[Clayart] NCECA part one: where the potters are

jonathan byler jebyler2 at gmail.com
Tue Mar 25 20:38:29 EDT 2014

WHAT SHE SAID.  and as always so well put.  thanks for this as always, Kelly.

On Mar 25, 2014, at 10:43 AM, Kelly Savino <primalmommy at MAIL2OHIO.COM> wrote:

> 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
> partnership. 
> 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
> ago.
> 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
> model. 
> More later
> Kelly in Ohio/primalmommy
> http://www.primalpotter.com
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