[Clayart] NCECA part one: where the potters are

Kelly Savino primalmommy at mail2Ohio.com
Tue Mar 25 11:43:45 EDT 2014

I'm still recovering from the "candle burned at both ends" effect of
NCECA, and as always coming home with little voice left, brain
overloaded and creative batteries recharged. 

Mel is right: one by one the Faces of Ceramics, the grand old men, the
teachers-of-our-teachers, the authors of the books we teethed on and the
heroes whose demos we crossed states to see -- are missing from the
group. At the last few NCECAs I attended with Edith Franklin, (before
she died just short of 90 years), she often sighed, "All my people are
gone", and shrugged off newer (to her) artists with her classic, direct,
"never heard of him". 

But I have to sigh myself when people say some version of, "There's
nobody here anymore!" There were four thousand people at NCECA, I was
told -- but apparently in some calculations, not the people who count.

First: Young people were everywhere. In the middle of a sea of
twenty-somethings, clay students and grad students -- with their
skirt-twirling dances, facial piercings, wild beards, dreadlocks and
energy -- my potter friends were wailing, "where are all the new potters
going to come from?" Maybe we can't see the forest for the trees. 

Sure, college programs are being cut. My college shut down the clay
program a year ago and I lost my teaching gig. And yes, many academic
programs turn out students who don't know how to build or fire kilns. We
are starting to suspect that clay and academia make a problematic

That won't stop young people with a passion. When I was in my 20s, I
didn't need somebody to hold my hand. I built a kickwheel from a picture
in a Readers Digest craft book. Any one of the young people I spent time
with at NCECA would jump at the chance to build a kiln, dig clay, take
on a residency or apprenticeship. 

I felt lucky to spend time with half a dozen of the young people I'd
gotten to know from Vince Pitelka's program, and others I've met along
the way -- listened to them talk about their projects and work and plans
-- and I'm feeling quite inspired. It's like the story about the blind
men and the elephant... some people are feeling the tail, the end of the
thing, (or the soft mushy pile it left behind) -- but I highly recommend
connecting with the direction in which our elephant is moving... you'll
find a long and curious exploring trunk there. 

Second: (and not ignoring the fact that people have done it, are doing
it, but you folks are a special breed) -- A lot of factors are stacked
against a small independently operated studio pottery in the US: cheap,
mass produced wares, the risk of living without some kind of health
coverage, the expense of materials, fuel, liability insurance, the issue
of location... even in the best situations, sale-based income is what my
dad calls "ifcome". Oops, a blizzard during the holiday show, a tornado
on the street fair weekend .. a great sale and then a bad one, but the
bills come just the same, and you're one bad mammogram away from losing
the whole thing. 

Most people I know doing studio business have a partner with benefits,
and/or side jobs teaching, and/or are in a "second career" post
retirement. Maybe THOSE are your potters of the future. Would that be
such a bad thing?

Every session I attended was full of women my age. A large portion of
NCECA attendees who are still getting some financial help to attend are
school teachers, as mel was before he became a full time potter. And
they are potters. The more NCECAS they attend, the more great pots they
fondle and demos they see and magazines they subscribe to, the more they
become GOOD potters (or sculptors) and get pulled into their studios
when they aren't in the classroom... maybe full time, when they retire. 

My hotel room this year: Four middle aged women, two potters, two
sculptors. Two have electric kilns, two can build kilns. Three have
pictures of their work in some of the books for sale in the expo hall.
All have a source of income outside of selling their work: pension,
teaching, and/or partner. That frees us from the demand to make what the
gallery/street fair/buying public wants right now and gives us room to
experiment, obsess over hugely time consuming work, parcel out our
hours-of-labor-per-dollar-of-income equations differently. 

Mel always says the best work being made in the country right now is
being made by a woman with an electric kiln in her garage. The magazines
and the vendors know who is paying the bills, and to a large extent it's
women working from home or small community studios. 

I see a LOT of focus on making, on business, on non-academic clay at
NCECA every year -- but you have to actually go to the sessions, not
broad-brush and write them off as "artspeak" based on experiences years

Cynthia Bringle in the closing was about as far as you could get from
academic or conceptual anything. She doesn't run around naked, get
famously drunk, or do much to call attention to herself. Her recurring
theme is, "I just make work." She is a good teacher and a nice person
and one of my "she-roes" in clay... there are plenty of big dogs left.
Maybe they are just a little quieter than some who have moved on. 

I want to post about the content of the sessions I attended, and will do
so tonight -- I got in late last night from teaching a group of middle
aged suburban female potters at the Guild -- heading out now for a job
teaching clay to disabled adults at a downtown Toledo studio -- and then
I have to hurry back to teach a paper-resist slipped plate workshop at
the Botanical Garden, working with a local paper cutter -- (and teaching
more middle aged women). Tomorrow is my studio day. The opportunities
for clay work (and income, and tomorrow's potters) are all around us. We
just have to be creative and not feel bound to a colonial business

More later
Kelly in Ohio/primalmommy


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