Enter The Fray…

I have been frustrated the past two weeks by my recent bicycle injury but more than that by what I missed out on online while recovering. Apparently there was an incendiary guest post over at Sawdust and Dirt and by the time I figured out that it had occurred, it was taken down. Today, an apparently lengthier entry by the same guest blogger has been posted. I have been temporarily inspired by Mr. Pilcher’s call for more lengthy discussions and less slapdash entries with pictures of what I did yesterday. Of course I say temporarily because I’m somewhat laid up and I don’t have any pictures of what I did yesterday and I’ve already been leaning toward longer entries (although I suspect many people have neither the time or inclination to read them through). But like Mr. Pilcher, I’m a self styled curmudgeonly heretic of sorts myself and although his clarion call was to write something more in depth about the creative process… I am not going to do that directly. Instead I’d like to tell a story of ceramics and by correlation imply where such a story led which is… to me and my current work. I had a great undergrad teacher, Fred Shepard, who was a functional potter and had an absolute mastery over the materials. He was also a very funny guy. He had an ex-student who had gotten the job of teaching at the University of Montana alongside of Rudy Autio. Fred said to me and another ceramics student graduating at the same time, you all should go to Montana and study with Rudy and he probably leveraged his connection with his ex-student to get us both in but I have absolutely no proof of that. So Montana, here we come. Mark, the other student, and I leave Murray, KY on one of the last days of August. The day before we left we were cutting tobacco for 6.00/hr. in 95 degree heat. After an incredibly long ride, we arrive in Montana a couple days later to the beginnings of winter. We actually drove through an entire season. A beautiful place, Missoula but I was soon to have my bubble burst. It became clear the first day that Rudy wasn’t going to be interacting with us nearly as much as the other instructor, who shall remain anonymous. He approached Mark and me the first day and said that if we wanted to excel in the program, we would take his performance art class each semester. Hmmm, this was 1982 and all I could think was… performance art, wasn’t that all done with about 20 years earlier and more importantly, what the hell does this have to do with ceramics and me coming all the way out here to study it. Well, obviously I was wrong about it all having been done with by then but it did fit in with the overall feeling that eventually became clear and that was that this little alcove had somehow managed to slow time and that I had entered a vortex sending me back to the 60’s. Sure, performance dude had an remarkably obedient dog named sponge that would do anything he said or die trying and sponge was a real advantage when keeping the performances entertaining. Anyway, we said no and didn’t take his class although we were in an extreme minority. Initially, I helped Mark finish building a beautiful new kiln that was only partially done when we arrived but soon I realized that I couldn’t get much done during the day and shifted my schedule to come to the studio at about 10 p.m. and leave when people started showing up in the morning. I never had any interactions about my work with the performance dude. He seemed clearly to be absolutely uninterested in ceramics and I figured that he felt that this was his punishment for us not obliging him with his performance initiatives. Well, so much the better. Early into the first semester, a new student from back east showed up, I don’t recall his name but I think it was Dave. Dave was a potter who worked for Peter Voulkos back in New Jersey, I think. He was not Mr. Voulkos’s student but someone that worked for him to fire, etc. Since Rudy and Voulkos were friends, Dave entered the grad program with us. Dave made big, thick, rough twisty pots that were very heavy. Dave also did a lot of cocaine and PCP although I never saw him actually take them. Dave also blew the roof off the new kiln that Mark and I had finished by relighting a burner that had been out for quite some time while candling. So one very cold night while I was working, Dave showed up and it was about 2 or 3 p.m. I heard him come in and waited for him to pop his head into my studio space but he went straight to the kiln room because he had been waiting to unload a recent firing. I figured that he’d stop in a bit later. Suddenly, I heard some small crashes and then an unbelievable cacophony of heavy things breaking and breaking glass and screaming. I came out of my studio into the general clay area to see Dave, high as a kite, with only his underwear and boots on, with blood on his underwear and legs from a cut he had gotten from one of his broken pieces, standing on the wheelhead of a potter’s wheel and after throwing one of his large huge pieces against the clock above the sink, shattering it and having it all fall into the sink, jumping from wheelhead to wheelhead screaming and ranting. I managed to calm him down and get him to put some clothes on and leave mostly because I wanted to stem the destruction. By the time I had intervened, he had thrown 2 of his pieces into the undergraduate ware shelves breaking entire shelf-fulls of work. There was glass and blood and pottery shards everywhere. I spent the hours before Rudy and performance dude got there cleaning up what I could but there was no hiding the damage that had happened so quickly. I normally wouldn’t have stayed until Rudy and performance dude showed up but I felt without some explanation that they would be at a loss for what happened and maybe connect it to me since they knew I was there all night on most nights. They were not happy and I didn’t tell them about the blood and other crazy parts of the story. Now when I agreed to go to Missoula, I was told that Mark was getting an assistantship and that if I could somehow get through the first year, I would receive one the second year. When summer came, I caught a ride with my girlfriend to Chicago and another friend picked me up and took me to Louisville. I received a letter after a month or so from Rudy saying that he regretted that they couldn’t give me the assistantship as promised and it was only later that I found out that Dave had gotten it. I don’t tell this as a sour grapes story… it’s just what happened and I have no regrets. My time spent watching Rudy do demos for the undergrads was worth being there in itself and he eventually trusted me to fire some kilnloads of his beautiful pieces. I also got to go to a Stephen DeStaebler workshop in Idaho, lounge naked in natural hot springs with snow all around, go white water rafting and go tubing down the Rattlesnake river in the coldest liquid I’ve ever been immersed. Now, Mark left after the second semester (they were on the quarter system) and took a job with Beverly Pepper and when he was trying to get out of there, we both applied to other schools. When I received word that I wouldn’t get the assistantship, I called my undergrad sculpture teacher and he said call Tom, the sculpture prof at SIU-C and see what he says. I called Tom and he said within the first 30 seconds… come here, you’ll get two assistantships if you want them, no need to apply, just get here. He delivered, I was at SIU-C for 3 full years and for all 6 semesters I had 2 assistantships. I never returned to Montana or my girlfriend and she married performance dude. From what I understand, neither of them is involved in art or performance and they raise sheep somewhere up in Montana. Fast forward to 2004 after a 21 year hiatus from clay. A friend of mine’s girlfriend was a young promising ceramics person here in Louisville. I spoke with her on several occasions about getting back into ceramics. She decide a year of so later to attend a clay school up north, that shall remain anonymous. Halfway through the first semester, my friend told me that she had been persuaded to get into performance art. What? I stand firm on what I believed then and still believe. What does performance art have to do with ceramics? Not a damn thing. But what gives? So there ya go… wouldn’t you rather have a picture of my dog and some greenware?

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15 Responses to “Enter The Fray…”

  1. fred Says:

    you betcha … and i wish you’d get a log splitter too!

  2. Kari Weaver Hopkins Says:

    Doesn’t Dave’s kiln-exploding, pot-throwing rampage count as performance art? I can’t believe I read that whole post. Probably because my mother lives outside of Missoula and her husband grew up with Rudy Autio. It is a beautiful place.

  3. Myrtle Says:

    I liked it. A few years ago I had a dream that there were Help Wanted signs in all the buildings – for performance artists.

  4. sheila patterson Says:

    Who wants to wear the Emperor’s clothing while making performance art? And what does that have to do with a desire to live and make the pots you love.

    I like your blog just the way it is. It shows a sort of balance that you have found between art and raising a beautiful child.

    Sure, that philosophic stuff is great but is that you? As for longer post, I don’t have the time because I need to be in the studio making a living and not reading endless blogs. Besides I subscribe to several magazines that cover that topic.

    There is a reason you have such a loyal and strong following. Keep up the good work.


  5. Zygote Says:

    I used to regularly choose studio partners that were installation artists just in the hopes that I would eventually “get it”… I never did, but standing next to them I often found myself feeling quite a bit better about myself.
    I’m still mulling over Don Pilcher’s new editorial over on Sawdust & Dirt… I spent the day in the test gardens digging trenches to help keep the hands busy while I worked through the premises that he put forward. I unfortunately feel that he’s pitting the academics against the populists, and as an academic that feeds the family based on populist aesthetics and economics, I’m feeling a bit torn (just a bit though…).

  6. meredith Says:

    oh but that was a fun read-I couldn’t get through the post done by Don… I know I am simple minded but what makes a good story?
    FIRST-You have to like the characters.
    The story must grab your attention.
    (no clothes and blood do that for me)
    It should have a beginning a middle and an end.
    Keep your life, your pots, the dog and your sweet Sofia coming.
    I enjoy it all.
    Plus you touch my funny bone……What will happen when the academia take over the blogs….
    I don’t come here to think I have all day to do that.

  7. Judy Shreve Says:

    Great post — you are a wonderful storyteller! But I missed seeing a picture of Sofia in this posting — and where’s Dingus been lately? Don’t change a thing about your blog!

  8. ang Says:

    I am still at a quandary how one post can affect us…. the makers, the lovers of the process, the encouragers and supporters with kittens, puppies, food and mugs!! I dig the premise of your page, your gorgeous calligraphic looking pieces, stories about sofia and food plus dingus and your bike and who can forget your feet!!! :))

  9. Tracey Says:

    What everyone else said! I had to save this one for after dinner I had a lot to do today, missed a whole day of work yesterday. Long posts are hard for me and I won’t be reading any more of the guest posts on Mk’s blog, requires way too much thought and rage 🙂 but yours are at least well written and a good laugh in there somewhere. I just have to set aside time for them lol

  10. Michele Says:

    great post… a little long but a very entertaining read 🙂
    and no matter what mr. pilcher says or writes… i still like blogs with pictures of greenware, dogs, cats & babies.

  11. ron Says:

    Hey Jim, Cool to learn more about your past. Great story. I could use some spaces in there though as I lose my place a lot. Ha! Your blog is one of the best, I never read anyone else’s posts who are really long. Just yours. Thanks for taking time to be a blogger.

  12. judi tavill Says:

    This is the best post EVAH…..
    I am what I am .
    And really… only I know what that is.
    I think your story is an interesting example of the politics and irony in most careers (coming from the fashion industry…I could write stories and screenplays full of it…WHOOPS… it’s been done!).
    Needless to say the opinions will continue to flow…
    Stories and thoughts will continue to be written
    and the world will continue to spin.
    I will continue to put irrelevant AND relevant info out there into the cybersphere and those who are interested can read chime in
    and those who are not interested can go do something else.

  13. Eugene Hon Says:

    The politics of the ceramic world is to much to handle, on a regional , national and international level – I give performances everyday I teach; cant be bothered, I don’t take what they {political players of any kind) have to say seriously anymore. I guess, I was one myself, for too long (one make too many enemies), and all I want to do now, is make work, promote ceramics in every way I can and stay away, as far away as I can, from any politics as is humanly possible in this day and age. Your blog is always fun to read; thanks for shedding light on the life of a potter; amidst all the trials and tribulations of living and working with mud.

  14. Emily Says:

    Laughing out loud…!!!

  15. kyle Says:

    Hi Jim,
    I know I am weighing in on this post a post late but hey, its been a long and busy summer. I too missed the first don pilcher post and I am sorry I missed it. After reading his second ,revised post, i do not really see what the uproar is about. Like don I too am somehwhat of a heretic and not an advocate for traditional pottery but I feel some of his remarks were simply about shock factor…aimed at a community of people that, he may feel, hold too tightly on tradition. Although he believes his own rascal ware is pushing the boundaries, it is still immersed in the idea of the vessel and clearly references folks that came before him(G.Ohr and ab ex clay) In some ways, he travels the same path as the folks he rails against albeit a less traveled path.
    As far as the need for blog improvement…forget it. I read or browse blogs for different reasons and the thought of having a really meaningful two way(or more) discussion doesn’t really enter the equation for me. Blogs help me stay connected to other people I am interested in…interested in for different reasons. I really like your work and your surface design, but I like hearing about your daily life and the”bug” too. I love posting anything I feel like posting and the freedom that the blog allows. It always changes…not static like just a website…why go back and forth to somebody’s site. Hey, blogs are great with coffee in the morning too. There are other forums available to me when I am in need of feedback and discussion…as well as for other people too…and these forums are mostly not on the internet.
    ok, that was my 2 cents or a little more…see you on the web.

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