Why Clay? This question brings back memories of my first teaching assignment at a high school that was experiencing its first year of integration. I was Art Teacher 2. All of my students were art class newbies and Art I was my domain, Art Teacher 1 had the experienced students. Why a second art teacher? It occurred to me much later in life that I was hired because the administration anticipated some unrest, and rowdy students would be sent to electives — in other words, me, a teacher who was not much older than her students.
Well, chaos never happened. All was smooth with the transition and we had a good year, but quickly I learned that some of the students lived in an environment that was not very enriching for them. To overcome this, we went outside any day we could. We did texture rubbings on anything and everything, examined colors in tree bark, sidewalks, the bricks in the building, water in the parking lot, everything. So how does this relate to clay, to today, and this work?
It was a foundation forcing me to look differently: to see real ilife and to overcome a challenge. I dabbled with clay in our classroom working along with the students. Life changes and a creative life changed into motherhood then returned to making art. Painting was an easy re-entry but never quite satisfied. I was trying many different media and processes because art making had dramatically changed. An opportunity to take a ceramics class changed everything and a love with clay re-emerged.
RESOLVED UNRESOLVED: these words relate daily working with clay. Clay is Earth with additives. Additives make it more plastic or less, stronger or more fragile, smoother or more textured, platelets aline in various ways, and so on. Knowing the chemistry of the clay body one works with is key to success. All of this is factored into construction of a work. Finally there is a great fire bath: the kiln. Temperature in the kiln is determined by the clay body and the maker gives up control to the fire gods when the kiln begins its magic. At the end the kiln is loaded, the top is locked, one walks away and waits: out of sight but not out of mind. The transformation from fragile matter to durable object formed by intense heat is a life metaphor.
The rule is to never fall in love with work until it leaves the kiln and safely returns to the studio. Opening the kiln is like the excitement of a Christmas morning. I’m not concerned with mimetic representation because there is beauty in the imperfect. Presenting a representation, or the imperfect, gives the viewer reason to think deeper, to find acceptance in the imperfect. Courage, family, imperfection, freedom, generosity, hope, interdependence: these life puzzles are incorporated symbolically from my story into my work; given to the viewer to remember their personal story.