting the vision for broader, more potent, and more equitable arts engagement in our state.

MCACA’s mission is “To encourage, initiate and facilitate and enriched artistic, cultural and creative environment in Michigan.”

This fall I observed a few grant review panels and participated in one as a panelist.  I’m awed and inspired by the transparency of this process.  Each of the more than 400 grant applications for 2014 was thoroughly read by a panel of arts professionals, discussed, and scored.  The constructive criticisms are documented and shared, and the panel reviews are always open to the public – in person, via phone and webcast.  Twenty-five people observed the panel I sat on in November.  As John Bracey, the executive director of the MCACA, says, “As a small arts organization, you can’t buy that kind of feedback, and we offer it here for free.”  John sees this process as a compelling and robust exercise in democracy.  After the conclusion of the grant review panels, the Council staff provided a set of funding options to the Council members, based on the percentage scores the grants received.

The Detroit Institute of Arts was given a $30,000 arts grant on Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, by the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs for 2014. (AP Photo |Carlos Osorio)

At this Friday’s meeting in Lansing, we decided on a funding plan that spread the monies out at far down the scores as possible, funding even grants that scored 80% at as much as 60% of their request.  Other years, they have funded only the highest-scoring grants at 100% or nothing, as a way of rewarding professionalism.  I’m still wrestling with these ideas, trying to reconcile my own values of diversity and equity with the realities of bureaucracy while keeping an open mind and heart to learn from the great minds with whom I share the table.  I’m learning to listen first.  I’m figuring out how to best help artists and arts organizations in my community.  I’m learning that my passion is a gift, and that my thoughts are valued when I thoughtfully share them.  I’m trying not to make waves, but to be a part of the steering of the ship – and that’s new for me.  Like I said, I’m learning.

Here’s press on the recent grant awards: Detroit Free PressThe Detroit NewsMLive.

This year, the Council was able to award $7.7 million in grants for FY2014.   (I can’t tell you how my head spins when thinking about that figure.)  Governor Snyder, along with the legislature, has been kind to the arts in Michigan through steady increases in funding for council the last 3 years, and that trend is expected to continue.  My term on the MCACA lasts three years.  I’ll be in Lansing once a month or so, while the quarterly full-council meetings rotate through arts centers all around the state.  Being part of it all at this stage of my life is a boggling and incredible opportunity: to be at the bottom, working by the hour and savoring each sale, while catching a glimpse from the top of the art world.  My goal is to share the view.

The Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra will receive a $21,000 MCACA grant in 2014. They also just signed a 5-year contact with a musicians’ union.
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Polka Dots and Potholes

If there can be potholes in the streets, I think there can be polka-dots, too.

— Tyree Guyton, Heidelberg Project Founder

I had the distinct pleasure of working for the Heidelberg Project this past school year.  Growing up quite nearby, it was a place I knew only rumors of until my friends got drivers licences.  As teenagers venturing deep into the mystifying Eastside of Detroit, we felt like we were transported into another world.  The 6-block public art installation struck me then as magical, exciting, funny, and strange.  In art school, when I’d stumble upon references to the work in my textbooks and readings, I remember feeling pride for this hometown treasure.  I read that it was classified as “Outsider Art,” and served as a challenge to the contemporary art world.

However, I don’t think I really understood the piece and its power until I saw it through the eyes of the third-graders at Cesar Chavez Academy.

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Shortly after returning home to Detroit last summer, my Mum and I took a tour of the corporate headquarters of the project.  We learned of the plans for a community center onsite, watched a lovely video on the history of the project, and read a childrens’ book that the work inspired.  This was a much broader scope than I had been aware of previously, and there was just so much more to find.  I learned that Tyree had been working on projects at multiple other sites around the city, exhibited work in the collections of many world-renown art museums (including the DIA), and was then abroad in Europe on an artist’ fellowship.  Most interesting to me was the outreach program which had just rounded-out its first year.

The ACE2 program, or the Arts, Community, and Environmental Education program partners with third-grade classrooms around the city for a year-long experience with the Heidelberg Project.  It begins with a visit to the HQ, a discussion with Tyree and a guided tour of the site on Heidelberg Street.

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Continuing with weekly visits by HP teachers to the schools, the students make art in response to the materials (trash and found objects), content (environmental and political issues), and social implications (freedom of speech, life journeys, community development, etc.) of Tyree Guyton’s Art Environment at Heidelberg Street.

That first visit to the HP offices on Watson St, I was able to peruse the students’ art projects from the previous year which had just been uninstalled from the year-end show.  Funny to me was how similar the projects were to works of my students at Tye River Elementary back in Virginia, yet how different the lives of those students were from one another.  I was intrigued, and wholly inspired to get involved!

I joined the ranks of HP teachers for the 2012-2013 school year, and was placed at Cesar Chavez Academy in Southwest Detroit.  I felt more like a steward than a teacher, though the common-core-tied lesson plans were beautifully crafted and engaged students in conversations about civics, homelessness, music, conflict resolution and storytelling, to name a few.  One blog post could never accommodate the whole of my experience with the students, so here’s a visual appetizer.

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The way Heidelberg Project speaks to students is unique and unprecedented.  Wordlessly, the environment challenges the students’ ideas of what art is; it doesn’t need a frame or a museum or mastery of material.  They intuitively understand that through infusing their communities with art and beauty, they can inspire happiness and pride.  The children see that THEY have the power to make changes in their neighborhoods.  The students are confronted with the idea that the materials for doing these things are already at their fingertips, in their backyards, and totally free.  Creativity, equity, community engagement, and joy; I couldn’t imagine a more radical, potent, or important lesson.

meet me halfway

Please consider donating to further the reach of the ACE2 program!

Old news and new work pants

Another exciting thing I’ve yet to catch y’all up on: I had the opportunity a few months ago to be promoted by a womens’ Carhartt blogger named Jennifer.  I was more than surprised when she reached out to me, as I’ve never been asked to model before (at 5’1″, it’s not something a girl really dreams of.)   I support the Carhartt company for keeping their HQ in Detroit, for employing local artists and designers, for manufacturing in the US, and for making a high-quality product.  I’m not one for promotion in general, but for these reasons I went on ahead with it.

Jennifer at Crafted in Carhartt seeks out women who do dirty work to be real-life models putting Carhartt’s sturdy clothing to use.  She intersperses posts on hard-working women around the country with DIY craft projects inspired by both the clothing and the women she meets.  It’s definitely more than a catalogue – it’s worth a read.  We had a fun couple of hours in my studio, Jennifer shooting me working and asking questions about ‘an artist’s life in Detroit.’

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I was able to keep the clothing I modeled for the shoot, and Jennifer was kind enough to link to my site in the post.  Confession: I’ve never actually purchased Carhartts new, though I’ve sworn by my second-hand pair of work-pants for years.  They are my favorite pants to fire kilns in – the pair of brown Carhartts I inherited from some Maverick up at Holden.  They’ve served me well, from protecting me from the sparks of welding classes in college, to layering up for the 6-feet of snow up in my North Cascadian Winter at Holden, and through two years of splitting and hauling firewood as apprentice.  I’ve patched that pair five times (with pink flowered fabric,) they’re well-loved and beautifully my own.   And now thanks to this media op, I have a new pair to earn more patches in.

Ladybug Studios!

Though my blog has gone long unattended-to, my potting around and life in clay has, indeed, continued.  While there are many updates to come, I want to first make known the studio I call my potting home.

Ladybug Studios is a clay cooperative in Hubbard Farms, a neighborhood in Southwest Detroit, a neighborhood I also call my home.  A totally volunteer-run operation,  Ladybug provides local artists with space and tools to create and exhibit art and share skills and vision with the community.  Co-op members facilitate monthly drop-in workshops to share Ladybug’s resources, expanding access to the ceramic arts with all participants.  Ladybug empowers all members and participants to share in the (teaching and) learning experience and nurtures the creative process using clay as a common language.

I make my work here, I’m able to teach out of the space, and I’ve made many of my closest friends since moving home to Detroit through this cooperative community.  Here are some images from our most recent drop-in workshops.

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Adventures in geology and grout

As a culminating project for my time as Artist-in-Residence at Tye River Elementary, I had the opportunity to design an installation piece for the school cafeteria.  Inspired and emboldened by the Pre-K – 5 Art Teacher, Claudia Van Koba, to be interdisciplinary in my lesson planning, I decided to delve into the sciences for this unit.  Clay would be the medium, but the content of the piece was wide open.  In my forays to the Nelson County Public Library, in Lovingston, I was inspired by a geological map of the county.

Keith Frye Memorial Rock Exhibit display, Geology of Nelson County
Beautiful, right?

I was fortunate enough to be able to allot the final 2 months of the school year to this project.  I hate making the kids feel rushed – they feel that way all day in school and I try to make my classes a respite from panic and worry.  Having ample time for the kids to turn this image into a clay tile mural was a true gift.

Each of my classes spent a day working on the tiles that would end up in the background and border – practicing textures on slabs of clay, signing their names and inside jokes, and talking about geology in general.  We talked about how mountains are formed, the three types of rocks, and what clay looks like under a microscope.  The kids got really excited that the “mud” tiles they were carving would be turned into rock in the kiln.

In the next class cycle, each of the classes specialized and studied one rock type.  We looked at microscopic pictures of the rocks, and then imitated the texture on big slabs of clay.

Mylonite
Mylonite, one of Neslon County’s bedrocks.

After each class, I’d take the slabs home and use the template I’d made of the map to cut out the individual tiles from the textured slabs.  THAT was more work than I thought it would be.

Tiles in process
Tiles in process

But you know what?  It was all totally worth it.  After firing and painting the tiles, putting all the pieces together like puzzle, and grouting them onto the wooden mount, I was BEAT.  But the final result couldn’t have been better.

I delivered the piece to the school on the last day before I left Virginia, and this is where it was originally meant to be installed – in the cafeteria-auditorium space with lots of natural light.

Mural in Cafeteria
The completed mural, at planned installation site

During the classes, I heard a bit of grumbling about the fact that the kids wouldn’t be allowed to take the tiles home.  I explained to them that it was a far better thing to contribute to a  permanent improvement to their school, one that they could come back and visit for years.  At that point I got some nods, but I know I didn’t convince many of them.  There is something so immediately satisfying about crafts classes where your final product is like a souvenir.  I’ve found this to be the case in most of the crafts classes I’ve taught, to people of all ages.  However, I think much, much more can be gained from the collaborative art experience, when the self can be released into the communal.  There is much less competition and self-judgment when students work together on a project.  And beyond that – I’ve noticed far more affirmation, cross-clique communication, and camaraderie in classrooms when working on such projects.  That alone makes these kind of ventures worthwhile.  The arts have a unique power to create such energy in a classroom, where grading systems usually isolate and rank students on a daily basis.  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to expose my students to the experience of a creative, collaborative endeavor.

When word got out that the mural was at the school, my kids came running.  They searched and searched to find the tiles they’d made, to point out where they lived, and to brag about it to their friends.  “It’s going to be here FOREVER,” I heard one of my third-graders exclaim.

Turns out, once the Principal saw the final product, he decided to install it in another location:  the main entrance to the school.  We are all honored to have it displayed there.

Mural in its final location
Mural mounted in its final location

Truly, I feel honored to have had this time with these kids.  The last two years have taught me so much about working in public schools, keeping kids interested and inspired by art, and about the magic that happens in a safe space of learning.  An experience like this one can be as transformative for the teacher as mud into mural.

Field Trip!

Last week I had the pleasure of taking the 5th graders from my Gifted Art Club on a field trip to the VMFA. The Virginia Museum of Fine Art is in Richmond, two and a half hours from here.   Most of the kids had never been to an art museum before, and none of them had been to the VMFA. I’d never been there before, for that matter!   We spent the whole day there, but I feel like we just scratched the surface of the collection.   That being said, I’ve been known to lose whole days to gallery-wanderings.   I was worried about the attention spans of my 5th-graders, but was pleasantly suprised.   My kids didn’t want to leave the museum, either!   After docent-led tour, a sunny lunch on the lawn, and three hours of small group-sketching and wandering, the kids had more focus left in them – enough to learn a new craft (kumihimo braiding) on the bus ride home.   Wonder children, I tell you what.

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Where did April go?

 

Lemme tellya.

April went to splitting and stacking the last of the 7 cords of wood for the spring firing. Kevin has said that an ideal firing would be 60% soft wood and 40% hardwood. We’ve got about that mix this time, with a sizable chunk of our wood coming from a small miller in the area, who brings us kiln-dried slab. This stuff is beautiful! Already Gary, the frame-making neighbor, has picked over the pile for workable pieces. I forsee great trepidation in the stoking of some of these pieces of cherry, walnut, and red oak. Tight and speckled grains, elegant knots, deep burgundies and purples, even the green of locust can be found in our wood stack. These slabs are beautiful works of art themselves, but I think they’ll look even better as beauty marks or runny green ash on my pots. Here is a snapshot from a wood-work day last month; Suki helping Adam run the log splitter.

April went to a trip to the homeland, Greensboro, NC. I ventured down in order to support my alma mater, Guilford College, and its most recent crop of BFAs. The thesis show was spectacular, as always, and I was very proud of my roots.

My trip coincided with the Triad Area Spring Pottery Festival, luckily enough. I had the pleasure of visiting with many of my friends from the pottery community in Greensboro, the community that encouraged my passion, supported me through college, and has nurtured me from afar, having now lived away from there three years. It was a rainy Sunday, but the sales were good for the potters crammed into the Greensboro Farmers’ Curb Market building, and the spirit of loving  camaraderie was palpable.  I ran the credit card machine, wrapped pots, and caught up with Charlie Tefft, my beloved college advisor and mentor. He runs a great ceramics program at Guilford, churning out talents like Molly Spadone, Penland Core student; Alex Mattisse, up-and-coming pottery tycoon; Phil Haralam, Arrowmont Resident Artist; and most recently, Tara Wright, graduating this week, whose thesis show just blew me away this year. Charlie is a fabulous teacher, a good friend, and an inspiration to his students as a successful young potter himself. His pots were flying off his booth(s) and into the tote-bags of hungry pottery-lovers faster than you can say “Pelican Platter”

Another Guilford alum is my dear friend Brett McDonough. He has been making a living in clay since the day he graduated back in 2008. He teaches classes at the Center for Visual Arts in Greensboro, sells his pots all over the state, and makes his work at a sweet pottery studio called Earthworks Pottery. His pots crack me up, gross me out, and make me want to own a whole set for entertaining. Brett’s eye for design and his pursuit of the marriage between the truly functional and the truly comical is something I greatly admire. Go get’em, Brett!

April also went to making my last pots as apprentice here at Tye River Pottery. I wrapped-up my throwing cycle with another set of mugs, some 8# bowls, and one last crop of teapots. Most of these pots are already in the kiln, as we’re ¾ through with loading already. I can hardly believe my last firing is two weeks away. If you’re wondering, I’ve got about ten things I’m planning to do once I leave Nelson County in the end of May, though none of them pinned-down. I’ve been applying for residencies, fellowships, and craft-teaching gigs. I’ll let you know once I know where I’m headed next. Right now the freedom is thrilling.

PS

There are a lot of men in this blog post, so I may as well balance it out with this lovely link: Women with Pots.

Cut carrots and stab sewing

“Receive children in reverence; educate them in love; let them go forth in freedom.”

Rudolf Steiner

Teaching is truly one of the great joys of my life.  I have had the privilege and honor to be the Artist-in Residence at Tye River Elementary in Nelson County since I moved here in September 2010.  I coordinate, plan the curriculum for, and teach the after-school Gifted Visual Arts club for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders.  These kids keep me on my toes with their wit, make me laugh with their candor, and inspire me with their creativity.

Tiaura and Lexy, third grade

We have just finished our unit making Japanese stab-bound books with carrot-printed covers.  With each class project, I try to choose materials that the children will be able to find around their homes, and choose techniques which are simple enough for the children to replicate and improvise upon later in time.  I want to equip them with skills they can apply to many areas of their lives, and empower them to express themselves through crafts.  The books my kids constructed just blew me away.  First, I showed them the simple technique of carving carrots into stamps, (which can also be done with potatoes, radishes, cabbage, etc,) then taught them the basics of printmaking.

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We talked about positive and negative space, practiced visual rhythms by drumming on the table tops, and richly layered our carrot stamps on top of one anothers’.  Some of my youngsters exercised extreme precision in their print-making process, while others let their marks be gestural and loose.  I love this project for just that reason – each artist’s voice comes through naturally and with ease.

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The prints were then framed by recycled cardboard for covers, and bound with an oh-so-simple stab sewing.  Japanese stab binding is the best way to join many pieces of loose leaf paper, and can be widely improvised upon once you’ve learned the basics.  The possibilities for self-publishing are endless!

Jenisa's Japanese Stab-Bound Book, fifth grade

By the time I get my hands on these kids, they’ve been cooped-up in a classroom for six hours already that day.  Our current system of standardized education in public schools creates an environment in which teachers are afraid to teach anything other than what’s on the next statewide test (which in Virginia are aptly named S.O.L.s,) and are constantly in fear of losing their jobs.  ‘Specials’ like Art, Music, and Gym are cut more each year to accommodate for more test-prep.  Administrators are enforcing these harmful and stressful policies all across the country, but only because they desperately want to maintain funding for their schools.  The kids are feeling the crunch.

(I am lucky to work at a school that supports the arts and their students enough to fund Artists-in-Residents like myself.  I have received nothing but generous support and ample expressions of gratitude from the teachers and administration at Tye River Elementary in my time there. )

I see it as my mission, then, to provide my young artists tools to express themselves with.  To create a space in which they feel safe to do so.  To ask them questions for which there is not ONE RIGHT ANSWER.  To encourage their whimsy and indulge their curiosity.  To be a good listener.  To show them the respect that they deserve.  To empower them to trust themselves to make their own decisions.  To invite them to be playful with their art.  To invite them to take their art seriously.  To equip them with new ways to talk about, think about, and make their art.  Most importantly, it is my goal to counteract the forces of conformity and standardization in their lives. If they remember anything from my classes, I hope it is the feeling that their uniqueness is of value.  It cannot be measured by any sort of test, could not be taught, and is truly priceless.

Logan, fourth grade

Kitchen adventures and inspiration

This photo was a long time in the making.

I’ll start at the beginning.

Like a true pottery nerd, I spent two separate weeks of June 2011 on a pottery pilgrimage.  I was hunting for inspiration, both for what to make in the studio, and for what to do with my life after my apprenticeship.  Equipped with a hungry curiosity, Mary the Madza and a GPS, I found a few answers, at least.

Early in June, while re-connecting with friends from Holden in Minneapolis/St Paul, I made a venture into the St Croix River Valley.  Warren Mackenzie gave the Minnesota potters a lovely tradition of trusting their galleries and studios to the general public, allowing any and all curious people to poke about unattended.  In just such a fashion, I explored the studios of and bought pots from Bob BriscoeJeff Oestreich, and Will Sawnson.  What a fertile pottery neighborhood!  I was amazed at the variety of forms I saw, and took many pictures and notes in my sketchbook.  I did my best to soak it all in, but with the capstone of a visit to the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis, it was just an embarrassment of riches.  While at the center, I was able to hold and tactily explore the work of even more inspiring potters.  What a glorious opportunity!

However, the highlight of my Minnesota trip was definitely the lunch I shared with Linda Christianson.  My friends from DC, Laura and John, met up with me at Linda’s lovely studio in the woods during their own pottery pilgrimage to the area.  After a thorough tour of Linda’s beautifully-designed bourry box kiln and brand-spanking new studio, we all settled into Linda’s kitchen for a snacking and chatting-filled lunch.  Her kitchen was a beautiful assortment of well-used and well-loved pots, where one could easily lose and afternoon exploring and inquiring about each one.  Here was fine art pottery in action.  We spoke of soft mug handles, of sharp cheeses, of the smell of kilns in reduction and the aroma of baking pears.  Upon leaving, I purchased a lovely little baker that caught my attention.  I packed it away and didn’t think much about it until weeks later, once home in Virginia.

Later in June, the whole Tye River gang (besides Kevin himself) took a tour through Seagrove, North Carolina.  The pottery heartland!  We started at Starworks Clay Studio, where Takuro Shibata and the knowledgeable Ken gave us a tour of the clay factory, the artists studios and classrooms, and the sweet little wood kiln they have there.

From there, we forged on to the studios of Daniel Johnston, Donna Craven, Jeff Dean and Stephanie Martin, David Stuempfle, and the Owens family.  Each pottery had a different kind of kiln, a distinct style, and the technical skills to make the kind of work they wanted to.  That is the quality of knowledge I aspire to; the knowledge and ability to make confident decisions to achieve your specific aesthetic aims.  WHEW.  That was a mouthful.  What I mean is, I admired each of their setups immensely, and could see myself walking down similar paths.  We concluded the trip to Seagrove with  a visit to the home of Dwight Holland, a notoriously friendly pottery collector in the area.  He let us explore his home, which was stuffed TO THE GILLS with functional pots from all our favorite potters, as well as many we had yet to fall in love with.

A kitchen jungle of mugs, an entire room devoted to teapots, a wall-gallery of 24-inch platters climbing as high as the ceiling.  Every surface of Dwight’s house is a treasure trove of beautiful and inspiring ceramic work.  Earlier in the day, Daniel Johnston had given us advice as young potters in the field, “limit your influences,” he’d instructed.  I had scoffed initially to that comment, being a pottery blog addict myself.  The internet is an amazing resource for potters to connect, market their work, and get inspired.  But too much inspiration can be more confounding than none at all.

My summer was just that, confounding.  So many paths to take, so many pots to make!  Pottery is a field with such longevity that you can be sure everything has been done before.  I know that trusting your instincts and following your whimsy is the only way to make genuinely inspired work.  In looking back upon my summer pilgrimage, it seems like a blur.  But one moment seemed to stretch out, to slow time down for a few hours – my afternoon in the kitchen with Linda Christianson.  I tried to take Daniel’s advice to heart, to hone in on what it was about that experience that was so nurturing.

Then it clicked.  Linda’s kitchen was the only place where I actually USED the beautiful work I was seeing.  And by using the pots, by eating and drinking off them, by pouring and serving from them, it felt like we were honoring them.  We were completing the process.  I pulled the baker out of my living room, and put it in the kitchen where it belonged.  I let that little baker inspire what I would cook for dinner that night, and then used it to bake bread the next day.  It inspired me to make countless cobblers in it throughout the rest of the summer, and corn puddings in the fall.  There was eggplant parmesean, enchilada pie, and quinoa casserole.  Most importantly, it inspired me to make bakers myself.

Since then, I have let my time in the kitchen inspire and inform my work.  I’ve been making bakers, honey pots, and mixing bowls.  I’ve been using them, as well, and refining the design to function as seamlessly at possible.  What kind of food would look beautiful in this pot?  What kind of pot would serve this food best?  I’ve been trying to go on the internet less, and go into my kitchen more.  The flax-seed sourdough loaf at the top of this post is in one of my own bakers, but it shared the oven rack with the baker of Linda’s which lured me down this path initially.  That’s pottery loyalty.

Serious side stoking and stuffed squash

Photo credit: Mike Pappas

We’re all still recovering from our latest firing here at Tye River.  Sleeping off the night shifts, working off the banana muffin calories.

It was a smooth firing, the kiln climbed easily and steadily.  Once again, it felt like all we needed to do was keep it from racing.  The stack on this kiln is over-sized, so reining it in is the name of the game.  We began the preheat on Friday afternoon, 11/4, and maintained a campfire-type burn outside the tube firebox (but drafting through) through Thursday morning, 11/10.  At that point we began pushing the fire into the firebox, eventually transitioning to stoking above the grates in the main stoke hole Thursday night.  Getting up to temperature (cone 12) Friday morning, we maintained the heat from the front until Sunday morning, when we transitioned into the second and third chambers.  The final stokes around 4:00pm, Sunday 11/13,  the kiln was mudded-up and left to cool shortly thereafter.

This being my fifth firing to participate in, and third as apprentice, I feel like I’ve got the rhythm of the firings here at Tye River Pottery.  Which is not to say that I don’t learn new things with each stoke.  I do.

In the firing this time is the largest pot Kevin has ever made.  It was commissioned by the new Couric Cancer Center at UVA Hospital for their meditation room.  Emily Couric, a state senator for Virginia, was a patron of Kevin’s before she died of pancreatic cancer in 2001.  The new Clinical Cancer Center sought out Kevin’s large pots to adorn the space and promote contemplation.  The large pot is in the second stack of the tube, and is a wonder to behold.  Nestled in the ember bed of the side-stoke, the Laguna 950 clay body should reduce win blues, gold and greys.  We pre-heated especially slowly to accommodate for the size of this pot.

There were a couple of new techniques we tried in this firing, one being the more intense side-stoking of the tube.  Beginning Friday morning and continuing through Saturday evening, we packed that side-stoke channel as full as we could.  In the past, we’ve stoked that part of the kiln until the back-pressure made it unpleasant to stoke any more.  This time around, we pushed well past that point.  Each stoke, we had one brave soul on each side of the tube tossing finely-split pine into the 5-inch hole, bobbing and weaving around the geyser of flames, right up until the flames started to lick at the kiln shed beams.  A third person kept their eyes on the shed itself.  No kiln sheds were harmed in the making of these pots.

A diagram of what you can't see when you're stoking your brains out.

We altered our approach to salting in the third chamber this time around.  After testing out every damper setting from no damping, to a billowing technique, to a mostly damped-down setting, this time we completely closed the damper during the salting for a solid five minutes.  Now THIS may have done some damage to the kiln shed, but we’ve got our fingers crossed and have a sneaking suspicion that this will give us the saltiest pots yet.

Another new element in this firing was the addition of the general public to the firing scene.  Kevin decided to participate in the Artisans Studio Tour this fall for the first time.  He hasn’t had much luck with studio tours in the past, as he’s pretty far out into the countryside.  None of us thought very many people would show up, but they did.  DID THEY EVER.  Throughout the weekend, people interested in pottery filed in and out of the kiln shed, got the wood-firing 101 from Kevin or one of the crew members, and was escorted to the studio/gallery to buy themselves a souvenir or two.  From 10am to 5pm, we had a steady stream of new faces,  interested and interesting people.  Kevin made some great sales, and next time around, we’ll add selling shifts to the stoking timetable.

After a surely successful firing, and a successful sales weekend, I think I’ve succeeded in digesting all the delicious dishes the crew members brought to share.  Tem, the studio pup, is still resting up from the weekend’s excitement.

Now we’ll just have to find way to keep ourselves busy until Saturday, when we can crack that baby open and see the results for ourselves.  10:00am, sharp the door comes down.  I know Tem can hardly control his excitement.