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Ontario Clay and Glass AssociationSeveral years ago, when I was *very* new to clay, I attended my very first clay conference.    It was really my first introduction to the clay community.  I remember it being a wonderful and unforgettable experience.  I got to try rakuing for the very first time at the preliminary workshop hosted by Ottawa Valley artist Leta Cormier in her, as I remember, extremely immaculate studio.  I also got to take part in my first mug exchange in which I remember receiving a lovely salt-glazed mug by potter Jackie Seaton.  My name was even drawn and I won some nice oriental brushes. But that was not all (and this was the pinnacle for me), John Leach, of  Muchelney Pottery, was the main presenter.  His pots were like nothing I had seen before (I told you I was new to clay) and I was impressed by what a real person he was … very gracious, generous, and down to earth. He left a lasting impression on me.

I recently discovered John’s brother Simon Leach has posted a series of videos on YouTube over the last year or so, showing demos, kilns, visits back to England and to friends’ studios, his philosophies, etc etc.  What I like is he presents things face on and shares his victories and disappointments, the good and the bad,  taking it all in stride.  I don’t think a lot of people are aware how hard it can be to be a potter and that things, quite beyond your control, can go extremely wrong after many, many hours of hard work, and all for naught.  Here is the 2nd of 2 of Simon’s videos taken while unloading Seth Cardew‘s kiln:

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Have you visited the NCECA web site lately?

For those who are not potters, NCECA is the “National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts”. Their objective is to enrich and promote the ceramics through education. Most people know NCECA for its annual conference they put at different locations across the country, their exhibitions, and publications.

One of their upcoming events will be a symposium this fall in Jingdezhen, China!
NCECA/Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute International Symposium –
Shared Journeys: Chinese/American Ceramic Art Education

October 22 – November 2, 2008

On the Preview page of the Symposium are slideshows from around Jingdezhen, the Ancient Kiln Museum, as well as a few great Quicktime videos of people there skillfully making and decorating pots, all compiled by Richard Burkett and Joe Molinaro when they were there earlier this year .

The pure magnitude of some of the pots produced there and the skill of the craftsmen is, to say the least, somewhat humbling. ..five foot platters, 4×8′ handmade porcelain tiles, 6/9/12+ foot tall urns… almost unfathomable, especially to those who have worked in porcelain before and know its finicky and particular nature.

So what is their secret? Apparently, I was told, the porcelain in Jingdezhen isn’t like the smooth plastic body we know here in the west, in fact its not very plastic at all, but they have learned to work with this. They throw thick There’s a picture of one segment of a particularly large pot on the Symposium page being thrown by a team of 3 people. For large pieces such as the massive urns pictured on the website, sections are thrown separately, let dry to bone dry, then the segments are bonded together using slip. Once that’s done, they trim the assembled vessel and decorate.

There are still some spots available too.. I sure wish I could go.

Playing with Fire, DVDI found this lovely video/DVD put out by the American Museum of Ceramic Art (AMOCA) online and thought other people might like it as much as I do.

For those of you who raku, or simply love raku pottery, you may or may not know that Paul Soldner is known as the father of modern raku as we know it today… but that is only part of the story.

This video is available at: http://www.playingwithfirethemovie.com

Please check out this video trailer of the film I’ve linked in from YouTube below:

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Raku Bottle, Anne Webb
The holidays are over and life is finally getting back to normal. A much needed the break and change of pace but now I am happily back to making pots again, and looking forward to the first show of the season and starting a fresh new year.

Just before Christmas I took the plunge and went ahead and opened an Etsy store. What the heck is an etsy, you ask? Well its an online marketplace (not an auction site) where independent artists can list and sell their handmade items of all kinds. You can find the most unexpected things if you look.

Sushi plate & bowl, celadon and tenmoku glazes, Anne WebbI first checked Etsy out 3 years ago and at that time, I admit, I wasn’t terribly impressed. Since then, though, it appears to have has grown exponentially. I was happy to find a growing amount of quality work there as well. What spoke to me the loudest is that things were actually selling and for fair prices too. I have sold quite a few nice pieces on eBay (despite how other potters have said how they had done there) so I am most certainly willing to give Etsy a try too.
My store link, by the way, is http://webbpottery.etsy.com

Knowing there is a renewed interest of people going out and actively looking online to buy handmade and to support indie business actually picked me up a bit and gave me a renewed outlook for the new year. I’m not a big or regular shopper except for groceries usually, but this year as I was out looking for stuff for my girls, I couldn’t help but take notice of how much shabbily crafted junk was in the stores leading up to Christmas, mostly cheap, shoddy imports from China. Sure some of the prices looked pretty good, but that’s little consolation if something is obviously of totally inferior quality and looks really cheap. Needless to say, aside from a few low-tech toys for the girls, I ended up making most of my gifts or buying/trading with other local craftspeople.

Made me think.. do people know what they’re buying anymore? Stuff, stuff, and more stuff. That disposable consumerism mindset – quantity vs quality and all that. Evidently its very easy to become complacent for the sake of convenience, accepting whatever big corporate retail conglomerates put on their store shelves, and believing it when they tell us that we must have whatever *it* is. Sad.

Lotus Garden, Raku Vessel, Anne WebbAs a craftspeople, this is something we are constantly scratching our heads over and are all too aware of. People want the big houses, the big car, the pre-fab room settings from “Rooms to Go”, and would rather buy art/accessories from places like “Pier One” than have something unique made by a local artist or artisan. Cookie cutter people. No originality. See and be seen. Automatons who can’t think outside of the box. And the saddest thing, they don’t know the difference either. What does this say about our culture? And more importantly, what does this say about our future?

I can’t keep track of how many conversations I’ve had these past few years about how people don’t support the arts or come out to events. Lots of frustration on the part of artists, organizers, and institutions.

Here in Mobile, galleries come and go, and those galleries that are still open, are hanging on by their teeth. Museums have their own issues and “perhaps” stay alive longer since they get some governmental support. Artists are being forced to adapt more than ever before to make a living. This is not just a local phenomenon, although at times it feels that way, especially when we see other communities here on the coast and elsewhere (entire communities), show a genuine interest in art and their culture, and rally to make those kinds of events a success.

With the older generation of collectors and patrons dying out, it seems the new generation coming up are more interested in buying the big showy house and big showy vehicle, and then going to Pier One, Rooms to Go, Target, Walmart, Art Wholesale Warehouse, etc., for everything else. Is this a statement about our culture and the direction its going, or what?

I know that there are a lot of people who probably think that art is a waste of time and money, but it really is a chronicle of our culture, who we are/were, and where we are going as human beings. Goodness knows there is more to celebrate about a city’s heritage than its buildings. Thinking art and culture has no value, is incredibly short sighted.

Dana Gioia, the chairman of the National Endowments for the Arts, couldn’t have said it any better when he addressed Stanford graduates at their commencement ceremonies this year:
http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2007/june20/gradtrans-062007.html .

Its amazes me, in this day and age, that some people still cannot differentiate between a nude and pornography. I recently talked with someone who even thought a classic like Boticelli’s “Birth of Venus” unsuitable for family viewing. I was floored.

Tonight I was watching the local news, having a quiet time after everyone else had gone to bed.

One of the stories on the program was about local reaction to the cover of the latest issue of Current, a local weekly arts & entertainment magazine put out by the Mobile Press Register. On the cover this week is “Nude in the Garden”, a painting currently on exhibit at the Chesser Gallery by local artist Mary Elizabeth Kimbrough. The painting depicts a nude in a non-explicit pose, with one breast showing.

According to the story, one citizen has taken it upon herself to approach store owners to get them to remove the issue from the stands and has plans to contact advertisers as well. At the time of the article she had successfully been responsible for the disposal of 300 issues. How very presumptuous of her to assume that everyone feels the same way as she does.

Another story, though more tragic, comes to mind when I hear things like this ..one that I heard from several reliable sources when I first came down here to the coast. A number of years ago a family donated a sizable collection of paintings to a local art center after the artist, a relative, had died. The old guard of the center, apparently, took it upon themselves late one night to pull out all the nudes and burn them! Criminal.

Where does censorship end?

I certainly wouldn’t expose my kids to pornography, but I have little doubt or hesitation that I will take them to exhibits at museums and galleries that may have nudes (art). .. a better alternative to a lot of what is on TV these days.

I didn’t think much about the presence of that painting on the cover of Current when I picked it up earlier this week, but I congratulate the editor for putting it there. It may have sparked a little controversy, but at least it got people here in Mobile and southwest Alabama to think, discuss, and interact more about ART. Its something we desperately need here.

My name is Anne Webb and I'm a studio potter living and working just outside of Magnolia Springs, on Alabama's beautiful Gulf Coast. Please leave comments!
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