Associate Editor Holly Goring and I had the opportunity to attend the Utilitarian Clay VII (UCVII) symposium at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, right before we sent this issue to the printer. While there, I was struck by the feeling of community, and how it connected to the thoughts expressed by the artists who are featured in this issue.
We are all a part of many different communities in various aspects of our lives, but it’s fair to say that many of us gravitated toward the clay camp because it was one where we felt a sense of joy and openness, a sense of curiosity and interest in exploration. I know that’s what drew me in.
After working in various studios, I observed that the people around me were generous, engaged, and invested not only in their own work, but also in the community in a different way than I had experienced prior. As I got more involved in the field, there was a sense that artists working in clay and other craft materials were my tribe. That feeling of a shared desire to promote, advance, and sustain both the individual and the community was cultivated by attendees, presenters, and the Arrowmont staff during the symposium. One of the presenting artists, Josh Copus, spoke joyfully about everything but specifically about the local and the broader community, and the importance of living in and advancing both.
To this end, he brought hundreds of bricks to Arrowmont, loaded on the back of a well-worn pick-up truck (also used to dig wild clay), and invited all of the attendees to take a brick home with them. Attendees could keep them, or pass them on, but above all else, we were encouraged to use them as a vehicle to talk about the importance of building, sustaining, and expanding our collective tribe.
The special, generous joy that both clay and the ceramics community have to offer drew in many of the Career Switch artists in this issue. It was one of the main reasons that Spotlight artist Mariana Baquero switched from a career in law to one working with clay, teaching others, and helping them to find connections and community. Like Baquero, who discovered clay in a community course offered by her university, Pamela Sunday found her affinity for clay almost by chance when taking clay courses after work with colleagues to unwind. Later, Sunday shared a studio with a group of ceramic artists, splitting the use of expensive equipment and co-hosting open studio events, which expanded everyone’s network of colleagues and customers.
Jo Taylor, a former police officer, made her one-time hobby into a career, and enjoys the continuation of community building, connection with others, and creative cooperation, along with the solitude of studio life.
Others, like Sarah Kaye and Sharon Alpren switched to careers after moving to new cities (or countries). Early in her career in advertising, Kaye made a promise to herself to return to clay; a move to Seattle and starting a residency at Pottery Northwest gave her the chance. Alpren, a former fabric and homewares buyer, took up ceramics after moving to rural Australia. For both, collaboration was part of their first career, and it is still important today.
I think it’s important for all of us to examine the skills we bring to our studios, and, in addition to using them to advance our own work and careers, find ways to nurture, expand, and advance our clay tribe. I think it’s the best one out there, and well worth the effort.