I am still not up to full speed, but life is settling back into a
routine. Last night, with Jeff out of town, I loaded up the kids and
drove to EMU, left them at Diana’s and went to printmaking to work on my
etching of a beetle collection (in rows, on pins). Afterward, Ben
Bigelow the printmaking TA and my roomie Patrick Green picked up a stack
of pizzas and we all had supper together before heading back down the
This afternoon I’m off to the clay studio with a box of greenware and a
head full of ideas. On the night I stay over, I can work late and come
back early, so if my body can keep up with my brain, I’ll be able to do
something about a notebook full of NCECA sketches.
I was supposed to take Patrick’s dancing shino mug to his old prof Dave
McBeth at nceca, and failed… David, I’ll ship you the pick of the next
litter. Sorry, both of you, for being such a bad messenger.
The benefits of NCECA are still making themselves felt. I realize that
the majority of the people in my life –though generally supportive and
non-confrontational — really have no idea why a “pottery hobby” is
worth disrupting family life, finances and schedules. After all, it’s
just pottery, right? So spending a few days in the company of folks who
“get it” about pots will keep my battery charged for a good long time.
(of course, a portion of the pot-heads can’t understand why I would
bother with children) ;0)
Maybe next year at NCECA we should have a clayart room gathering one
afternoon for parents with kids at home, to brainstorm about the
logistics of it and share some support and advice. Half a dozen
clayarters spring to mind who are in the midst of this same balancing
act, or are letting one side or the other win out. Elizabeth, will you
be at NCECA next year? Ken Nowicki and I talked about time issues
briefly, and Lana Wilson’s panel discussion on parenting and pottery
barely scratched the surface.
I am no stranger to the mommy-guilt-overcompensation-dance, but since I
took on school, I have noticed a lot of unintended benefits to my kids.
It’s heartening and I’d love to talk about it with others in the same
I ran into a clayarter or two at nceca who seemed to think I had
“crossed over to the dark side” now that I am in grad school… that
surely, next, I would be looking down my nose at unschooled potters, and
fluent in incomprehensible artspeak. I don’t suppose I could convince
anyone whose preconceptions are firmly rooted, and maybe some more
ethereal programs demand that sort of thing… but so far what I have
learned is that the key is TIME. How many years a potter has been in the
field seems more important than whether they learned at Alfred or from
an old timer with a wood kiln in the back 40. The number of hours I am
forced to put into my pots, because I am in school, has pushed me as far
as the prof looking over my shoulder.
Being assigned to work on the stuff I am worst at has been a valuable
exercise, but I still believe what clayarters have always said: that if
you took the time and money required to do an MFA and put it into your
studio and equipment, you’d be as far ahead — especially if you can
recruit seasoned potters with a good eye for ongoing critiques. For me,
though, without a semester’s demands, that kind of time would constantly
be eroded by all the other obligations in my days… and I don’t have
the self discipline to make myself do what I hate and what I am bad at,
without the prof over my shoulder holding a big stick.
A friend said, “You’re all about alternative education, why not just
homeschool yourself the degree?” and there’s only one answer, as far as
I can tell: you can’t get hired to teach at the college level with a
homeschooled degree. The credential is the coin of the realm, and if I
have to choose between selling at street fairs or working in a well
funded university or college setting, the second one has a certain
appeal. Especially now that I am getting excited about wood, salt and
“big melt” — none of which seem very practical in a home setting.
Anyway, I’m done for the year in at the end of April, and will spend the
summer making pots-to-sell to finance next year’s tuition. It will be
interesting to work in a private place with a monetary goal in mind, no
prof, no big stick.
Kelly in Ohio
“diana pancioli has many wonderful glazes for cone 6 redu.
but, she is a `supreme smarty pants`.
she got in bob anderson’s face…big time. a long breakfast
and lots of talk. `don’t make raku, make stoneware, get your
new kiln done, make things that will last forever, make hard
pots, not soft pots etc.etc.etc.`
he did a great job defending himself…logical, good discussion.
but, she did not believe him. i think he is working on his new
kiln shed right now (5 a.m.)….he sees her coming out of the dark with
a big louisville slugger……………………..whack, `make
bob’s big purple/red/platter in the clayart room convinced her….`if
he can make pots
like that one, why waste time with raku? just her opinion…
`but, we all see what kelly witnesses.` power and opinion.
good stuff. god, do i hate wishywashy.
Mel, are you implying that my prof is opinionated, outspoken, or direct
in some way?
The HELL you say!
I’ll be honest… there are days when I fantasize about being enrolled
in some self-esteem-camp program, where the profs just pat your head and
tell you everything you make is a wonderful exploration of your
individuality… (not sure where these mythical programs are, but one
It didn’t take long to learn what kind of pots and comments would get
the hairy eyeball from Diana. We don’t make ashtrays or bud vases, we
don’t weave convoluted artist’s statements or wax on about “narrative”
work, we don’t dip our plates half-in-this-and-half-in-that, and god
help the newbies who ask where the raku kiln might be…
Every prof has biases, favorites, influences from their own teachers,
and pet peeves. Diana’s favorite pots are the ones made several
centuries ago (though she dislikes pots that mimic bronze vessels, and
flips past Iznik slides in a hurry.) A couple thousand years of pots to
choose from for inspiration is not too shabby, though.
Do I always think my profs are right? Nope. Do I like things that I am
not making in the MFA program? Sure. But I am here to learn what my
profs can best teach me. They know what that is, so I don’t spend much
time arguing a point or digging in my heels. I’m a good dog, I do what
I’m told. That’s what I signed up for and dammit, I want my money’s
I have my own studio (and the rest of my life) to make whatever moves
me. We veteran grad students, now just weeks away from the end of our
first year, have a sense of having come a long way. Our work shows it,
and our resilience in the face of, um, pretty straightforward crits. It
took time to get used to, and we’ve formed a small, tight group in the
At first I felt protective of newbies to the program, offering hints and
“cliff’s notes” on how things work. Frankly, though, as I get more
involved with the challenges of my own pots, I spend less time worrying
about new students and their ups and downs. I have lost the clay-camp
feeling that we should all hold hands and sing kum-ba-ya. I just want to
be in my cave, and get my work done, and folks can sink or swim like I
I am starting to appreciate the space the profs created as a grad
studio, apart from the main classroom — not because we grads think
we’re superior or somehow special, but because we’re in a different
place at this point. We’re planning our own firings, critiquing each
others’ work, sharing ideas, and we know and trust each other. The
general yabber of the classroom is distracting, and a student or two are
sufficiently annoying that I plan to bring earphones – plugged
into nothing but my back pocket — rather than make conversation when I
have to make clay or glaze pots in the shared studio.
(I’m such a shy, quiet little thing, anyway…)
Yours, home to a hubby who called me last night at EMU to say he’s
forgotten what I look like, after NCECA overlapped with his trip out of
town, then I left for school…
Kelly in Ohio
I haven’t checked this out yet, but the N
CECA podcast is apparently at
Also, just a note to folks who have written to express dismay that we
don’t do raku at EMU:
The way I see it, college programs specialize, just like restaurants do.
The profs bring their strengths and dislikes with them, and if the
program thrives, it gets a reputation for that strength (ie: functional
If I am craving sushi, I won’t pick a Mexican restaurant. If I was in
love with raku, I would have applied to Piepenberg’s program, another
half hour down the road: he’s a marvelous man and his program makes very
While I think it’s nice for ceramics programs to provide a wide range of
approaches and techniques, I’m not sure any program can try to do
everything and not spread itself too thin. I’ve had the luxury of a lot
of years and a lot of workshops to try this and that, and there’s a
whole lifetime more of things I haven’t tried. What I have learned so
far in school, though, is that I could spend two years of focused energy
and not master a plate, bowl and cup, much less a teapot — so I am
trying hard to sit on my ADD attention span and stay focused. Too many
choices just boggle me.
My dream restaurant would only have three things on the menu ;0)
Kelly in Ohio, at the library while two kids are at piano and a third
browsing teen fiction… then off pick up slides and stop at the bank,
then to walk laps while the kids do homeschool sports at the rec center,
then saxophone lessons, then home for family house-cleaning and laundry
and what-the-heck-is-for-dinner. Still worrying over the sound I heard
in the quiet kitchen, this morning, while having my coffee… it sounded
a lot like the mumbledy-squeak of baby raccoons in my kitchen ceiling…