poppies

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A little something for April, a piece from the recent woodfiring and poppies that are doing there thing right now.

poppies-in-half-moon-1000.jpg
In a field

I am the absence

of field.

This is

always the case.

Wherever I am

I am what is missing.



When I walk

I part the air

and always

the air moves in  

to fill the spaces

where my body's been
.


We all have reasons

for moving.

I move

to keep
things whole.

-Mark Strand, "Keeping Things Whole"

equinox 2017

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The equinox is a moment of balance where night and day are of equal length. I think of balance of being like a stone, heavy and still, equally slow to warm or cool. Two stones can hit and cause a spark or just touch like a kiss.

_WAF5714.jpgStone

Go inside a stone

That would be my way.

Let somebody else become a dove

Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.

I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:

No one knows how to answer it.

Yet within, it must be cool and quiet

Even though a child throws it in a river;

The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed

To the river bottom

Where the fishes come to knock on it

And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out

When two stones are rubbed,

So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;

Perhaps there is a moon shining

From somewhere, as though behind a hill-

Just enough light to make out

The strange writings, the star-charts

On the inner walls.

-Charles Simic, "Stone

topsoil

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[This piece was written in conjunction with the exhibit,

Topsoil, at Clayworks in Baltimore, March 11 to April 29, 2017]


As a gardener, topsoil makes me think of trying to counteract the dense red Virginia clay of our local terrain. I am constantly adding compost to open the dense clay-like dirt. Often I feel that I work harder on the soil than I do on the plants I am growing. Some say that is the sign of a good gardener. When I imagine good topsoil it's very fertile. I have come to think of clay similarly. How does the clay fertilize the seeds of my ideas, enhancing their growth? How does the kiln fire interact with the clay to enrich the object?


Catherine White at Stancills-ht-600px.jpg

Over the years, in my search for materials we have told our builder, farmer and excavating friends that we are looking for clay. Some call us when they find these super smooth, plastic veins of clay in their work. A dairy farmer once called to say he had a leak in his water line to the barn and they had to dig up his whole barnyard. It was a difficult clay, locally known as blackjack--super sticky when wet and killer hard when dry. I went to visit and he filled my pickup truck with his loader saying, "I would love something of beauty to come from this giant mess."  Even though this clay was cantankerous, his desire became a reason to find a way forward.


Oftentimes the clay that we have gotten from these calls and deliveries has been too plastic and too smooth for the variety we desire. I have come to realize that our search is for more of a plastic soil than a pure clay. A material with character, composed with a variety of naturally occurring grits that can open up the smooth, tight surface of our standard body yet still accept with grace, the ash deposits of our kiln.


group-WHITE-Still-h27x12x9-tall bottle h21-Stancills red.jpg

When I buy cider or vegetables at our rural farmer's market and a vendor tells me their produce is local I once imagined they meant a few miles from our location. I now know that in fact, local cider might be coming from Pennsylvania, 100 miles away. So in my clay search I have questioned the use of the term local materials. For me, local has come to mean intriguing and accessible. That might be a two and a half hour drive to Perryville, Maryland to the Stancills mine, or even five hours to North Carolina for tantalizing new ingredients. Local has come to mean the clay is of aesthetic use and of practical availability.


Nonetheless, close-by sources are exciting. I have been thrilled over the last year to visit a slowly developing pond site twenty minutes from our studio. As the excavator digs and shifts soil to create a pond I have been deeply moved by the swales of soil and dozer scrapes of the plastic clay. I bring home chunks with leaf and stick impressions. There is a quality to the raw soil, the ochre, orange and sometimes blue tones of the Virginia landscape beneath the topsoil that makes my imagination fly. I photograph tire tracks and bird prints, shadows and reflections as if each mark is a giant finger-ring or thumbprint.


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In 2011 Warren and I were traveling with our daughter in southern France when we sought out the town of Roussillon where ochre is mined. We went to a closed mine turned into a park where the shades of Naples yellow, sandy orange, or red were extensively exposed, contrasting starkly with green pine trees and brushy undergrowth. The sandy soil softened any sound and once again I found a state of wonder. I came to realize that I draw inspiration not from local materials, but from the complex qualities of raw, naturally occurring materials pregnant with potential. The piles, the gullies of erosion, the solid rocks contrasting with the sandy dunes were all absurd inspirations for how I work in my studio with clay. Without any plastic bags to collect samples, I had to memorize the sensations that filtered into my mind's eye.


Since I was in my 20s I have often looked to my experience of painting in France as an inspiration to my work in clay. I studied painting in Aix-en-Provence where Cezanne painted. I often stood and looked at his landscape motifs with a reproduction of a painting in hand and realized how much his work was a direct response to what he was seeing and how it moved through his body to his hand and brush.

As I work in Virginia and imbibe my local landscape, motifs move from my imagination out my hand. When I use found clays it is my hand collaborating with the material that creates a way of working. Firing the anagama is a collaboration of clay, hand, heat and ash.


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I have never been a purist in my approach. I mix and match in intuitive ways to get to the ideas that simmer in my head. For many years we have had a working clay body that responds well to our methods of forming and firing unglazed pots in an anagama kiln. This starting concoction is mixed by hand and pugged using industrially processed dry clays and feldspar. Departing from that basic recipe we have always sought to work with natural variations, adding portions of found or unprocessed clays. We are always searching for a balance between the wild qualities of unprocessed materials and the higher purities of industrial sources. In my work I search to capture my visions of natural erosion or even human-made patterns of excavated materials. Through experimentation I find ways of incorporating wild materials within and on the surface of my pots. This search and constant material evolution has become a fertile source for incorporating change in our work, creating excitement in each cycle of making and firing.

truth

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Many years ago I remember doing a series of drawings of an earlier series of cups and abstracted text of the New York Times. I made it into a postcard which said I could give up my morning coffee.... now I can take photos and post them on the internet and  I don't want to give up my morning coffee or the pursuit of truth.

truth cup.JPG


On this shortest day of the year we arrived home tonight just at sunset squeezing in a brief amble around the pond. We then lit a small bonfire, swelling our senses with the outdoors and the flickering light and the quiet. There is a thin coat of ice on the pond that spoke to us in a shimmering, bird-like voice reminding us that as dark as the night may seem the days are getting longer and the garden will be green again.

21 winter 2016.jpgThese nights are gifts
our hands unwrapping the darkness
to see what we have.
--Carol Ann Duffy, from "December," Rapture: Poems (Picador, 2005)

#20 winter solstice 2016

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After an afternoon of errands we returned home to feed our pets and walk. The sun had dropped below the horizon and the pale colors set the tempo of our steps. The temperature dropped and our hoods came up, but we kept the rhythm going, beating the same path, yet paying attention to the day's nuances.

20 winter 2016.jpgMark Strand
Lines for Winter
-- 
Tell yourself

as it gets cold and gray falls from the air 

that you will go on 

walking, hearing

the same tune no matter where 

you find yourself-- 

inside the dome
of dark 
or under the cracking white 

of the moon's gaze in a valley of snow. 

Tonight as it gets cold

tell yourself 

what you know which is nothing 

but the tune your bones play 

as you keep going. And you will be able

for once to lie down under
the small fire 
of winter stars. 

And if it happens that you cannot

go on or turn back 

and you find yourself 

where you will be at the end, 

tell yourself 

in that final flowing of cold through your limbs

that you love what you are.
(for Ros Krauss)

#19 winter solstice 2016

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The long hours without the sun need to be loved, like the potato loves the dark dirt or the potter loves plastic soils. We love the clay as much as the shape it describes or the words they reference.

19 winter 2016.jpgThe long silences need to be loved, perhaps
more than the words
which arrive
to describe them
in time.
--Franz Wright, from "Home Remedy," God's Silence: Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 2008

#18 winter solstice 2016

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When we fire the wood kiln I think of the process as a type of collaboration with the heat and ash from the burning wood, the clay from which we make the pots, and our hands. We work with the kiln knowing how to place things, making educated guesses based on past history. We stack, fire, and then we wait while the kiln cools for a week. We wait and rest and refresh our vision so that when the kiln is opened we (perhaps) can move beyond preconceived ideas. There is a moment of trust, a rigorous permissive process, wherein the object which has been held in suspension can be recognized for what is working and not working. Ash which is heavy or surfaces which are rough, colors that are quiet or unexpected are all part of the conversation. My responsibility as an artist is to be open to all manners of result, and to recognize what I was after all along.

18 winter 2016.jpgBut not knowing, waiting and finding -- though they may happen accidentally, aren't accidents. They involve work and research. Not knowing isn't ignorance. (Fear springs from ignorance.) Not knowing is a permissive and rigorous willingness to trust, leaving knowing in suspension, trusting in possibility without result, regarding as possible all manner of response. The responsibility of the artist ... is the practice of recognizing.
-- Ann Hamilton

#17 winter solstice 2016

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We woke this morning to a thin coat of ice on every surface. I was exhausted but wandered the field paying attention to how the ice covered every pine needle and piece of gravel, listening to the way my feet crushed the frozen grass and leaves. I meandered from pond to wood pile, mail box to compost, Chinese chestnut to black walnut. The shifting light of the day kept me engaged and as always at this time of year the sunset took me by surprise. As if the question already was waiting in the wings, more important than the answer now?

17 winter 2016.jpgA life of making isn't a series of shows, or projects, or productions, or things: it is an everyday practice. It is a practice of questions more than answers, of waiting to find what you need more often than knowing what you need to do. Waiting, like listening and meandering, is best when it is an active and not a passive state.
--Ann Hamilton

#16 winter solstice 2016

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Last night we went to the MFA open studios at SVA where our daughter is in her second year. While standing in her studio with some friends Zoe wore one of her soft sculptures which she had titled "armor."  The acquaintance asked, "where did you grow up?" "Funny you ask," said Zoe. "I grew up in rural Virginia, but my Mom grew up here in New York City as the child of two artists." Zoe went on to explain that we made pottery and there was always an ongoing discussion about the world of art and craft whether in a gallery or at the breakfast table.

16 winter 2016.jpg"I asked my ten-year-old son, Emmett, what he thought art was for and he said, "Nothing." He said, "It isn't good for anything." And as he saw my eyes roll back in my head, thinking, this is what you get from a kid whose parents are both artists, he quickly added: "Art just is." He said "Art just is" with an assumption that, like breakfast on the table, it will always be there -- a given of a culture. In my head, I could hear a voice saying in response to his confidence: "Yes, but..." Can I really believe ... that all the collective acts of making carry a weight that can counter the acts of unmaking that accrue daily? For acts of making to be acts of resistance and tools of remembering, this given-ness has to be made and maintained, and to have room made for it."
--Ann Hamilton

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  • mcarty-clay-1200px.jpg
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