Monday, September 27, 2010

Sandi Dihl 1953-2010

Right before my husband and I left for Belgium, I received word that my former boss and mentor, ceramic artist Sandi Dihl of Santa Cruz, California, died a few days before after being hospitalized for a week. She had been ill and diagnosed with a terminal disease, but I was unaware of this. It made me feel very sad that I was not able to say good-bye or offer her any comfort at the end of her life. I was even more troubled because I had been thinking of her and wanting to stop in for a visit, but did not have the chance to do so before she died.

I was still a beginner student when Sandi hired me as an assistant in 1994. I often think of the strange coincidence that brought me to her. I was a member of a gym where I struck up a random conversation with another member, who told me she was helping a friend with glazing her pottery. "Really? I would love to do something like that!" I said to this person, who was not as enamored with pottery as I was. She introduced me to Sandi, and I soon had a job that saw me through the next two years as I finished my education in Anthropology at UCSC.

Working for Sandi had as many rewards as it did challenges, and our relationship could be in sister-like harmony or fraught with tension, depending on the day. Sandi was generous, demanding, tempestuous, exacting, and often unpredictable in her moods. Her studio sometimes had the aura of a sorority house with afternoon glasses of wine and giggling stories about her past; other times the grim feel of a factory work floor as we churned out her trademark "wishkeepers" and she reproached herself--and me--with criticism and fault-finding when she found her work to be less than satisfactory.

Sandi was my first model of a self-supporting ceramic artist, and I soaked up every aspect of her achievements so I could create it for myself. Her shortfalls were just as important to my education, and I often joked that working for Sandi made me learn what not to do as much as what to do. The most lasting thing I learned from Sandi was the importance of generosity in the ceramics business: paying employees as well as you can afford, sharing techniques and tricks with others, and encouraging emerging artists as she did me. I would simply not be where I am today without her support and education.

There have been times over the past 5 years as I have been employing my own assistants that I have fully appreciated the crap Sandi had to deal with when she dealt with me. I was not always an easy employee; I bossed Sandi around, told her how she could do things better, and threw it right back at her when she was critical. I was young and a know-it-all. I often tried her patience and she would have jumped at the chance to paddle me on my bottom on many occasions, but she was very proud of my success and her contribution to it when I moved on to open my own studio.

Sandi's health deteriorated noticeably the last few times I saw her, and this picture below is how I remember her and how she looked when I worked for her: pretty, vital, smiling, and always with her dog, Arrow. Rest in peace, Sandi. I never thanked you enough for what you did for me.