Friday, January 1, 2016

Year Interrupted (2015)

No pictures this posting. 

     It's the numerical new year today. For years now I've become more and more detached from New Year's Eve/New Year's Day, the attention paid to it, the celebrations, the ritual. For me, it feels more and more arbitrary. I find myself bobbing along to the seasonal changes more than the numerical changes. Not that I don't appreciate the efficiency of calendars, dates, and so on, just that regardless of what the calendar says, my time clock is definitely working on a completely different schedule. Because of that, resolutions, plans, parties etc., seem arbitrary and silly to me. Nevertheless, numerical New Year's Eve/Day is a time marker and time to look back and forward at the same time.

     I should say that last year was a shit-storm for me, which it was, but as trying as things were, I muddled through and things happened. It began with below freezing and occasionally below zero weather that froze and burst our old pipes under the house in January. My husband and I washed ourselves in water carted into the house from the spigot outside, heated on the stove and poured into a five-gallon bucket where we cleaned with soap, a washcloth, and a cup to rinse off. Because of the ultra-cold temperatures in KY, and because we were one of hundreds in the local area with burst pipes, and because our pipe situation couldn't be properly dealt with until the weather got warmer, the snow melted, and the ground unfroze, we existed like this until early March. Lesson: if you have functioning indoor plumbing, you're already living in luxury END OF STORY. Seriously, quit whining about anything.

    My dad, who was 90, was becoming more ill. He had fallen one too many times back in his New York apartment in late 2013. His physical injuries, the fact that he couldn't walk, and his ever spiraling dementia meant my mother (now 87) couldn't properly care for him. That meant he spent his last year and a half in a nursing home about five minutes away from my mom's apartment. In late February, Mom called my sister and I when it became evident he was in his last moments. It snowed 8" that day on top of the 10" already on the frozen ground. Around that same evening, the temperature plunged to -24°F. My father passed away. He was 90. We missed his funeral. Not really a big deal for me as I had made my peace with Dad's passing some time earlier but the timing couldn't have been worse. When you love someone with dementia, you kind of say good-bye a little bit at a time. Fortunately, my younger brother and some of the grandkids were able to make it to the funeral.

     In early March before we actually got the pipes fixed, my sister and I travelled back to New York and met up with my older brother who flew in from the West Coast for a memorial get-together of sorts. When we were all gathered with Mom, we went over to the cemetery where Dad's remains were interred. I hoped to have one final moment of solemn good-bye. Instead, I ended up having one of the most bizarre experiences of my life to date, right there at the freshly dug and buried gravesite of my late father. Not a psychic thing, no "ghostly" thing, just utterly bizarre. The kind of bizarre where you look around in your mind if not in real time and wonder, "Is someone filming this? Is this a set-up?" At a later date, I hope to write it all down –with pictures– but seeing as I haven't even told my widowed mother about this incident, it'll have to wait.

     In the midst of all of this snow and cold and dying and traveling, I continued to make pots but the artwork dropped off as I tried to crank out pots for sale in adverse conditions. I did mange to participate in the local Red Lick Artisans Tour which was good. On the down side, though, due to the logistics of coordinating the participants, I'm not sure this tour will continue as no one is able to devote time to organizing the tour. I'm not a resident of the Red Lick Area so I have to rely on others to be a guest artist. The flip side of that is that I have managed to pick up some more local places that want to sell my work. My sales on Etsy have also more than doubled for the year so YAY. 

     But what really interrupted my flow of work last year only began after Dad died. The reality for my mother who was trying to survive on her own at 87 in a suburban apartment in NY without a driver's license and having to rely on the kindness of friends and family nearby was about to change. She was becoming frailer and needed help herself. All of her kids were scattered across the USA with our own homes and families. As I said to her, "I'll take care of you, but you gotta move to KY." So with the little money that she gathered from insurance from her sibling's deaths in the previous six years plus Dad's death, she provided the financing and we agreed to build her a small cabin on our property (which will become a studio addition later on) so that she can live out the rest of her life near (some) of her kids but still maintain some sense of independence. She still gets around but it's limited and she needs assistance. The cabin sits right behind my present studio so when I'm working, I'll be available to her.

     That being said, constructing a cabin, no mater how small, is time-consuming. Initially, the people I tried to contact for excavation, foundation and building work all flamed out on me with no-shows, no replies on estimates or ridiculous estimates that simply indicated that they didn't want to do the work. The delays pushed me back further and further in the year until I finally found a builder who was willing to do the limited work I needed and let me handle the coordination of the electric, plumbing, and drywall. So here's a shout out to Estes Construction and Excavation, Lisle Electric, Dunaway Excavation, Kirby Plumbing, Hardy Gas and Earl Hunt Drywall for helping us get Edna's Hacienda and Smokehouse up and running. (In the midst of all of the sub-contractors doing their work, I managed to keep my business going. Yay for me, too!) My husband and I handled the insulation and are handling all the finish work, trim, flooring, painting now that all the contractors are done. This has meant (for me, at least), my pottery business has gone into hiatus since mid-November when I went to pick up Mom and cart her back to KY. She's not living in the cabin yet as our finish work is taking much more time than the previous building work. Until I can get her moved out to the cabin, my business (and life) is grinding like a stuck fault line. She smokes and it's stinking up the house, not to mention it's triggered my asthma. I love her but I can't ask her to quit smoking at 87. Instead I'm using it as motivation to work faster!

     Beyond the mother situation and cabin work interrupting my work, I also have some kiln issues that have put a kink in my plans. I hope to get them sorted out in the next two weeks. In any case, all of this has diverted energy and organization, firing schedules, blog writing, shop listing, strategic planning, shows and so on. Time has flown by and nothing has gone as I had imagined it and yet, things still happened. I guess that's why I'm skeptical of resolutions and future plans for a whole year of time. Sure, I'd like to plan all sorts of things for Tea Horse Studio for 2016 and make lots of interesting art close to my heart and exhibit work but as much as I have ideas for a new kiln or two, expanding my current studio, expanding my clay lines, my galleries, attending outdoor shows in my new tent, introducing metal work back into my mix, experimenting with mixed materials in my artwork, getting back into some painting, all of it, the reality is it might not happen. One of the basic tenets of Buddhist philosophy that resonates with me is not becoming attached to things, ideas, expectations because when we become attached too dearly, we set ourselves up for suffering if things break or degrade (which is entirely possible/probable eventually) if things don't work out (which they might not), if things change (which they surely will). Instead of plans, I'll set intentions and after that, well, we'll see what happens. Right now, I'm going to enjoy this moment. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Some new listings on Etsy...

Here are a couple of new listings I put up on Etsy. All these items will also be available at the Red Lick Artisan Tour coming up on Mother's Day Weekend, May 9 & 10 unless they sell beforehand.
Cracker basket and cookie tray! 
Also good for dips and salsa.
Map for the Red Lick Artisans Tour...
Click for larger map.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wood-firing with Justin Lambert

     I recently attended a wood-firing headed by Justin Lambert who was up in Lexington, giving a workshop in the finer points of wood-firing at University of Kentucky. Hunter Stamps, professor in the Ceramics department at UK, invited me and fellow potter, Bill Lennox (incidentally also on the Red Lick Artisans Spring Studio Tour for 2015, Stop #2!)  to share some space with the students. Bill's pots were scattered through the kiln getting some heavy ash and flashing effects.
Bill Lennox Pottery
photo: C.Cusick
     My mugs, since they're carved with a definitive design, we're placed in the back, away from the heavier deposits of ash. The kiln was cooled in a reduction atmosphere. It reacted beautifully with my body slips (colored with oxides and not flashing slips) and shino glaze on the rim and inside of the mugs. Still, I got quite a bit of ash as we reached cone 8-9 early on and the temps were maintained for several days. To that end, the designs were somewhat obliterated and produced some dramatic effects with the drawings. I love them! I'll be putting some up for sale on Etsy, in Midway. Ky. at Damselfly Gallery and during the RLA Tour May 9 & 10.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mint Juleps

 Four new tumblers on Etsy
Four new Tumblers on Etsy.
    It's been a while since I've written anything. Much has been going on and it's been a hard winter here on the farm. Suffice to say, I hope to touch on the goings on here over the winter but for now, it's finally Spring! So let's get to the goings on...

     First of all, I'll be a guest artist again this year for the Red Lick Artisans Spring Studio Tour so there's that. Here's a map and a listing of the participants and stops this year.
click for larger map
     Secondly, I'm making pots for the occasion and for the Esty shop. I've been listing them recently, starting with a bunch of mint julep type cups, both mid-range electric fired and high-fired in salt and soda. Since the Derby is coming up the first weekend in May, I started with these, so peruse and enjoy! Everything links to the Etsy shop.
Mint Julep Cup with Zig Zag design on Etsy.
Mint Julep Cup, wood/soda fired with Arrow ended stripes on Etsy.

Set of three Salt-fired tumblers with Spiral Sun Designs on Etsy.
Fibonacci inspired mint julep cup on Etsy
Julep cup with intersecting circles on Etsy.
Ceramic drinking cup with target on Etsy

Thursday, January 15, 2015


view, 2015
    January is now cold. One thing I've learned since moving to Kentucky is that real winter doesn't arrive until January so even if November and December seem to fluctuate between warm or cold, the real season comes about after Christmas and sticks around for about three months. It would be nice if it could be short and done with by the end of February but it always seems to linger well into March and April. And by "real season" I mean the consistently cold, gray and dreary Winter with a capital 'W'. Maybe it isn't the SooperWinters of the New England and Canadian varieties but it's what we have to work with here in Central and Eastern Kentucky. We had more snow last year which made things look somewhat festive and pretty but this year, it seems, we're back to gray, gray, gray. Even grey, grey, grey. And little, spitting, frozen drizzle from time to time, no snow of any worth but when major precipitation does come, it inevitably warms up just over the freezing mark to be torrential rain. Cold, miserable, rain and 33-40°F. Or a skiff of slick ice or freezing fog that just makes it treacherous enough to prohibit driving. It's... so inspiring.
     The cold makes the studio difficult to heat in the mornings so I tend not to throw that much since the water and clay are both quite cold. Not only is that not conducive to putting your hands in clay all day to throw but the temperature also hinders the clay's desire to join properly when hand-building. Instead I shift my time priorities to sketching and planning for the coming year. I use the term "planning" loosely since my life changes trajectory from time to time but at least I set out some basic goals. I did manage to take images of two new sculptures but two sculptures were all I could handle in 27°F weather. My mind is still on menopause and the transition from mid-life fertility to un-fertility, the emotion surrounding it and so on. It also draws on our basic biological connection to evolved forms now and in the past. Plus they're kinda naughty.
Inner Reptile,
Stoneware, underglaze, acrylic, raw wool
Inner Reptile,  (detail)
Stoneware, underglaze, acrylic, raw wool
Stoneware, underglaze, acrylic 
Stoneware, underglaze, acrylic
     Last year at this time the hot water pipes under the house had frozen and burst due to the age of our plumbing and the Polar Vortex™. We only had cold water running and were reduced to washing ourselves with a washcloth from a 5-gallon bucket filled with water heated on the stove. That went on for a month until the frigid temps abated and we could coerce someone to help fix the plumbing. At least that nightmare is over. This January the pipes froze again but only for 2 hours one day and since it's all new PEX piping, no breakage! Yay! I did manage to come down with a horrible flu on that same morning that lasted a few days until the weekend when the truck blew up. It's awaiting repair. But all in all, the water is running. Don't underestimate the luxury of indoor plumbing. We have no idea how good we have it when we turn on our taps and potable water comes out. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Expression interrupting obsessive thought

Ernst Haeckel illustration
Artistically, I swing like a pendulum when I express myself between the visual and the written. Others do so through acting, dance, music, poetry, prose and so on. I think about the relationship between what goes on inside your head and what transpires, not so much on the paper, canvas or stage but in the process of the expression.
     I think each one of us as a function of being a human being contains the capacity for varying degrees of insular, circular, obsessive thinking. Our private thoughts, our private world where our fears, insecurities, dreams, fetishes and desires are located. For some, it's not a consideration at all or so minimal as to be unremarkable. For others, this obsessive, repetitive thinking becomes so heavy a burden that it can overtake and interfere with a balanced identity and healthy functioning [one example being obsessive-compulsive disorder]  which can cause tremendous anxiety and stress and lead to depression and additional unwanted behaviors in an attempt to gain some relief.
The American Scholar, "The Art of Obsession" by Paula Marantz Cohen
Psych Central, "Creative Obsession" by Douglas Eby
     I have contemplated the role artistic expression plays in the human condition and experience. Why do human beings feel compelled to express abstract thought, even if it is simply an attempt to recreate the reality in front of them? So I've thought quite a bit about not just the art that I create but the process and my mind's activity as I create it. What is happening there? I'm wondering if the very act of expressing one's self can sometimes be a gateway to breaking that pattern of obsessive thought. I've heard it explained that part of the reason psychotherapy can be beneficial and sought after is because talking about a problem or issue is one of the best ways to alleviate stress. If not a therapist, we seek out friends, a bar, a stranger, and for some of us, the studio. We need to unload the pattern of neuron firing in our brain about the things that occupy our innermost selves. I feel when we interrupt that thinking pattern in our brains with the neuron-firing needed to translate that into action via writing, fine art, performance, what have you, we may temporarily break that proverbial chain and for a moment, can experience some relief. [or not, depending on the intensity of the obsessive thinking.]
     I like to think of it as akin to chaos theory's butterfly effect.  The idea that the act of creating, trying to translate and express inner thoughts, is a way of causing a change in your brain. By doing that, you increase the likelihood that you are no longer stuck in a pattern because you have set out on a new path of thinking and insight that has altered your perception. Sometimes it makes a difference right away, sometimes you need a whole lifetime's accumulation of tiny changes to make that difference. Like the effort, time and space needed to turn a battleship. Or a comet. And sometimes, you run out of time spent living on this planet to realize that difference. 
     Regardless of the impact and how long it takes to materialize, I think it speaks to just how important artistic expression is in whatever way it manifests itself in an individual's life and why we cannot and should not abandon it or teaching it or even teaching the value of it to people of all ages. There is a priority shift within the last few decades to spend money in education on science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] at the expense of artistic endeavors, visual, dance, music and so on but I think that's a mistake. You hobble the ability of insight in the STEM fields when you weaken human's ability to think artistically. One compliments the other, it doesn't replace it.
SciLogs, "What artists and scientists have in common" by Paige Brown Jarreau
PLOS Blogs, "Why scientists should care about art" by Johanna Kieniewicz