Grad School, Making Pots

Forces of Nature: Gala Centerpieces


Recently we, the students of the Applied Craft + Design MFA program, were asked to design and produce centerpieces for the annual Gala fundraiser for the Pacific Northwest College of Art (my MFA program is a collaborative effort between PNCA and the Oregon College of Art and Craft).  The request came a month or so into spring semester and seemed reasonable enough: to produce 10 or so centerpieces valued at $100 each, no bigger than 1 cubic foot in volume.  As a potter, this seemed to be a piece of cake, and last semester I had produced a series of vessels quite appropriate for this event, which had an industrial/marine theme.  The pieces would be for sale, with 50% of the proceeds coming back to the artists.  I didn’t even blink before I said “yes, I’m in!”


In reality, it was not a piece of cake, as my production schedule became crammed into one week, along with another custom project.  In the end I was asked to make 13 centerpieces, and together with the 13 salad bowls for the second project I threw 200+ pounds of clay in a matter of days.  I was amazed to emerge from the studio unscathed and finished ahead of schedule!  How about that!  Really, what this experience showed me is that I am actually capable of so much more. And so the bar rises…



Make sure to click on each image to get a better, more close-up view of the dynamic activity in the surfaces of these pieces.  Each was thrown as a thick, slightly bellied-out cylinder, then coated with layers of underglazes and slips, from electric blue to white.  Then, each piece (from 9-12 inches tall) was distorted from the interior.  As the clay distended, under layers of color and the porcelain beneath were thinned or revealed, producing even more shades of blue.  Each push of my fingers or thumb inspired the next.  I see each piece as a 3-dimensional painting, where paint and canvas share and swap their traditional roles, and the piece is composed from both sides of the canvas.



Grad School, Uncategorized

Finally…Grad School!

The big news: after 10 years of dreaming, scheming, creating, fretting, failing, discovering, and succeeding, I’m going to art school!  This fall l will enroll as a student in the MFA in Applied Craft and Design program offered, in collaboration, by the Pacific Northwest College of Art and the Oregon College of Art and Craft in the great city of Portland, Oregon.  I say “this fall,” but my program begins this Monday, 8/20, with a two-week design/build project, in which all in-coming grad students are suddenly thrown together to create a space with a very real purpose for a very real client.

I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard we will be building a Bike Hub, a community bike center, in the New Columbia neighborhood of North Portland.  This project has been years in the making, thanks in large part to the Community Cycling Center, a local non-profit which believes “the bicycle is a tool for empowerment and a vehicle for change.” Since I found inspiration in the Netherlands last summer I’ve come to believe quite strongly that safe, accessible forms of active transportation, like bicycling, are vital to the formation and longevity of vibrant communities and the overall livability of our city.  The coincidence or serendipity of the chain of events which has led me to this program is simply remarkable.  Never in a million years could I have planned this!

What attracted me to the Applied Craft + Design program can be summed up this way:

With a curriculum focused on the development of a strong artistic voice, the realization of work for a specific community or client, and entrepreneurism that connects making a living with making a difference, the MFA in Applied Craft and Design is the only graduate program of its kind.

I contemplated a more traditional route: a highly-ranked ceramics MFA program at an established school like the University of Nebraska or the University of Minnesota.  These excellent programs have a highly competitive admissions process, many artists applying year after year before gaining entrance (because dozens or hundreds of artists are vying for maybe 1-4 spots in the program each year).  While some pretty incredible artists emerge from these programs, they focus on the individual artist and do not, as a facet of the program, emphasize the relationship between the artist and his/her community.  I believe, in the end, this may be to the detriment of future artists, for how we can make a living has changed dramatically and will certainly continue to evolve.  New paradigms are needed to prepare students for professional life.

I did apply to NE and MN, by the way, and was rejected by both.  But I am so glad!  Portland has become home to me like no other city in which I’ve ever lived. This city has inspired me to want to do more than just make art and be a traveling workshop presenter (every little potter’s dream, to be “famous”).  After two+ years of really living in the city (I live downtown), I better understand the importance of a strong, healthy community.  I’ve seen how design can have a profound effect on livability.  I want my career to have a direct connection with and positive effect on my community, and this program is uniquely designed (and perfectly located!) to help me do just that.