“A society grows when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit under”.
Stories from those of us who have reached the rollercoaster’s apex of life, and are on the downward run should be listened to. We’re not all crazy old peeps. And it gives some of us an opportunity to give back, to explain how life has evolved for us, and how we’ve dealt with the ups and downs.
I used to do clay. There was a studio, and festivals, and galleries and years of making a living from what I created. I loved that part of my story. Then a downturn in the economy prevented me from continuing that. I was crushed. But I always dreamt about coming back to my little studio near the beach, because those were really good memories.
But then there was a thirty plus year hiatus. Doing something else. Not as fun.
Then there comes a point when you notice the difference between the amount of time you’ve lived … and what you have left … which makes you say enough.
My hands missed making things. They needed to feel the creative process again. And to dive into the creative stream that runs above our heads. Wanting to feel whole once more and to fill the hole that not creating had made.
My happiness was tied to doing this, and so that point came and I said fuck it, I’m tired of ghosting my own life, and I walked away from the empty business life I was in and into a creative one filled with light.
I am back standing in front of my studio, in that little beach community, waiting to swing the doors open again.
Through the years, I’ve collected pots by ceramicists I admire. Claude Conover, Maria Martinez, and Akira Satake. I look at their work and I see the process. That process which took a tremendous amount of time and effort to shape.
Each step of this ceramic process fascinates me. Developing the techniques. Creating the piece. Wheel thrown or hand built. The piece, after made is a simple canvas. Then to this canvas the application of whatever design, or other decoration technique brings the pot to the somewhat finished greenware state. After which there’s the gas, electrical, wood or sawdust firing. The fire, and its’ tremendous heat, brings a finality to the process. Through it all, the potter leaves a lot to what just happens. There’s a word in Japanese for this: wabi sabi. It describes the acceptance of transience and imperfection. It’s in that imperfection that I find inspirational and creative. To let go of control and embracing the mistakes is the ultimate way for creativity to take over. Even if you try to hold on through all other disciplines of creation you can’t control what happens in the firing, you can only let go and let the pot do what it wants. Embracing the chaos of fire. That’s why I love pit and/or wood firing.
There’s also the use the most basic techniques to create something which is aesthetically pleasing to one’s sense of design without bringing the ego into the mix. I’ve spent my entire life disconnecting the ego from what I do, to live fully in the process, without feeling that the work has anything to do with me once it’s done. I owe that to Doug Smith, a brilliant life drawing teacher at CSF who got to me early on. He showed us that the process is what’s important and in the end, the result had better be able to stand on its’ own two feet, because the work has no reflection on its’ creator.
An artist can only hope that the work that leaves their studio, brings the collector as much joy as it took the artist to create.
In the beginning there was always clay. First there was the backyard mud where creatures were conjured up out of nothing, to making pinch pots in grade school. When I was fifteen years old I lied about my age to get a job at the Northfield Pottery Shop where I poured slip into greenware molds and made sure that there were enough pieces for people to buy and work on. That job lasted about six months or until the massive Christmas tree mold snapped its’ bands and slip inundated the entire studio where I worked.
This set back did nothing to damper my enthusiasm. Throughout high school I lived in the art wing where clay was my speciality. Literally the day after I graduated I moved to Southern California and started taking ceramic classes from Larry Friedman at Fullerton College. That led to classes with Stokesbury and Rothman at Cal-State Fullerton as it was called then, and the brainwashing into a life of clay was complete. After college I moved to South Laguna and set up a studio in the garage of a little beach bungalow just up from A Thousand Steps beach. The year was 1976.
The first business break was getting into the Festival Of The Arts in Laguna Beach. Later I was invited to show at Vorpal Gallery (known as the Escher Gallery) which was also in Laguna at the time. The fun lasted until the economy tanked in 1981. No one was buying art when food on the table was a little more important.
That led to my working in the photo industry for thirty five years. During this expanse of time I met my wife, we had two kids, bought houses and dogs and moved multiple times. A long 37 year hiatus from clay. Then last year I had a falling out with the last photo start up I worked with and I said that’s it, I’ve done what I can in the photo industry, I’m returning to my roots.
Originally from Seattle ... and residing there once again ... after side trips to Los Angeles, Chicago, South Laguna, and Kansas City.
:: Pit Firing
My choice of pit firing comes from wanting to get back to the most basic form of making pottery. To understand the correlation of mud and fire at it’s most basic level. A grounding of the creative process.
Pit firing is “the” original way of firing clay to maturity going back some 30,000 years. The process is typically done by digging a hole in the ground, a pit, and the pots are placed into this pit and combustable material is placed around them and burned. Pit firing is also an atmospheric process where the elements used to burn influence the pottery by adding color and patterns. By using known colorants, wrapping the pots with material to create a sagger (walled barrier) to separate the fire from the pot, one can control a little of the process and influence the works outcome. But only so slightly. As with any firing the fire really does what it wants, it only lets you think you have a say.
Colorants can be copper or cobalt, seaweed or kelp, pine needles or sawdust, and with those the wood that is used to create the fire be it soft or hardwood. All have an influence on the coloring process. All are in abundance here in the PNW.
Firing is done with 55 gallon oil drums for now, but there are plans to build a permanent brick pit firing station at some point next summer. It will require building a lean-to over the top to keep the rain, that is Seattle, from interfering with the firing process.