My passion for drawing and art in general carried into my college years, when my drawings and designs became more distinctively my own.
With a Bachelors in English, I spent the next fifteen years teaching that subject, in addition to some art classes to high school students. I also enrolled in a series of college art classes in preparation for applying for a Masters’ Program. In those I explored all media. So yes, I spent hours and all-nighters working with watercolor, in design classes, with sculpture classes…and finally… finally…my hands touched clay! It was magic. The potential of this material to transform into something useful and beautiful spoke to everything I understood art to be about.
My first clay class in hand building introduced me to the painful reality that it is better to destroy a poorly done piece while still workable than have it fired and be part of the history of humanity forever…and we were strongly encouraged to do just that. The following summer, I spent eight hours a day, five days a week for six weeks to develop a modicum of proficiency on the wheel.
With acceptance into the MFA program at the Catholic University of America in D.C. came more summers exploring diverse media, but always with most of the time in the clay studio. My thesis show consisted of all sculptural ceramic wall works, one 8’x5’ destined for Neumann College which just happened to be expanding and was happy to have a work from one of their graduates to permanently install in the new building. My art trajectory was set.
All the years that followed proved tremendously productive, teaching art in formal classroom settings from pre-K to college, offering workshops from my studio, establishing community arts events and galleries, as well as creating my own sculptural work, both for commissions and personally imaginative creations. Those years were energized and energizing.
For nearly 30 years now, I have worked solely from my studio, Earthsongs. It was initially a very scary jump from the security of the formal classroom to my own enterprise, but I found it a useful springboard to create many community-based arts endeavors. At this point, with all of the experience, connections and collaborations behind me, I now feel I have come to a moment of centering both in myself and in the medium, called to explore clay as my primary communication and interaction with the world. My images and objects now are my primary engagement with society, and I delight in this new reality.
In the garden Autumn is a season of removing, of taking away. On the farm, it is a time of harvest; for the gardener, it means a cutting back so flowering plants can consolidate and renew themselves through the colder season. For the farmer, it means gathering up the produce and grain, so they can be used to nourish.
It seems most appropriate then that this month I brought to conclusion my time as a teacher, ending 25+ years in a formal classroom, teaching levels from pre-K through college (So amusing to have been called ‘Professor’) followed by 25+ years giving workshops, teaching in the studio and in varieties of informal spaces and leading arts organizations. My hope is that this new phase will produce both a harvest of renewed creative energy, even as I now give consolidated focus to what my mind and hands do directly with the the clay, to the sculpture I create.
My studio practice is now all.
While I found all that has gone before exciting and so very appealing…I loved engaging with ‘human clay’ as much as the earthy stuff…I do look forward to this new moment with great eagerness.
Earthsongs lives in the midst of a ‘handkerchief garden,’ a small plot, front back and side, that Nino and I tend with great care. So, I understand the season from the gardeners’ point of view: all quiet, just the structure, the ‘good bones’ of the space making themselves known, as well as all the physical labor it takes to bring it to this point of quiet.
With my Dad hailing from a farm in the Heartland, I claim something of the farmer in my genes as well. And so I look at this time as one that will produce a ‘harvest of fruition,’ a time that will allow me to create in new and exciting ways, that will be nourishment to not only myself, but all who will encounter my work.
September has unceremoniously arrived. Most of us can hardly believe it…I know I can’t. I thought for sure we would be ‘through the Portal’ by now, on to other things, the new taking shape…
“The Portal…calls us to tarry rather than rush through, to accept our vulnerability and not simply re-clothe ourselves in garments that no longer fit”.
I continue to sit in that doorway trying to discern which “garments I should not re-clothe myself in,” which “garments no longer fit,” looking out at the world, still very separate, visiting few friends, at best, “zooming” with family.
Knowing that offering classes and workshops are very definitely some of the “garments” that no longer fit, that organizing and administering arts groups in the community is assuredly “a wardrobe” I have definitely outgrown, I looked with uncertainty at the Studio’s relationship to the rest of the world. I agonized over whether or how I should reach out and connect with the community during the height of the Quarantine, but recognized that, too, was not vestiture that was mine. And with it all, I was concerned that my connection with others would become more limited than I would appreciate.
Shaking me into the beginnings of a new consciousness, however, is the surprising unsolicited flow of commission requests. I am in the midst of a whole series of large projects and small ones, all delightful ideas that call me to engage with the clay in both familiar ways as well as those that stretch my knowledge and relationship with the material. Interaction with individual clients around specific projects these weeks has assured me that there will continue to be lively human connection in the studio.
Every artist, and I believe to the pluperfect, the clay artist, has an element of the hermit in her personality. Thus, my alone-time working at Earthsongs is deeply welcomed. Despite that, there has continued to be a genuine flow to the life of the Studio. Because of this, I have come to know that it is the creative impulse itself, purely the energy inherent in the action of creating, that is an attraction, even as my “old garments” are cast aside.
So that even while alone, standing purely as maker, I understand myself more clearly now as a genuine part of the flow of life here in this local community and the community of the world.
Do I need to do away with other “garments”? Perhaps. But for now, I’m becoming more comfortable wearing just the ones I still have.
Beginning anew amidst a pandemic…honoring the past…embracing the
Creating a new digital face for Earthsongs…a new way to present the studio to the world…was an immense endeavor, one that has taken nearly half a year. First, it required me to review and be thoughtful about what I had done through my ceramic art for the past nearly 30 years, and if I include the work created at an earlier studio Canticles in Clay, the forerunner of Earthsongs, then more than 30.
Then to realistically look ahead to what I hope to achieve going
Collaborating with an insightful webmaster, a true ‘master,’ and
one with whom I have partnered for nearly two decades, I was given tools and
guidance to approach that task…while Kyra, of WhyKyra.com…possessed the digital
skills as well as the innate creative ability to use word and image and color
to create the spirit of what the studio is about and to design something that
would clearly say all of that.
Now this moment is one when the entire world, all of living
humanity, our fleshy beings, have been encouraged for over two months, for our
own health and the good of our neighbors, to pause, to ‘hunker down,’ to draw
in, to center, to quiet ourselves. But
today, even as we long for an end to the quarantine, “Claysongs 3.0” leaps into
being, a sign of hope and newness, allowing the fresh public face of the studio
to travel boldly through the ether and around the world, even as I continue to
create in the cloister of Earthsongs,
My hope is that Claysongs becomes a place you visit often,
beautiful and inviting, a digital destination to which you invite friends; a
place you can peruse together with those you are now ‘sheltering.’ Do stay safe…do remain well.
I believe working with clay does put me uniquely in touch with the earth. It gives insight into many aspects of what it means to be human. It’s no wonder so many cultures, and religions have seen the first humans a “made from clay”. We have connections to the material that I find fascinating.
Currently, I have been working on a series of whimsical, sculptural signs for a local florist. The intent is to create Garden Elements that remind all that the area around the store is for ‘Flower Shop Parking Only’. Thus, the words are critical to the project, and those dimensional elements need to be not only clearly readable, but attached to the work with great care.
A dozen years ago, I approached my first studio sign, another outdoor project that included raised letters, much more casually. As a result, after ten years or so of braving the freeze-thaw of our environment, some letters popped off , and I was back to creating a new sign! Lesson learned!
If two pieces of clay are going to retain a strong relationship, really stick together, both need to be made aware of their need for each other. Scoring the area…in short, ‘messing it up’, roughing the surface OF BOTH PIECES is important. To create beauty, BOTH need to recognize their own incompleteness. The addition of lots of slip…clay that is water-softened to the consistency of thick cream…assures the bind. Allowing the slip to mush out between the letters and set up a bit is a healthy idea and secures the elements. Cleaning and firming the edges further tightens the letters.
Married for twenty years this June, those actions in the studio call me to reflect on the intimate ‘clay to clay’ relationship of married life. The need we each have had to recognize our own ‘messiness’ and areas of weakness, to the addition of great fun and times of lovely delight as the creamy slip that has helped assure our bind. If human relationships are to endure the extremes of our interpersonal environments, the clay softly sings to me about how to make that happen.