On the Edge

One of the biggest ceramic events of the year is the annual conference for the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, or NCECA.  The conference brings ceramic artists, teachers, and students from all over the world for four days of exhibitions, demonstrations, lectures, and panel discussions.  In addition, galleries, schools and other institutions of the host city put on shows of ceramic art, often pertaining to the theme of the conference.  While it’s still six months away, I’m already preparing for NCECA 2012 in Seattle.  As of January 2012 I will be President of the Oregon Potters Association, and so I’ll be traveling to Seattle to represent our organization (and promote our 30th anniversary Ceramic Showcase, happening May 4-6, 2012…that’s the largest all-clay show in the country, folks! Don’t miss it!).

Today I’m reminded of NCECA 2012, not because I saw my note-to-self to reserve my hotel room ASAP, but because the theme, “On the Edge,” has, in a way, been very much on my mind this week.  Here’s what the NCECA conference website says about this year’s theme:

Seattle, as well as the entire Puget Sound region, is located in a unique geographical position; on the EDGE of the country and on the EDGE of the Pacific Rim.  From this location ON THE EDGE, quite naturally, we have a broad perspective on objects, places and issues, and see great distances.  We thrive on the intersection of old and new worlds.  And we respect distant and historic cultures…Asian, Pacific, Native American, and all of our neighbors in North America.  Most of all we appreciate how they have influenced our contemporary ceramic practices.

Through creative stretching, we also visit the EDGE of our imagination and appreciate the artistic use of clay in dynamic new ways.  Even EDGY ways…often on the EDGE…sometimes with rough EDGES.

I’ve spent quality time on the edge of two continents this summer, lucky me.  They looked quite different.  The coast of the Netherlands, on the North Sea near the port of Rotterdam, is dotted with giant sea-faring cargo ships, windmills, towering loading cranes, and kite surfers.

While the Pacific Northwest sits upon the infamous Ring of Fire, along which frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can and do alter the shape of our countries, the Netherlands takes a pro-active approach to geography by building their own land, as we saw at Futureland.  Wait, they’re just dumping sand into the ocean until it piles up enough to build on it?!  And it’s not going to wash away?!

Last month, I looked over the precipice while hiking Cape Lookout, west of Tillamook, Oregon.  Our hike first took us down to the beach, where waves crashed against the rocky Oregon shore.  We searched for sanddollars, but the gulls got them all much earlier that morning, and all we found were bits and pieces.  Then, back up the slope, and out to the tip of the peninsula.  Lush and green, this temperate rainforest got quieter and quieter, the farther out we hiked.  While we neglected to take our camera on this hike, this is representative of the scenery and energy of that day, and the edge of Oregon.

And now, back in my day-to-day routine of making pots, I ponder the metaphorical and literal edges of my work.  While I want my pottery to be functional, I also like to push the notion of what a functional form is supposed to look like.  My coffee cups have three feet and my boxes have no handles, but they do not suffer for it, in my humble opinion.  Sometimes, in fact, function takes a back seat to design or grace or movement.

And then there’s the literal edges of my work.  I spent this week decorating pots, painting on underglazes and then carving delicate lines and designs into the brushwork.  When I throw the pieces that will become bowls and cups and mugs, I form the lip to create a surface for decoration.  It has a slight incline that is comfortable for your lip, and/or to lead your eye inward, to the space I’ve created.  It’s also a great opportunity to add ornamentation, and I have such fun coming up with different patterns of dots, circles and lines to jazz up each piece in a unique way.

Here’s to hoping I always have the confidence and the curious spirit to play on the edge.

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