Studio Visit: David and Tracy Gamble, Plainfield, Indiana

Just the Facts

Clay:
D & T: All clay bodies
Favorite Forming Methods:
D: Surface decoration as painting that happens to be on clay with glazes being used as paint.
T: Surface decoration as a mix on inlay, sgraffito, mishima, scratching, faceting, carving, layering, etc.
Primary Firing Temperature:
D & T: mostly electric firing, cones 5–6, and 04, etc.
Favorite Tools:
D: My brain
T: Exacto Knife
Favorite Studio Media:
D: Massive music collection on shuffle
T: Movies and BBC mysteries
Wish:
D: a janitor–and a gardener
T: A dance floor–we already have a mirror ball

Studio

We all make art in whatever space is available to us. Tracy and I have worked in basements, garages, second bedrooms, and one of my studios was even in a coal room (no windows and black walls). In 1999, I purchased a small (6000 square feet) neglected church that was built in 1886. I intended for it to serve as both a home and a studio; an addition that had been put on in 1958 gave it all the possibilities I needed. It made perfect sense to me, though it was very difficult to convince a bank that this was a sound investment. A smaller local bank took the chance on my vision. Its location, a 15-minute drive to the Indianapolis airport, was also a huge benefit. We travel to present workshops and attend art education and clay conferences frequently throughout the year.

It took two years to remove all the drop ceilings, carpeting, and brown paneling throughout the church. During some of that time I slept in the sanctuary; it was quite beautiful to wake up to the eight stained-glass windows softly glowing.

I jokingly call our place the Ceramic Confessions Studio. The studio space is 1600 square feet in the basement of the addition, and it has windows on every wall. It gives us quite a bit of light even without all the florescent lights I’ve added. I installed a mop sink with a Gleco Trap for water. Clay is stored on an old warehouse cart. I designed bat mobiles years ago for storage. Everything is on wheels so we can move tables and carts around for convenience and cleaning. Our work tables are used maple-top baking/prep tables purchased from restaurant supply stores.

We each have our own spaces/sides of the studio with our own wheels, our own tools, and lots of ware carts. My side of the studio is filled with toys, mostly large action figures—The Incredible Hulk, Wolverine, GI Joes, Barbies, Darth Vader, etc.—and all kinds of spaceships hanging from the ceiling (including a blue Tardis). I wanted the space to be full of fun with no limits to what could happen there. Tracy has a whole ware cart full of books, sketchbooks, and idea files for possibilities.

Our electric kilns (Skutt Km 1227 and Km 818) are in our utility room, which also has two furnaces, a washer and a dryer, and a hot water heater. The kilns are on stands with steel wheels so we can move them easily. Both kilns, named Hal and Little Hal, are connected to the Internet so they can send us text messages during firings. We’re now using the newer CoreLite half shelves in the larger kiln. They are so much lighter and easier to load. I custom built a cart for the kiln shelves and furniture to fit underneath the ductwork of the furnace. Although 90 percent of our work is fired in an electric kiln, we always have bisque-fired pieces on hand for wood or gas cone-10 reduction firings hosted in friend’s kilns.

Our studio is actually our main living room, too. We have big comfy chairs in the center of this large room to relax and take a break while working or just to watch a movie. We kept the kitchen downstairs next to the studio and it is also outfitted with used stainless steel fixtures and tables from restaurant supply stores.

Another living space is on the middle floor of the addition. We have two bathrooms (a men’s and a women’s, from the old church days). We have converted the offices and nursery into bedrooms and, because there is only one closet in this living space, Tracy uses an entire room for her closet. We call it the magic make-up mirror room.

We each have our own offices. Mine is on the middle floor of the addition and Tracy’s is off the pulpit in the sanctuary. Yes, we have a baptismal dipping pool on the pulpit. It has stairways leading down into it on each side and we leave the flooring piece down that covers it. We use the sanctuary mostly as a gallery that often gets disheveled by boxes and suitcases from our comings and goings.

We travel so much that I made what little land we had around the church into perennial gardens with the goal of less mowing and more flowers. We have a brick-walled garden that gives us a secluded space outside in our downtown neighborhood.

This place will never be finished. There is always another project waiting when there are bits of time between travel and working in the studio.

 

Paying Dues

I have an MA in art education from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and an MFA in ceramics from Indiana State University in Terra Haute. After graduating with the education degree, and having no teaching experience, I found that ironically enough, I was overqualified for a beginning K–12 art teaching job because I had a masters degree. I began looking for a job in a related industry, and that led me to AMACO (American Art Clay Company). I started by reestablishing educational workshop programs for art teachers and clay artists, which then led me to more marketing responsibilities within the company.

Tracy has an MBA and an MA in library and information sciences from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. Her undergraduate degree is a BS in theatre arts with a business minor from University of Minnesota at Mankato. She has over 20 years experience, at many job levels, in all kinds of libraries—corporate, research, law, public, and academic. She is a member of Actors’ Equity (Stage Actors’ and Stage Managers’ Union) and was an actress and a potter in Chicago when we met. Tracy started working in clay as an adult, ten years before we met. She studied as an intern with Jill Tortorella and Lee Marshall before setting up her own studio in Des Plaines, Illinois.

Although I left my position as VP of marketing for AMACO/Brent, which I held for three decades, I still do a little consulting. For the past six years I’ve been helping Skutt Kilns and Wheels in Portland with educational needs for potters and art teachers. Tracy is now a studio potter and education consultant at AMACO. Our combined experiences have led to the unconventional and fortunate life/work we have now mixing business and clay art.

We aren’t production potters and don’t do art fairs. We have pieces in a few galleries and have one open house in the sanctuary of the church before Christmas. It’s more of a wine and cheese holiday party for invited friends and customers, though we tend to have enough sales to cover the expenses. I found antique display cases and tall oak cabinets to display our pots in the sanctuary.

Tracy creates mostly functional ware (for tests, demonstrations, and workshop samples) (1–2) and my pieces are mostly wall pieces (3–4). Lately, because of all the testing we do as consultants, I throw on the wheel more for tests and smaller demonstration pieces for workshops.

As far as exhibiting our work goes, most of my larger 22–24-inch platters, which were included in books and articles, are now in the Haan Mansion Museum located in Lafayette, Indiana. Tracy’s work can also be found in the museum.

Inspiration

In addition to continual inspiration from all the wonderful potters we get to meet, Tracy’s inspiration often comes to her when she’s holding a tennis racket and enjoying some court time. When we’re not traveling, she plays tennis at least once a week. Playing full out, being sweaty and out of breath, clears her mind of cobwebs and opens up space for inspiration.

We love being with other artists and exchanging miseries and successes. I organize what I call Camp David, co-hosted with the Clay Lady’s Campus/Mid South Ceramics in Nashville,Tennessee, for one week each summer. We invite four to five other clay artists to come and make new work that they can’t get to in their own studios. There are no lectures, no slides—we just work and make/eat meals together for a week. We try to provide the artists with anything they want in the way of materials. It’s a time for experimentation and good company. Good things always come from the week.

Balancing Act

I’ve been balancing making pots, teaching, and working in the ceramics industry for almost four decades now. Tracy has two and a half decades in clay and she and I do a lot of this together. The business and workshop parts of our careers have allowed us to see most of the country and be part of a number of clay symposiums in Eastern Europe.

I always believed that in order to have a better understanding of art teachers’ and potters’ needs, I had to be immersed in both fields. We are so fortunate to meet and become friends with so many potters and art educators from all over this country and other parts of the world. Fortunately, there are no limits in our studio, or in our ceramic industry work. We can’t imagine living anywhere else or doing anything else.

Most Important Lesson

Everyone’s skills are different. I’ve seen great potters with terrible marketing skills and average potters with wonderful marketing skills. It’s good to be adept at both. I tell potters in workshops a couple of things: one is don’t just depend on one thing to happen, be working on a number of possible projects at once. That way, if something falls through, something else will takes its place. Another is that starting with strong basic knowledge of materials and techniques gives you a great advantage. Try something the basic ways first, then build on that knowledge, experiment, and see what’s possible. If one door closes, another may open.

www.facebook.com/david.gamble.98

www.facebook.com/tracypgamble

http://haanmuseum.org/IndianaCeramics.aspx

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