Mar 7 2011

Are the forces of the universe with you this show season?

CameliaWell Spring has sprung and show season has begun!

If you’re down to the wire, it doesn’t matter how well organized you think you are or how meticulously you’ve planned out the final few weeks leading to a show, when you desperately need things to go more smoothly than ever, that’s when equipment is going to fail, bisques over-fire, glazes screw up, etc.. And if you live in the South, you also know that once its finally warm enough to work in the studio again, its going to start raining and the humidity will shoot up to somewhere around 400%, rendering pots more wet than when you first threw them! Well, maybe not quite that bad, but it does certainly become more of a challenge to dry those last few pots in time to bisque and get out in sufficient time for a glaze firing. Oh yes, and lest I forget.. If you have kids, that is the time that they will inevitably get sick. Once they’re finally better and back to school, you find you’ve come down with whatever they’ve just had, only worse!

I remember, years ago, expressing amazement to my teacher, John (a working potter), as he packed away the final pots he had made for the One of a Kind Show in Toronto, not the week before, but an entire month in advance. (Can you imagine?) He chuckled and then said “Anne… its taken me 30 years to become this organized. Believe me, heheh I’ve learned the hard way!” I think with all the extraneous things I have going on in my life (kids, classes, etc.) that I am much better with working smarter with the time I have than I used to be, but I guess I still have a few years yet to be in as good a shape as John. hehehe

Anyways, in my last post I asked you, if you were to attend a clay conference, what would you expect to see or want to get out of it? I know several people I’ve talked to who have just raved about the conference we just had here, but there was definitely grumblings from the less vocal.

Its been a few weeks and its taken me this long to digest my experience. I was certainly glad and appreciative that the conference was here in town for a change, and that I was able to go see the presenters, some of the exhibits, and the vendors room, but overall, I can’t say I came away inspired or really even.. well, satisfied. This kind of puzzled me as I have always had something to take away from any conference or workshop I’ve attended.

John Leach saggar fired vessel I couldn’t help but think back to the conferences I have been to that I’ve found most inspiring. My first ever conference had John Leach as the presenter. If you don’t know who he is, he is a working potter from England who apprenticed with his grandfather, Bernard Leach, and he makes good honest pots, both functional and art. He spoke, not only at length about the fundamentals of pottery, but also about his trials and tribulations in business and as a potter. Not only that, but he made a lot of pots in the 2 day period! Another conference I attended, the principle speaker was Val Cushing. Again, he gave a really well rounded presentation which included, the fundamentals of pottery making, glazes, as well as his philosophies about pot making and life in general. In retrospect, I have to say, both conferences had, in my opinion, something to offer everybody in that room, hobbyist, working potter, and academic alike.

I wish I could say the same about this last conference here, despite there being 3 presenters up on stage at one time. Each presenter made only a handful of pieces over the 2 day period and I found myself, on more than one occasion, taking refuge in the vendors’ room or in the lobby visiting with people I hadn’t seen in a while. I wasn’t alone either. It shouldn’t be that way. Cudos to the organizers for doing a great job organizing and putting the whole thing together (really they did), but for me, the conference had a disappointingly over-academic feel to it.

Its not that the presenters were not talented, qualified, or that they didn’t give a good presentation of what they did, but ALL of them made and presented work that very ‘ceramics monthly’/academic and more intended for a gallery than marketable elsewhere. Its great to see a masters thesis in clay, to know that they have collectors who will pay $5000+ for a sculpture or a $1200 for a teapot, but.. come on.. How do I put this.. this is not the real world. …and in this economy…? There was no mention of the fact that one of the presenter’s bread and butter in their business actually comes from production of tiles and that (for other unmentioned reasons) he doesn’t have to eat off his ‘pots’. Regardless, not one of the presenters spoke about the hardships they’ve encountered because of the economy or offered any insight as to how they are dealing with that regarding galleries, how to generate more customers, etc.. Everyone knows, bad economic times is not the easiest time to generate collectors or buyers, so why no mention of it? I don’t get it.

While its important to see something presented at a conference that we don’t make or typically see in our circles, I personally just didn’t feel any connection or anything that inspired me to breathe new life into my work, or benefit my business. Most (probably 90+%) of the people attending these conferences are not academics, and I think sometimes this fact gets lost.

With all that said, I’ll be interested to see what presenters Scott Bennett pulls out of his hat for next year’s conference.

Nov 17 2008

Even the big boys have disappointments

Ontario Clay and Glass AssociationSeveral years ago, when I was *very* new to clay, I attended my very first clay conference.    It was really my first introduction to the clay community.  I remember it being a wonderful and unforgettable experience.  I got to try rakuing for the very first time at the preliminary workshop hosted by Ottawa Valley artist Leta Cormier in her, as I remember, extremely immaculate studio.  I also got to take part in my first mug exchange in which I remember receiving a lovely salt-glazed mug by potter Jackie Seaton.  My name was even drawn and I won some nice oriental brushes. But that was not all (and this was the pinnacle for me), John Leach, of  Muchelney Pottery, was the main presenter.  His pots were like nothing I had seen before (I told you I was new to clay) and I was impressed by what a real person he was … very gracious, generous, and down to earth. He left a lasting impression on me.

I recently discovered John’s brother Simon Leach has posted a series of videos on YouTube over the last year or so, showing demos, kilns, visits back to England and to friends’ studios, his philosophies, etc etc.  What I like is he presents things face on and shares his victories and disappointments, the good and the bad,  taking it all in stride.  I don’t think a lot of people are aware how hard it can be to be a potter and that things, quite beyond your control, can go extremely wrong after many, many hours of hard work, and all for naught.  Here is the 2nd of 2 of Simon’s videos taken while unloading Seth Cardew‘s kiln:

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