Making Pots, NCECA, The Netherlands, Travel, Uncategorized

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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Public Art, The Netherlands, Travel, Uncategorized

Finding Inspiration in the Netherlands

Where do you find inspiration?  Do you always know it when you see it?  Do you always recognize it when you use it?  Many people I admire have a very distinct source of inspiration, like Art Deco era architecture or Victorian textile patterns.  I as yet cannot put my finger upon such a specific source which guides my pot-making.  My making decisions are often guided by intuition, but upon reflection I see patterns and recognize the influence of my experiences.  I see myself as a filter, and what comes out is the essence of what moves me.

This summer I had a once-in-a-lifetime chance to soak up the culture of another country, and more specifically a city with a rich history that inspires people beyond its borders.  Last month my husband and I had an incredible two-week adventure in the Netherlands.  Although it wasn’t on to my “must see” list (only because I didn’t know anything about it), I am now in love with this country.  My husband, a Transportation Engineering graduate student at Portland State University, had the opportunity to take a course based in Delft, in order to study the bicycle infrastructure of the Netherlands, along with some other marvels of Dutch engineering (check out his blog halfthefun.net).  As it happens, Delft is also home to a 400-year old pottery tradition, often referred to as Delftware, or Delft blue porcelain.  We came for the engineering, but found so much more.  The mosaic above perfectly encapsulates what our trip was all about.

A little context for you…my husband and I moved to downtown Portland just over a year ago, to be close to PSU while he completes his Masters.  We left an idyllic farm, six miles from the eastern-most suburb of Portland, for an apartment in a high-rise on the street car line.  About eight months ago, we bought bicycles, and our life is so much better for it.  This is THE WAY to experience Portland, arguably the most bicycle-friendly city in the US.  In short, we can take advantage of all the city has to offer without the burden of a car (yes, the BURDEN of a car…I won’t get on that soap box right now), which brings us closer to and more invested in our community.  And it is on our bicycles from which we got to know Delft and the Netherlands.

We bought refurbished bicycles to use for our two-week stay.  We explored Delft, and Brian and his class took daily excursions around the country on their bikes, logging at least 20 miles per day.  The national network of cycle paths makes this a piece of cake, and you can always hop on a train if you’re short on time.  Here are some of the sights our bicycles afforded us, places that resonated with me for a variety of reasons.  Next week, when I get back in the studio for the first time since our trip, I’ll be thinking of these places and the grand times we had.  At this point, who knows what will make its way into my pots…

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