This moment in time.
I had a conversation a few years ago with another ceramic artist about balancing clay with family. She told me about a friend of hers who was a writer. She usually wrote novels. When she had little kids she couldn’t do that. It was too hard to complete a thought. Her time was too disjointed and she was always a bit sleep deprived. So she started writing poems. She could complete her thoughts in poetry. I realized that I was basically doing the same thing with my own clay work. I couldn’t make an elaborate thrown and altered teapot or a 36″ tall bottle that needed to be thrown in parts. Or anything else that demanded lots of uninterrupted time and very particular timing. Clay is tricky. Timing is everything. It might not matter that I have an afternoon free in the studio if I don’t have another one for several more weeks. If I can’t get back to finish the pieces I started, what was the point in doing them in the first place? I realized that I needed to focus on smaller pieces that I can finish in a predictable amount of time. Just for now. Accepting that this was what I needed to do was really liberating. If I kept trying to do more than my life would allow, I would always feel like I was failing. But if I keep my expectations realistic, it was oh so satisfying. Bigger pieces that went unfinished were just clay shaped guilt trips. And what fun is that? My studio should be filled with joy, not guilt! With this realistic perspective and approach to my work, I get to spend lots of time with my babies AND get my hands dirty with some clay regularly.
There is a wonderful parenting podcast, focusing on babyhood, called The Longest Shortest Time. Isn’t that a fantastic term to describe the time when children are little? Time does go by quickly. I want to be present with my family. But I need to work. It makes me happy. It keeps me balanced. It keeps me sane. These days, I make lots of mugs. And honey pots. And plates and small bowls. Forms that I love. Pieces that I can finish before the baby wakes up from her nap. Or before I have to pick up big sister from preschool.
I’m able to do studio related work almost daily. Sometimes that means listing some new pieces on Etsy. Other days it is photographing work. Other days it is throwing a dozen cups that I’ll be able to get handles on in a few days. On the occasion that I have longer than 3 consecutive hours to work, I sometimes wonder what I’m going to do with all that time! I’ve scaled back on gallery representation for now and I’m focusing on direct sales from my studio and through Etsy. I really could make only mugs for years and years and never get bored. I’m happy with this moment in time. For the time I get in the studio each week and the snuggles with by babies.
Over the past several years, my life has turned upside down. I moved from Chicago, my home for 10 years to Minneapolis. Bought a condemned, abandoned duplex and completely renovated it, inside and out. Married my partner, Ian, after 14 years together. Built a studio in our new home. Switched from soda fired stoneware to cone 10 oxidized porcelain. Then two years ago this month my deepest fear happened. We lost our nephew, Ayrie, at the age of four and a half. A loss that has left me forever heartbroken. At the time I was 3 months pregnant. I had to learn how to navigate through my grief and my joy. In April of 2011, we welcomed our daughter Ada into our world.
For the 10 years before moving to Minneapolis, I honed my skills and aesthetic in soda firing, developing a strong body of work. I felt very comfortable making the pots I was making, yet still felt like I was always pushing myself to the next level. Then suddenly, everything was different. I was faced with pristine studio, a pallet of porcelain and a shiny new kiln. And I didn’t know where to start. So I went back to the beginning. First thing that I did was remove any deadline for my work. I temporarily withdrew from galleries; turned down any orders and turned inward. For many reasons, I cut myself off from the outside world and I started throwing. Strong, simple forms that will stand on their own, no matter what the surface treatment, glaze or firing is. It’s important to me to be true to the material. My soda work was all about the clay, form and firing working together. Doing high fire porcelain I want to be as true to the material as possible. I didn’t want to try to mimic soda firing in an electric kiln. I wanted to take advantage of everything that porcelain has to offer. I started by making a couple hundred tea bowls. I kept away from the influence of “the market” by giving them all away. Slowly, as I’ve gotten to an exciting and comfortable place with my new body of work, I’m creeping back into the world of clay outside of my studio.
The changes in my life have spanned the range from the best things that have happened to me, to the unimaginable. It would have been easy to fall back into the routine of pots that I had been making over the previous decade. It would have been comfortable and comforting. But I’m not the same person that I was three years ago. And if I am being true to myself with my work, the pots can’t be the same. This new body of work reflects where I am in my life now. And it will continue to evolve and change as I do.