|Ian Coward at 6 months old sitting on my lap at the potter's wheel "helping" me make a plate. From the Bristol Herald Courier Sept 28th, 1983|
I was delighted when a friend asked me a few months ago if I would like to have my own exhibit at the Equality Center in Tulsa. Finally, after years of showing and selling in so many different directions I am returning to creating for quality shows. Some of which, are just for me. Maybe I have finally paid my dues and can return to some original goals, producing quality pots and sculpture made from my heart and soul and exhibiting off the street.
I was once a starry eyed grad student. You know the kind. I know the kind. They feel they have paid their dues already and the art world is just waiting for their fantastic work and to make them famous. I had several shows in museums in East Tennessee and Virginia. It was nearly 40 years ago and to tell you the truth, I have to think hard to even remember when and where they were. I suppose, over the years, the light dimmed on these events as I raised a family and tried to survive creating and selling literally thousands of pots.
My first museum show was at the McClung Museum at the end of my grad program at the University of Tennessee. I loved the process and the learning experience. Arranging museum walls, designing a large poster for the event, planning the opening, all the things that go into making a good show happen.
Reality hit when I had to choose the number of pedestals for the show. And, I had not made the pots for the show. Oh My God or OMG or panic time! There were 30 blank pedestals waiting for 30 show pots. 30 show pots. Not 30 pots. 30 show pots, with lights blaring on everyone, showing every detail good and bad.
I recovered from the pressure of such a major exhibit by simply creating each pot, one at a time, just making a good pot in a theme. Looking at the big picture and all the attention on the show could make me panic. I had to go back to the basics, ground myself literally, in the clay, and focus on creating significant thought and ideas through clay. Did it.
Until I had that show, I was only a potter's potter. People who understood the real beauty of clay knew what I was doing. A person off the street might wonder why I was making non-utilitarian pottery using primitive methods. What? Firing in sawdust? Not water proof? An opening on the top not even large enough to stick a plant in? Black and white pottery?
I was amazed. On my opening night for the first time in my life, I sold over $1000 at my first museum show. I became a starry eyed grad student.
And there were more shows in museums. A two person show with my friend Pat Herzog "perfect Pat." Our exhibit was a ying/yang kind of show. She created elegant porcelain with tight forms. I reached back to our primitive roots using ancient techniques from Mexico, Africa and Native Americans. It was a lovely and successful show.
There were more shows. More museum shows in Emory, Virginia. I was in familiar territory, established and on my way to the top of my little pottery world.
I started my first gallery. My husband had tried to give me a reality check. "You will never find a place you can afford to rent." Three days later, I had a place. $50 a month and I got a job at a pizza place to make sure I could pay the utilities as well and buy a few things to get started. I also taught college part time to stay in the art world as well. My grandfather had sent me $1000 out of blue and I was determined to make it happen. It was a wonderful 4 years and I had created my first business, Meadowview Pottery Workshop. It is now a green local produce and restaurant owned and operated by the famous author, Barbara Kingsolver, who I later got to meet.) I wonder if they still put bright red geraniums in the window every year like I did.
Then, we moved. My husband had to get his PhD to continue college teaching on the tenure track and we moved to Austin Texas. I was a new girl on the block again and had a little baby and needed to help support the family while my husband got his degree. New place, new baby, new life.
In reality what good was a degree in ceramics in a new town, a big new artistic town? I did not know anyone. I could not think of food service because I thought I could never remember who wanted the iced tea. I applied at the mall knowing that worked while in grad school.
Then, still on my way home, I stopped at a pottery shop, Feats of Clay, poked around, talked to the owner about pots and life and left with a job offer to become a self-employed potter in her established pottery. I called the other offers back and took the job at the pottery shop where I learned how to make a living with clay.
Making a living with clay will cure a starry eyed grad student quickly. More more more. Got to make it faster and learn more techniques quickly. ""Oh look! Someone wanted my plate and my cup." And then the life question appears, the question all potters ask themselves on a daily basis unless they have a trust fund or a rich spouse, "Do I make what I want to make or do I make what I know people will buy? Do I make sculpture or do I make utilitarian pots?" And, we answer it all the time. "You do not have to choose. Make Both." Repeat.
A few years later, after grad school, we moved to Norman OK. The baby was getting bigger, I had a nice big attached garage to work from, re-established my pottery career teaching at the Fire House, and had a profitable kiosk in the local mall with two other potters for a season. Then we wanted to grow our family, had another baby, and moved to Tulsa.
The starry eyed grad student was on another life path. "Doing it all. Finding a way to do it. Just trying to make a living and prove myself a worthy potter from somewhere else."
It was what I had to do to survive.
|"The Audience," 1983. A theme that continued to Garden People and Wind People many years later. Taken from an old feature story about me and my work in Bristol Tennessee at my first gallery/studio, Meadowview Pottery Workshop.|