December 2015 Archives

#21 winter solstice 2015

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I love the fact that in our modern sense of winter I can grow a Myer lemon in my house. I remember in 2011 after our trip to Italy I was inspired to try. Each year since then my friends make fun of my spindly tree that hangs low with two or three lemons each season. With our warm house and digital communication I can grow a lemon, take images of my pots on drawings and share the days of diminishing light with far flung friends. It is a way to find meaning and my way through the maze of a dark and hectic season. The solstice is literally a moment of pause. Writing and photographing is another form of pausing time to find the beautiful, the peaceful, and the mix of mystery that vibrates between the historical and modern worlds.

21 winter 2015.jpg "A taste for winter, a love for winter vistas -- a belief that they are as beautiful and seductive in their own way, and as essential to the human spirit and the human soul as any summer scene -- is part of the modern condition. Wallace Stevens, in his poem "The Snow Man," called this new feeling "a mind of winter," and he identified it with our new acceptance of a world without illusions, our readiness to live in a world that might have meaning but that doesn't have God. A mind of winter, a mind for winter, not sensing the season as a loss of warmth and light, and with them hope of life and divinity, but ready to respond to it as a positive, and even purifying, presence of something else -- the beautiful and peaceful, yes, but also the mysterious, the strange, the sublime -- is a modern taste."
--Adam Gopnick

#20 winter solstice 2015

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Walking in the city we always stop to look at construction sites. Often there are holes cut in the plywood barrier walls abutting the sidewalk. We study the depth of the excavation, the layers of material, the incipient structural blueprint and the possibility of clay. As a potter I look at dirt with a kind of hope. There is the dream that it can be transformed from mud to music, recast from a pile to a poetic plate, serving an artistic meal that slips into the harbor of our experience.

20 winter 2015.jpgIt's that dream that we carry with us
that something wonderful will happen,
that it has to happen,
that time will open,
that the heart will open,
that doors will open,
that the mountains will open,
that wells will leap up,
that the dream will open,
that one morning we'll slip in
to a harbor that we've never known
--  Rainer Maria Rilke

#19 winter solstice 2015

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19 winter 2015.jpg

Up before the birds

who sleep on my windowsill.

Time to meet my day

with my constant companions,

all my memories and dreams.

Michael Boiano

#18 winter solstice 2015

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I pour my self a cup of tea after my last dog walk of the night. I have been skirting the neighborhood my father lived in for 40 years. It is the part of town I associate with being a teenager and the shift to adulthood. The feel of the street is embedded in the arches of my feet, but the particulars of stores,  restaurants, and buildings are being revised. I am forging new experiences, drinking up different views and setting my compass at a different base with each recent visit. The dreams of what I think of as home can stay intact while I amend my sense of home with each changing day.

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"My recollections had a kind of intensity which betrayed the way that imagination and memory had fused, which is what happens, with our earliest memories-particularly when they concern places and people we can't revisit, times and realms left behind. My family left Tennessee, one of the many places we would leave, when I had just turned seven years old, and so everything about that life remained for me sealed away, as if in a sphere of its own, a set of memories and impressions unrevised by experience, uncorrected by time.

Unrevised? Well, in a way. Ask someone who's lived in the same house all of his [or her] life what that house is like, and you'll get the adult's perspective, the point of view of now. But when you've left a house years ago, it only changes in your memory, and those changes are different-subtler, dreamier, [...] Memory erases the rooms which didn't matter; locations of feeling become intensified, larger. The dream of the past becomes a deeper dream."

Mark Doty, from "Return to Sender: Memory, Betrayal, and Memoir," The Writer's Chronicle (vol. 38, no. 2, October/November 2005)

#17 winter solstice 2015

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Our day began with the gray and very wet rural view. It ended with a damp urban walk. In between we wandered the open studios of the MFA students of the School of Visual Arts. It is wonderful to see so many artists getting their ideas into physical forms and so many friends, family, and other artists supporting their efforts.

17 winter 2015.jpg

Advice to artists from Jerry Saltz:

envy is the enemy

keep working, always

if you can, only work 3 days a week at your day job

be nice to people & go to openings - no one else knows what to do at them either

you feel the need to dance naked in public, everyone else does it in private

this is your gang (your peers from art school) - protect everyone in the gang, even the runt

85% of what's in Chelsea is shit, but what's fascinating is that your 85% is different from someone else's (like the Wallace Stevens poem Metaphors of a Magnifico: "Twenty men crossing a bridge, / Into a village, / Are twenty men crossing twenty bridges / Into twenty villages")

don't be cynical - once you become cynical you can't make good work

be vulnerable & honest with your art

as retold by Zoe Frederick at

#16 winter solstice 2015

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Every time I get fresh eggs from a friend or neighbor I am taken by the subtle colors. I work my way through my eggs by saving my favorite colors for last. It is as if the colors might impart secrets, stories, or on these short days another word for light.

16 winter 2015.jpgAnd you -
how long will you listen to these colours
before you hear the language of light?

--Pascale Petit, from Self-Portrait with Monkey And Parrot, What the Water Gave Me: Poems after Frida Kahlo (Seren Books, 2010)

#15 winter solstice 2015

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This morning the clouds shifted in, the wind and the light swept across hill and field to catch and contrast against leaf and sky, pasture and cloud. One moment the hills seemed so blue, then the corn field orange, and after the next alteration it was if my perceptions had rolled over in my sleep.

15 winter 2015.jpgThe wind shifts, the landscape turns in its sleep.
                                                                                                                            Seasons slough and rinse.

Like trees, we fall in the dark forest and make no sound.

--Charles Wright, from Black and Blue, Chickamauga (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1995)

#14 winter solstice 2015

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Walking the edge of a cliché is like looking at the dark side of the moon. It's not always the pair of pears that is important but what supports the pears.

14 winter 2015.jpg"Poetry is the dark side of the moon," he said. "It's up there, and you can see the front of it. But what it is isn't what you're looking at. It's behind what you're looking at."
--from Charles Wright Named America's Poet Laureate, Jennifer Schuessler, New York Times, June 12, 2014

#13 winter solstice 2015

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Today felt unreal, so still and warm for December. We had the doors wide open to feel the air. I walked after the sunset in the almost dark. Passing the pond, barely able to discern water from tree from sky, I returned to the house to find our last visitor giving herself a self-guided tour of the gallery.

13 winter 2015.jpg"Time can be slowed if you live deliberately. If you stop and watch sunsets. If you spend time sitting on porches listening to the woods. If you give in to the reality of the seasons."
-- Thomas Christopher Greene, I'll Never Be Long Gone: A Novel  (William Morrow, 2005)

#12 winter solstice 2015

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12 winter 2015.jpgThey say that there are moments that open up your life like a walnut cracked, that change your point of view so that you never look at things the same way again.
--  Jodi Picoult, Keeping Faith

#11 winter solstice 2015

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I remember one day years ago taking an evening dog walk along a trail with a great view of the Bluer Ridge Mountains. Before and above me was a flock of starlings swooping and swerving. I had been studying t'ai chi at the time and on my walk I considered the meaning of the yin yang symbol. As I watched the birds shift and change, it became clear to me how the symbol is just that-- a two dimensional surrogate for a very complex three-dimensional idea of balance that is ever changing.

11 winter 2015.jpg"As I stand there, observing the cranes, my mind turns to more human matters. It has been nagging away at me all the time I've been here, the razor-wire fence that the government has erected more than a hundred miles south of here to stop Syrian refugees walking across the border from Serbia; the thought of crowds moving slowly northeast as the cranes moved southwest. Watching the flock has brought home to me how easy it is to react to the idea of masses of refugees with the same visceral apprehension with which we greet a cloud of moving starlings or tumbling geese, to view it as a singular entity, strange and uncontrol­lable and chaotic. But the crowds coming over the border are people just like us -- perhaps too much like us. We do not want to imagine what it would be like to have our familiar places reduced to ruin. In the face of fear, we are all starlings, a group, a flock made of a million souls seeking safety. I love the flock not just for its biological exuberance, but for the way it prompted me to pick similarity out of strangeness, for the way its chaos was transformed, on reflection, to individuals and small family groups wanting the simplest things: freedom from fear, food, a place to safely sleep."
--Helen Macdonald, The Human Flock, December 2, 2015, New York Times.

#10 winter solstice 2015

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Sometimes my logic is full of holes, and other days my pots are full of holes.

10 winter 2015.jpg"There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realize that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes. Absences. Losses. Things that were there and no longer. And you realize, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps ..."
Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk

#9 winter solstice 2015

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This morning we woke to fog. It was as if we lived by the ocean and almost all the color had been drained from the world. The occasional leaf or errant persimmon glowed with residual color. When it was almost fully dark the dog and I skirted the pond and disturbed a flock of diving ducks. I could not see the birds but heard their flight and registered the splashes in the water.

09 winter 2015.jpgI feel like I've swallowed a cloudy sky.
-- Haruki Murakami, from Sputnik Sweetheart (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)

#8 winter solstice 2015

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On a warm December afternoon the odd forsythia blossom caught my eye. It was as if it sang like a golden ghost among the brown leaves of December. My dog had her own ideas of where we should walk tonight and she lead me through a field where earlier I had heard gun shots. I whistled odd tunes so that any hunter would know I was a human in a yellow vest with a happy golden dog not a spooked deer bounding across the hills. Forgotten melodies came back to me as twilight deepened. A mix of Jazz riffs my parents listened to when I was a kid and Elizabethan recorder music I memorized in middle school sprouted like weedy thoughts.

08 winter 2015.jpgMy soul has been haunted by something like those forgotten melodies that come back to us at twilight, during those slow hours in which memory, like a ghost among ruins, stalks our thoughts.

--Gustave Flaubert, from a letter to Louise Colet, The Letters of Gustave Flaubert: 1830-1857, translated by Francis Steegmuller (Belknap Press, 1980)

#7 winter solstice 2015

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I took a quick trip to New York City to attend a memorial for Kippy Stroud. The event was held at Omen Restaurant in Soho. Omen is a kind of home for us. We have been making pottery for Omen for over 30 years. Almost every time I would go home to visit my parents I would visit the restaurant, conveniently located only a block away. Sometimes we eat, sometimes we talk business, sometimes we are just there for a cup of tea.  Several times as I struggled with the loss of my father I went there for spiritual insight. I met Kippy there as she used Omen as her New York home for gathering with artists.

On this quick trip I was keenly aware of the sense of going home, the feel of the concrete, the gathering of like-minded artists. I walked by my parents' old loft now owned by another family, but our surname is still on the buzzer. I had dinner with my daughter and her boyfriend, said goodnight to the lights of the Empire State building and watched the sunrise over the Williamsburg Bridge.

I took the train back to Washington and drove west to my current home and studio. On the radio I listened to Rick Moody (on Fresh Air) read from his novel, Hotels of North America. His reading made clear that I have made many homes. I am thankful for my Virginia home, my parents' home, the restaurant home, and the feeling of home in Maine. I was glad to arrive and help Warren stoke the last few pieces of wood in our gas kiln, feeling the connection of making it home.

07-cups.jpg"Home, the place your enemies would wish to avoid. Home, the place your former lovers are troubled by. Home, where you can sit at the quiet table in the morning. Home, the place you sometimes hate that you also love the second you leave it. Home, any address that causes you to tear up. Home, near the metal box that has your surname on it. Home, where almost all the postcards you have ever received have been delivered. Home, where the government of your nation believes you live. Home, where your mother or your father brought you the second you no longer lived in a hospital. Home, where you first sang whatever it is you first sang. What welcome means, this you first learned at home, along with the word home. Home is where your bedroom was in the past and is now, and home is where you sleep more days than you sleep anywhere else, because if it were otherwise, you would renegotiate the application of the word home. Home is what you will describe in your masterpiece, either home or the leaving of home. If you say you have no home on earth, then what you mean is that there was trouble at your home. Home is where go right before dark. Home is where you go when you are recovered. When work becomes impossible, you will long for home. It is possible that in your life, you have had multiple homes, a sequence of homes, and that each of these has required a transition. For example, when you were in a car that carried you from a house where both your parents had lived together to a house where only one of your parents lived, even during that car ride, there was still an idea of home."

--Rick Moody, Hotels Of North America

#6 winter solstice 2015

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Flowers for Kippy


#5 winter solstice 2015

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The back stack of our gas kiln is full, the door to the kiln closed, the studio lights shut off. The sun has set, the dog and cat are fed and Warren and I set out for our walk. Our footsteps pound a rhythm, our conversation piercing the cold. The words we speak pour out from whiteness and go to nothingness with an intimacy unavailable in daylight.

05 winter 2015.jpgNever are voices so beautiful as on a winter's evening, when dusk almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day.
-- Virginia Woolf, Night and Day (published by Duckworth, 1919)

#4 winter solstice 2015

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My evening walks through the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge mountains repeat themselves. Sometimes I'm studying twigs. Other days find me memorizing the way hill meets sky. These aspects of the landscape then move through my hand into clay translations although some days it feels as if I am speaking in tongues. This untranslatable language of form and use, the way a vase accepts the twigs of my walk, is what sets my life to music.

04 winter 2015.jpg"Over the Blue Ridge, the whisperer starts to whisper in tongues.
Remembered landscapes are left in me
The way a bee leaves its sting,
      hopelessly, passion-placed,
Untranslatable language.
Non-mystical, insoluble in blood, they act as an opposite
To the absolute, whose words are a solitude, and set to music.
All forms of landscape are autobiographical.

All Landscape is Abstract, and Tends to Repeat Itself from Appalachia: Poems by Charles Wright

#3 winter solstice 2015

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Yesterday afternoon I was out of sorts. I felt I wasn't speaking the right language. I was tired of the rain, the gray and searching for a secret language--one that could alter my vision, shift my familiarity with habitual paths, and make me aware of some form of expression I had not previously understood. As a potter I often feel like I speak a foreign tongue. I constantly try to teach my audience the language of use. The moment the rim touches one's lips there is the potential to wake up! There is an instant when shape and surface influence the taste of our drink, when the curve changes the sensation of the liquid's warmth. These combined experiences give us time to perceive a moment with real clarity.

03 winter 2015.jpg"I think that the power of art is the power to wake us up, strike us to our depths, change us. What are we searching for when we read a novel, see a film, listen to a piece of music? We are searching, through a work of art, for something that alters us, that we weren't aware of before. We want to transform ourselves, just as Ovid's masterwork transformed me.
--from Teach Yourself Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri

#2 winter solstice 2015

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In the studio this fall Warren and I have been experimenting with how we cool our gas kiln. These experiments have resulted in a new syntax for the language of our old recipes of glaze and slip. I find that I shift into another logic and sensibility of surface and form as I make these pots. I work both like I am blind without expectation and as if I can see into the future.

02 winter 2015.jpgJhumpa Lahiri received an e-mail from a friend in Rome:
"Referring to my desire to appropriate Italian, he [Domenico Starnone] wrote, 'A new language is almost a new life, grammar and syntax recast you, you slip into another logic and another sensibility.' "

--from Teach Yourself Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri

#1 winter solstice 2015

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Here is the first image in a series leading up to December 21 which is the shortest day of the year.

01 winter 2015.jpg