Craft as Environmentalism

When I first noticed magnolia trees, the exteroceptiveinteroceptive workings of craft began to run  neural pathways to feed my soul. External and internal sensory perceptual processing is a root function of craft wherein we absorb our environment, emotionally observe and physically respond to what we find pleasing or significant, and then—we make.

What we value in our surroundings, as craft artists, metabolizes into expression; objects are made with our hands, minds, and also with our philosophical leanings. We build a kind of spiritual containment for our beliefs with what we make. We house emotional responses in the objects we choose to make with a material that resonates with us. I say “we” because one of the defining criteria of craft is dedication to a single medium: wood, textiles, glass, willow, clay. Potters typically don’t stray far from clay as a primary medium unless it’s to enhance, embellish, or complement our ceramic work. So, clay sculpture, vessels, and pots hold much more than their decorative or functional intentions. They also hold the essence of us.

And I’ll take it a step further: when we make in response to our environment, we expand who and how we are in that place. Our own sensory boundaries expand to include the environment we observe intently. Craft making becomes a method of interacting with, as well as internalizing, our ecological surround. When we do that, we are in relationship with where we are. We see more, feel more, and respect more.

Seasonal magnolia gazing moved me to make sculptural work years ago, but it also opened a whole different ethos for me. I couldn’t quite put my finger on just how those trees were changing me then, or how craft was a translating medium, but now the reasons are more evident: My ceramic practice became an environmental methodology: it allows me to feel, identify with, and expand into where I am. Inside. Outside.

Carved Porcelain

The first stage of this work is hand-carving curvilinear lines in repeat patterns over the full surface of each piece while the clay is dry enough to handle without slumping, but soft enough to be sculpted. Then, it has to dry inside out. Once the piece is bone dry, each carved line is smoothed with a wet sponge. Featured here is a creamer with sugar bowl just after the initial carving. Many more steps to follow!

The Enormity of Small

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Tiny stepped-over nothings, a richness unseen on most days. Stillness magnifies all the small into view between breaths. Only there. Sea and shore hold long shadows from a low setting sun. Sounds, smells, vision, and sensation intensify under cloud cover. Rainfall polishes stone with saturated colour and sheen, seaweed becomes silk, oyster shells polish into iridescence, fallen leaves decay into fine lace. Stillness distorts time, space, and life. It magnifies all the small into view between breaths. Only there.

This body of work is a study of materials made and worked into form by me, as well as materials that were grown and created by other animals and beings: birds, sea urchins, trees, grasses, glaciers, seals, wasps, and creatures whose bodies I can’t identify. I believe objects have agency. These found objects have histories. They also have utility and purpose. Some bones, feathers, and teeth belonged to beings with beating hearts who mated for life and who died in the sea. Bringing together found pieces of those souls with my own thoughts, now cast into knots, paper, and porcelain, feels like union with all of it. I feel more alive for having looked very closely and for having touched very carefully. 

 

Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts

Just a short while ago, I was fortunate to teach my two-day course Exploring an Aesthetic at MISSA. Summer school for artists sounds divine under any circumstances, but the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts is quite different from what I had expected. Almost every practicing artist I know in this region has either taught or taken a course there. I was slow to join the party. And it did seem to be quite a party with all the stories of late nights in the studios and dorm living with a bunch of strangers. But MISSA was a lot more than that.

The summer school is a guest program at the Pearson College campus at the very southernmost tip of Vancouver Island. Dormitory buildings are perched at intervals all across the rocky bluffs that constitute the campus grounds. Classrooms and the school cafeteria look out over the Pacific ocean with a view disrupted only by the many towering stands of Garry oaks and Arbutus trees. It is an absolutely ideal campus for a summer art program right at the ocean’s edge. Students come from all over Canada and the United States. I also met students from Hong Kong and from many places in Europe. MISSA is a destination.

What surprised me the most about the school was the vibe. Most students are older – as in my age – over 50, let’s just say. They have typically taken a week or two off work and are at art camp for adults. Conversation at any table was filled with excitement for life, curiosity across fields of study, and a thirst for learning. A few of the students I met were full-time practising artists working in all sorts of media. Some supported their art careers with employment at odds with their creativity while others were life-long creative practitioners with professional careers that they loved. The common thread was a willingness to open into creative process, to listen to unfamiliar and unknown new perspectives, and to readily take in connections with strangers. A kindness permeated the air and with it a type of settled confidence and calm that generally comes only after a certain amount of living has sunk into one’s bones.

School with generally older students is an entirely different experience from school as a young person with other young people. MISSA is a bit of a wisdom school, which fits so well within the Pearson College mandate promoting tolerance and respect. Apart from diving into days (and nights) of printmaking, potting, painting, weaving, photography, writing, and philosophizing, a whole other dimension of internal work gets done at MISSA. I came away from this experience feeling elated from having shared common ground with kindred folk who understand what creative exploration does for the soul. We have a real treasure in this summer school and if you’ve never experienced it, I would highly recommend signing up for a course next year. The countdown is on!

Exhibition August 2018

“The Enormity of Small”

This summer I’ll be showing a collection of photos, embroidery, mixed media and sculptural ceramic work all reflecting on the theme of observing the world up close. The show will run from July 30 until August 12th at the Hornby Island Arts Council Gallery in the Woods at Sollans Road. Hours are 10 – 5pm. Opening night: Thursday, August 2nd at 7pm.