Sunday, February 26, 2006

Conversation at the Table

Yesterday, Lonnie Graham visited the studio and we glazed 60 cups for his project "Conversation at the Table". It will be held April 7th in Philadelphia. We wrote the words share, serve, and heal on each cup and glazed them. They will be fired tomorrow. I will post his idea when he sends me the proposal. His work is about people, stories and solutions. It is a priviledge to work with an artist with whom I resonate so profoundly. It was a good day...

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art esprit

art esprit

Very fun blog. Great iPod Nano case. I love felt...

Friday, February 24, 2006

International Day of Peace

united nations, originally uploaded by novon.

I went to the UN yesterday to meet with a die hard group of peace niks organizing for this year's International Day of Peace (IDP). The UN established September 21st as the IDP in 2001, after 9/11. A resolution to designate an IDP was passed in 1981, but September 21st wasn't chosen until 5 years ago.

There's a lot to do to get the word out, so any help I can get would be appreciated. Maybe September 21st could be dedicated to peace in blogsphere? Will you help me build the momentum? Aren't we sick of armed combat? It's the biggy, world peace, peace on earth. How about giving it a shot. Really living the change we seek. Can world peace be a reality, in our life time? Call me naive, but I think so.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Making fine porcelain

Here are some molds draining after being cast yesterday. 5 saucers at a time. The molds are made out of plaster, from my original shapes. After they drain, they are set on wire shelves to harden further until I can remove them from the molds to trim them. It was cold outside, but warm in the studio. Perfect for casting.

This is what the a plate looks like after it comes down from the drying rack, ready to trim. The trimmed clay goes into a bucket for reclaim.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Arts and Crafts

Udon Bowls, originally uploaded by madpotter1.

It seems we are living in an all or nothing world. Since my focus here is on production and handmade stuff, I'm going to address that statement vis a vis look at how our stuff comes into being. A lot of stuff in the world, the intimate items of everyday use, are produced in factories whose main objective is to maximise producation and reduce dollar cost. This approach has lead to a vast network of factories, delivery systems and distributors whose objective is also to maximise output while reducing cost with an eye on profit. In and of itself these are fine objectives. But, as the world has gotten bigger (or smaller) the means of production by large scale industrial factories ceases to be an affective tool to eradicate poverty and hunger, for the many. Industrial factories often seek to reduce human labor, as in the pin factory model of Adam Smith. Separating steps of production to be performed in a rote fashion has reduced the cost of production, in the short run. But the long term implications of this model are waning in their affectiveness.

What of the role of craft and the master craftsman (woman)? I argue that craft enhances our lives, all the more so in an age where anything is accesable and our wants are being placed above our needs. Craft gives us greater choice, flexibility and empowers us to create lives of greater meaning. Choosing small scale craft producers goods in a time of over production of mass marketed objects allows the freedom to buy things that build a home full of items of individual taste. If freedom is the big thing these days, why not express that through buying handmade stuff? Curate your home.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Small is Beautiful F. Schumacher wrote the classic, Small is Beautiful, which became very influential in the 70's and has been recognized as one of the 100 most influential books written since World War 2. A British economist, Schumacher evangelized the notion of intermediate technology and small, human scaled production throughout his esteemed career.

Small is beautiful is a collection of essays about economic develoment of a different sort than what the conventioanal wisdom suggests. Decentralized, moderate sized production is the hall mark of Schumacher's vision. He suggetsts that production has not been solved by huge mass producing factories, and in fact these very factories, by their reliance on overly large and sophisticated machinery can squash a local eceomy. Over developed focus on perfection and inexpensive products and labor steals the soul out of making.

We live in a time where production can be readjusted to fit a more human need for just and sustainable making. Even in a highly developed nation like the US, making and production can be refitted to be more appropriate for human consumption. Expecting a perfect, cheap and fast product may not be what we want anymore, as Seth points out today. Buying handmade goods from artisans, or adding the task of making in each of our days, may lead us to a gentler way of living on this great orb. Taking greater care in choosing what we live with by focusing on handmade artisanal objects when want something could change the energy in our home. Shifting away from the overly perfect, mass produced goods that pollute our homes might just enhance our home environments. Can you imagine living with objects created by someone, a human being who loves what they do? Who we might know or may have met? I think this would change the dynamic of the home. Home is where the heart is.

This may seem like an expensive alternative, but I argue that while small is beautiful, less is more. Fewer things, created often imperfectly, are what I choose to use and live with. Saving up for a special object that will be cherished for a lifetime (or at least more than 5 minutes) gives me greater satisfaction than getting a quick hit from something easy, cheap and ad hoc.

links: E. F. Schumacher Society
Resurgence Magazine

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Valentine's Day!

Conventional Wisdom

There is a lot of fear being sold in the press. That’s right, being sold. Fear sells newspapers. Even the weather channel has created a sensational “spin”, weather as fear inducer. Fear is fun. Fear is exciting. It gets my adrenaline pumping. But, why are we so afraid? Seth Godin makes the point yesterday re. parody. Digging into facts and what is real takes time. Effort.

It is possible now more than ever for people to prosper. Poverty continues to be a problem, but it isn’t a new problem. It is an OLD problem. In fact, a lot more of us used to be a lot poorer. When kings, queens, pharaohs, etc. owned slaves by the 1000’s, they had all the wealth created by the labor of the many. Today, it is more likely we can create wealth or at least a decent living through our own labor. We must give a slice to the government in taxes, hopefully for roads, schools, health care and long term social security. Unfortunately a big chunk goes into military spending, which is bolstered by fear, these days, of terrorists.

But, the military has always gotten the lions share. We allow that because we are afraid. Afraid we will lose all that we have. How much fear is irrational? I argue a lot. Being swept up into a popular mindset is easy, in the short run. Thinking on our own, discerning fact from fiction takes work. It takes work to differentiate the “news” driven by a media with the need to sell papers and air time with high overheads, fearful themselves of not making enough money to cover their costs. So, they spin. Solutions are all about work. It takes work to find ways of being that inspire peaceful exchanges. Making our own goods, trading and selling them ourselves to our neighbors, fairly and because what we produce is of value, that is a lot of work. Finding out what is true, takes work. It takes digging. Being skeptical of sensation, where’s the fun in that?! Sensation is such a hit. Skeptics are such sticks in the mud! There’s a high in believing what a lot of others believe.

Conventional wisdom is anything but. It is conventional, but it is not wise. Authentic stories, truth, is often unpopular because it destroys long held beliefs. Changing our perspective, our minds about reality as we have come to know it can be painful. The fact that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around landed Copernicus in deep dudu. The flat earth concept lived for centuries after Columbus landed in America, not mention all the others who had found the earth to be round well before him. Conventional wisdom is difficult to shift. People want to believe the sky is falling.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Photo shoot

Yesterday the fabulous Sibella Court joined me and Dan Perlmutter in my studio for a photo shoot of my spring/summer collection. With an eye toward telling the story of handmade, in my studio, one at a time, Sibella dug around my work space and used brushes, tools and scraps of clay to help a picture tell 1000 words. How'd we do?? Thank you, Sibella and Dan! It takes a village...

Saturday, February 11, 2006


This image is my kiln, too hot to unload yet, open this morning. New plates.

I operate from the premise that all art functions. It inspires, it questions, it teaches, and it can also serve a mundane purpose. The daily use of items in the home, created as works of art actually takes art to the next level. Conventional wisdom sees art as a seperate thing from life. Something so precious and valuable that it lives in museums, untouchable and beyond reproach. But, in fact, those are deadly assumptions. Living with art, using art, gives us all more to live for on a daily basis. Being inspired, moved and enlivened gives everyone a greater sense of meaning in our lives. Hugh MacLeod says there's an infinate market for meaning. Does that mean we will make a lot of money if we create meaningful work for a meaning starved audience? Maybe, but I don't think it is that simple. Meaning isn't something that can be created, packaged and sold by the billions. Meaning is built, one day at a time, by creative thoughtful people doing and producing meaningful work. I believe there are piles of people doing this. I like to call them artists because that word still has meaning for me. If everyone were to take heed and support the artists of the world, I think we stand a chance. If we buy the things made by the people we meet, our friends and neighbors, working in studios and workshops peppered across the countryside, be it in New Englad or New Zealand and all points in betweeen, that is how the revoltution (evolution?) will quietly take place.

We all have choices about how we live. The more deeply we understand how our choices affect ourselves and eachother, then a more a just world comes into focus.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Whip up

A new, totally cool blog about all things craft. Are there any potters blogging and linking? Thanks to design*sponge for the tip.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Process 2

Last week, I cast more greenware, the first phase in making pottery. The dinnerware is all slip cast from a lovely porcelain body I get from Seeley's, a porcelain doll company that helped me formulate this porcelain body for dinnerware last year. Yesterday I loaded the bisque kiln, the next step in getting work I can glaze, fire again, market, pack and ship. The process of making is inextricably linked to the story of the work. My energy is in the work. The energy of anyone actually producing an object is in the object itself. To disentangle ourselves from what I view as a slave economy, being sensitive to every stage of production is vital.
Process is production. Manufacturing is making. Production by the masses, not mass production. Techno Swadeshi.

Sunday, February 05, 2006


OK, now for something completely different... Yesterday, in celebration of my dear friend Calliope's significant birthday, a group of 5 women went caving in upstate New York. We entered the mouth of the cave, the term wild cave was our guide's name for the place we went. We crawled through a tiny hole in the earth and entered this underground realm that was terrifying and spectacular at the same time. Entering the cave was the scariest part the adventure for this "spelunker", a term for the inexperienced caver. (me!) I had no headlamp, but everyone else did, making my dependence on the others essential. We walked through 42 degree F. water, crawled on our bellies through mud and water, squeezed out bodies through tiny tunnels in total darkness and after 3 1/2 hours, emerged exhausted, but transformed. What a day!

In blogsphere we talk about community. Community is so many things. This particular community, Calliope's friends, is one I cherish and feel united with through our metaphoric near death/birthing experience.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Working with a single material over a lifetime is a journey and a gift for any artist. Using porcelain all these years has been especially rewarding for me. Porcelain was originally a Chinese product, invented before the year 1000 and used as ballast in ships carrying cargo back to Europe. In the early 18th Century, Augustus the Strong imprisoned an alchemist, Johann Friedrich Boettger, to create gold from lead. Unable to do so, he became obsessed with inventing porcelain. His success led to the development of European porcelain and the establisment of Meissen as the 1st center of porcelain production in Europe. Meissen, in an attempt to protect their discovery, created the crossed swords, the worlds first trade mark.

Making objects for use out of porcelain is my personal obsession. I hope that we all have the opportunity to make and trade the things of our hands in perpetuity. Spending a goodly amount of time in the studio, experimenting and producing is a joy. Creating work that others love to use and own is the only way to perpetuate this act.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Micro Enterprise

Making art, historically, has been separated from the market psycologically for most people. Art needs to be above commerce, in order to be independent from the drives of the economy. That is the conventional wisdom we continue to propogate. This is not unlike the university system which created an ivory tower for intellectuals who could further research without the pressures of the market and most importantly, remaining "pure", beyond the reach of "corruptive, money related influence" (quotation marks mine). Pure research, pure art. I no longer believe in this mythology.

I argue these days are past. The university system is more and more influenced by big business doners, vividly demonstrated by the UC Berkely Botany controversy that broke in late '04.

The so called art world is big business. Check out these auction results for recent transactions. My point here and I look forward to comments and furthering this converstion, is that small artist/inventor/entrepreneurial studios and workshops, creating work with an eye to making a living, can and will be a foundational aspect of a mature economy. Speaking as an American, I live in the strongest economy in the world (we'll see for how much longer). As such, many other nations look to us for keys to improving their economic health. We (Americans) are far from exemplars, but we have produced the wealthiest nation in history for the most people. Poverty is still rampant, but more people have more money now that ever before. See percapita income statistic here (1934-2004).

Money, art, and new discoveries cannot be separated. The integration of these pursuits are the foundations of what has been coined "sustainable" economic development. I am beginning to question the word sustainable, because sustain means to maintain in perpetuity. Many people in the green revolution have jumped on this word as a catch all for furthering social justice, the triple bottom line, and refocusing developing based on renewable resources. I feel my business model has many sustainable components, except I work with clay. A totally non-renewable resource. Yet there is a ton of it on the planet.

A micro enterprise, small workshop business, or art studio, has the potential to be an important component in the development of the triple bottom line. Art is an ambiguous word, as is sustainability. A less ambiguous pursuit is to strive toward greater excellence, awake to the perils of environmental degredation and ethical labor use, embracing commerce, not by jumping on every opportunity, but by carefully crafting work that has value, meaning and beauty, and finding an audience for that.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Collaboration is a tricky concept. (see wikipedia link above) Collaboration in corporations and in IT are well understood. Collaboration within the arts is a bit more ambiguous. A movie or theatre production, symphany, or any of the performing arts utilize collaboration every step of the way. For a visual artist, working in isolation in the studio, collaboration is more difficult to achieve. Outsourcing, a form of collaboration, is one way of working with others. If I design a product (an artwork) and don't want produce it myself, I have to find an external studio or factory to produce my design. The work of realizing a product in production can become a form of collaboration at this point because getting it right takes back and forth. Samples are made and approved, or changes must be specified. This isn't really collaborating, though. The producer doesn't have any creative input into the design itself, unless the author is open to the craftsmen's ideas, creatively.

Working with another artist or designer and collaborating directly on the development of a product or idea can be very hard for the independent often egocentric artist. A mature artist has a stake in their style, in their identifiable voice. Partnering with another shifts the purity of that voice. Suddenly, 2 voices are speaking in unison or in harmony or not. Picasso and George Braque invented cubism together. This was collaboration and changed art forever.

Process is where the art happens. When the process creates a product, it becomes something else. Then the art becomes selling the work, if you can wrap your mind around that. Continuing to be in the creative processs, with another, working through egoic insecurity, developing work that goes beyond both artists, that is succesful collaboration. Not easy to achieve.