Monday, May 28, 2007

help wanted

After a mini-meltdown on Sunday-- yes, working on a Sunday-- my mother suggested I put it out on my blog that I need more help in the studio. So here it is:

Basically, my assistant needs an assistant. This will entail a lot of prep type jobs: mixing glaze, cleaning bisqueware, finishing work on small molded items, assembling orders, keeping the studio clean, and whatever other small jobs need to get done. Experience with clay is desirable, but not absolutely necessary. What is necessary is that you are a quick study, detail-oriented, work efficiently and well with your hands, and love ceramics.

I would like someone who can start as an intern for 6 weeks. That is enough time to determine if you will fit in at the studio, at which time I'll hire you. Pay will depend on your experience and abilities.

I offer a fun and high energy work environment where you will learn a lot about pottery production. There is also opportunity to make your own work in the off hours in my studio for people who need access to more studio time. If you are interested in this job, send me an email with your qualifications and a phone number. If you know someone who might be interested in this job, send them this posting!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

real life again

Landed back home in Oakland yesterday to a mountain of work I can't make sense of and completely unable to function without the daily nap I've been taking every afternoon for the past 10 days. It's amazing how quickly an extra hour of sleep in the afternoon becomes essential while on vacation. Thankfully my assistant Sara did a more than competent job of holding the fort down and making sure everything didn't collapse while I was gone. She did a much better job than most people could be expected to do-- stepping into my shoes while I go to Maine for naps-- yet she felt she should have done more and done it better. I love overachievers.

Since Charlie and Terrill moved to Maine back in January, Andrew and I have really missed having them in our daily lives. I think we crammed 4 months of worth of our usual activities into the 10 days we spent with them, which included exactly 5 different things:
  1. Cooking and eating outrageously fattening gourmet meals, including organic beef from Kelly's down the road and dozens of eggs from another farmer in the opposite direction. I also ate fiddlehead ferns for the first time ever.
  2. Consuming vast quantities of wine every evening.
  3. Playing in Terrill and Charlie's new glassblowing studio. Another first: blowing glass. After watching Charlie and Terrill effortlessly blow amazing glass for such a long time I figured I was ready to give it a shot. I could not believe how difficult it was to just do the blowing part, much less twirl the pipe to keep the glass on center while I was doing it. The picture above is Charlie helping me with my first piece, which can only be described as a collapsed silicone boob. Note the look of intense concentration on my face, and the look of infinite patience on Charlie's.
  4. Long conversations about every angle involved in blowing glass, throwing clay, and selling work.
  5. Cruising the Maine countryside in search of beer, food, and cute roadside farm animals.
After 7 days in rural Maine we all went to New York City for a few days of visiting friends (me) and checking out the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (them). Another day we went to the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum and also visited the famous design and home accessories store Moss. I am really interested in how "design" is a word being used to uplift "craft". Moss is a fascinating example of this; most items for sale are encased in glass display cases, not unlike what you would see at a museum. I've noticed how the word "designer" is more commonly being used to replace the word "artist". I was recently featured in a write-up on Apartment Therapy and I was described as a designer. I would describe myself primarily as an artist, a designer has a different connotation to me and I haven't worked out my feelings on this subject yet, so we'll leave that discussion for another day.

I'm only home for a few days then I'm off again to help Christa move to Kansas City for her new plum job at the Art Institute. I have a thousand things that need to get done between now and then, so I'm off!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

a friend's success

I'm on vacation, so it's great to get to write about what my friends are up to with their work instead. My oldest friend Waleed is on today, with a feature about his work for Cynthia Steffe. I'm so proud of him!

Monday, May 14, 2007

neccessary vacation

Andrew and I are in Maine visiting Terrill and Charlie at their new house/compound/glassblowing studio for a week, then we are all off to New York City for the Furniture Show. I left my computer at home, a decision that took a lot more time to come to than it should have, but I realized that taking my computer on vacation makes me one of those people who... takes their computer on vacation. Obviously I'm still working on a computer here, but at least it's not mine. The great thing is that as I sit here in Maine, I'm getting orders off my new website, so I'm making money while I'm on vacation, which is something I've been trying to pull off for years.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

beloved teacher

I recently communicated with my favorite teacher in the world, Mr. Hobson. I call him Mr. Hobson because he was my fifth grade teacher, and there is no way in the world I could ever dream of calling him by his first name. Mr. Hobson is a mythic figure in my household and family: the perfect teacher that both my sister and myself were lucky enough to have.

Mr. Hobson was very important to me for one reason: he made me feel like I was the most special and smartest kid in the classroom. I had just come off a really bad year in fourth grade, where my teacher, Mrs Foote-- yes that was her name and yes, that was the appropriate name-- constantly harped on me for not paying attention, not following directions, "living in my own world" (what does that mean anyway?), and spending an abnormal amount of time with my nose buried in a book. I had just started earning what would be years of low grades in the public schools, and while I knew I was not stupid, I was starting to get the idea that maybe I was not completely "normal" and I was going to have a difficult road ahead of me paved with Mrs. Foote types. Above is a recent picture of Mr. Hobson with students in Japan.

On top of this, I was a very shy kid. Now, in this wonderful life I live now, my dear friends have no way of imagining me as shy, but I was. Painfully so. I was very sensitive and lacked coping skills, other than to be hyper-aware of everything happening around me and totally self-conscious. Mr. Hobson thought I was great just the way I was. He also thought it was great I read so much, and he was amused by my obsession and incessant chatter about gymnastics, the only thing that could pull me away from my books. He told me recently his most vivid memory of me is sitting in the splits during recess, while reading a book. He let me read as much as I wanted throughout the day, skip ahead on material that bored me, and express myself during class, which usually came in the form of hysterical giggles. My shyness, which I didn't really start getting over until my late teens, started cracking during Mr. Hobson's class, and it began with these giggles that I could not contain, usually in the middle of his lessons.

Mr. Hobson once busted me cheating during a spelling test. I never bothered with any kind of studying, ever. Anything else I didn't give a damn about, but in spelling I wanted the perfect "100". I was a champion speller-- that reading thing-- and words were the only thing I never had a problem with. In the written form, that is. To me, cheating in school wasn't a big deal. I viewed school as jail time, and who cared how one got through it? The important thing was to graduate high school so you could get released and have a life. Mr. Hobson was utterly flummoxed that a child as smart, as bright as myself could ever cheat. He wasn't angry with me. If he yelled at me I would have cried and said I was sorry and then gone on to do the exact same thing during the next test. But his questioning me, not with anger, but with curiosity, was a challenging experience for me. Mr. Hobson said, "What kind of grade you get doesn't matter, it's what you are learning that matters. All you are doing is cheating yourself." That, of course, is the philosophy of a brilliant teacher. Suddenly, the cliched expression came to life for me and I understood what he was saying, actually felt ashamed for cheating and not just ashamed for getting caught. I also understood the "100" didn't really mean much when school held no significance to me.

Fifth grade was the first time in my life when I enjoyed school, looked forward to Mondays so I could see my beloved Mr. Hobson, and started figuring out what was important to me. While school rarely trumped gymnastics, I started placing value on what was in my mind and realizing not everyone could appreciate me or my outlook, but I was worthy in the larger world outside of my home.

When I was ten years old all I wanted in life was to be on the 1984 Olympic gymnastics team, but Mr. Hobson thought I was going to be a writer. I cracked my knee before I could manage the Olympics, and I'm obviously working on the writing, but I still adore Mr. Hobson. I do not think it is a coincidence that all my closest friends today are artists, teachers, or both. And I have a couple of lawyers in there too, gotta have someone watching my back!

Monday, May 07, 2007

the lives of others

I just saw a fantastic movie with the husband called "The Lives of Others". The movie takes place in mid-eighties East Germany before the wall came down. It tells the story of a state security agent-- known as the Stasi-- who is spying on the country's leading playwright. Not just spying, but listening to every single thing that takes place inside the writer's home. It's fascinating to watch how the "security" agent is transformed by what he listens to and learns, and the unpredictable chain of events that are put into motion by the surveillance. I was moved by many elements of this movie, but the one thing I considered the most while I watched was how important art is to a society and culture. People simply cannot live meaningful lives without the beauty art brings, whether it's a thought-provoking play, a piece of music that stirs up an emotional response, a painting that transports you to another place, or the pleasing roundness of a perfectly made bowl.

The art a society produces is a direct reflection of the lives being lived in that culture. It is no wonder that it is the artists and intellectuals who are suspect in a totalitarian society, and often the first to be purged during revolutions. The characters portrayed in the movie were not free to express themselves as they wanted, for fear of what would happen to them if they spoke against the socialist government. It made me think about the American culture that I live in. As a general principle I am free to express what I wish without fear of retribution, and other artists in this country are free to do so also. There are issues of censorship and grant-pulling and political correctness, but there is a platform to fight back without fear your spouse will be arrested and disappeared into a prison if you don't toe the line. I have this gift of freedom to express whatever I wish while others do not-- today, right now--and what do I do with this precious commodity I possess?

I thought that no matter where you live in the world, being an artist is always a struggle, and that is part of the life of an artist. Your job, as an artist, is to hold the mirror up to the culture. I guess there are some artists who get to cozy up to the king and have a cush life, but then I wonder what is the value of the art. Or am I just romanticizing the struggle because I'm not in the king's court... yet? I have often said that our culture worships artists, yet also despises them for not directly contributing to the GNP. There is the expression, "the tyranny of capitalism", and when I consider that expression, I think of the many who give up on being artists before they even try because they think they can't survive.

The wall falls at the end of the movie, and I remember the day well. It was right after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, and my life was in chaos because I was living and working in downtown Santa Cruz near the epicenter. I was 19 and shakily trying to adjust to this reality of big nasty earthquakes. I had dreamed of living in California since I was a kid, and now I was thinking that there was a heavy price to pay living in quake country, and not just the rent on my 300 square foot studio. News of the outside world filtered in here and there, but it all seemed distant and far away. But when the wall fell it was such big news it knocked everything else off the headlines. I remember looking at a picture of a young woman with a mohawk, a black leather jacket, and a pink tutu, drinking champagne out of the bottle on top of the crumbling wall. The juxtaposition of that image against the backdrop of my own world of fallen buildings and changed lives seemed strangely parallel. Buildings fall, walls come down, change is inevitable. I don't know where I'm going with this tangent, but see the movie. It's worth it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

beautiful disaster

It is a cliche in the world of ceramics to say that pottery is all about letting go. But it is, and it's an ongoing lesson. A few things I've learned as I learn to let go is to not get too heavily invested in any one piece. I might spend hours on it, but I don't have the expectation that the work will actually pay off with a good piece. I hope--I always hope-- but in the end, when it doesn't work out as I hoped, as it occasionally does, I shrug and move on. I used to cry almost every time I opened the kiln, and that is a big drag. You have to toughen up if you want to be a full-time potter.

I still haven't learned out to let go when it comes to wholesale orders. I don't cry when they come out of the kiln all messed up, but I get really angry and I've been known to throw things and stomp my feet. I usually say to myself, "I don't care how messed up the piece is-- it's going out to the store!" That makes me feel better for the moment, half convinced I won't have to make the piece again. Of course, in the end, I could never send out something that doesn't pass muster with me.

Here's that Forget-Me-Not vase that I was working on a couple of weeks ago. It came out with these crazy cracks across the surface. I was disappointed but very glad that it was not a vase order that I would have to re-make. And I suspected it would have problems because when I was working on it the clay was already on the too-dry side and my clay body is very sensitive to getting sponged down when it's already dry. I would usually put the flowers all the way around the perimeter of the vase, but I stopped after two flowers in case of problems.

Sometimes when people -- not potters--see these kinds of problems they get really upset for me. "What a heartbreaker!" is what I often hear. But in the end, cracked pots just makes me more determined to do it again, better than last time. So being a potter is not only about letting go and being tough, it's also about being completely, totally, and utterly masochistic.