Back in 1999 I had the honor and pleasure to attend Penland School of Crafts on a teaching assistant's scholarship. It wasn't for ceramics though, it was for a drawing class. I liked my drawing class well enough but being the teacher's assistant made it difficult for me to concentrate on getting any of my own work done. I spent most of my time in class helping the students and teaching them some of my own drawing techniques. Finding myself distracted I wandered about the campus, in my free time, only to find myself loitering around the clay studio, hmmm imagine that! At the time an amazing potter, Cynthia Bringle, was bestowing her golden wisdom on the lucky students who were taking her workshop. I kept going back to the clay studio until I got the nerve up to say hey, to some of the other students. I immediately befriended Adrienne and Mark who were the teaching assistants for the class. Before I knew it I was in the studio in all my spare time, often at midnight, drawing all over everyone elses pots. I was in heaven! I tried to stay low key and out of the way as to not disturb and take up the students, who were actually taking the class, time and work space. Cynthia would walk by me and look at what I was doing, scold me not to blow on the pots as I drew (clay dust is deadly) and then one day she asked me if I had ever worked with clay before. I shyly nodded my head with a yes response and then lowered my head back down to work. I had already making work (out of school) for seven years but the presence of this woman and her skill was to say the least, intimidating. She is one of the best teachers I have ever encountered. Teaching, aside from one's own craft, is a true skill, and she is both a skilled crafts person and teacher. By the way, I immediately ceased blowing on my ceramics then and there and think of Cynthia with great gratitude anytime I am tempted to do so.
What was so exciting about working in the studio at Penland was that I was exposed to all kinds of materials and methods of firing that I usually don't have access to. It is pretty hardcore stoneware, highfire pottery country in North Carolina, with a strong emphasis on wood and salt firings. Some of my favorite potters reside in that region of the United States. None of this namby pamby, west coast, urban dwellers, electric firing with bright colored glazes that I am used to (and make). This was the real deal.
Mark, the teaching assistant, was happy to hand over his beautifully thrown pots to me and let me go wild. Mark's pots were a perfect canvas for me. Strong form with clean simple lines. I was a little challenged by the engobes available, everything was dark and that does not lend itself well to my drawings being visible. I did find some white and a wee bit of albany slip (the brown) to use. They were salt fired in a kiln that Adrienne and Mark nurtured and tended throughout the night. The pitcher in the photo (one of a pair, Mark has the other one) was the result of our collaboration.
Collaboration has been on my mind quite a bit these days. Mav and Steph have a wonderful new thing going on over at 3191. The result is gorgeous and inspiring. All the Artist's and Craftspeople with Lisa, Stephanie and Gerry at the helm, collaborating together for the greater good to help and support the Kim Family. I hear the other Lisa is up to something collaborative these days too. Any one else out there collaborating? I would love to hear about it.
If Mark were to invite me back to North Carolina to draw all over his pots again, I'd be there in a minute, well maybe five minutes. I left Penland with new friends, new ideas, new experiences and this pitcher, which is one of my most treasured pieces, to remind me that working together can produce some amazing results.