Studio Visit: Morean Center for Clay: Artists in Residence, St. Petersburg, Florida

Studio

The six of us (Danny Dobrow, Katie Fee, Emmett Freeman, Ailynda Ho, Katie Kearns, and Jacob Meer) make up the Morean Center for Clay’s (MCC) 2018–19 artists in residence. Our studio is situated in the center of the MCC. It’s an open-floor-plan, 20×60-foot area, with a wide pathway down the middle, and semi-divided individual spaces on either side. Each individual section is about 10×15 feet. Shelves and furniture break up the open layout, establishing our personal spaces. Each resident’s section is set up and defined according to individual needs. For example, mine includes a worktable, a wheel, and a lot of shelving for boards of pots, while Emmett’s is furnished almost entirely with worktables and storage.

Outside of our group studio, I make use of the MCC’s kiln and glaze facilities. The indoor kiln room includes eight Skutt kilns for studio members, which are available through a sign-out calendar. Members and residents pay discounted costs for firings. In order to be economical as a group, we share and overlap bisque firings with each other, studio members, and students. The outdoor kiln pad at MCC is impressive and includes three wood-burning kilns, three gas-burning kilns, one raku station, and a pizza oven. For more laborious firing methods, I incorporate a larger portion of student work into the volume of pots fired. One of the biggest advantages to this kiln-firing structure is that the ability to add student and co-resident work into the kiln allows for more frequent firings.

The number of students at MCC varies a great deal over the course of the year. In the summer, kids day camp is running, so there are more than 50 kids here 5 days per week. The other class programming gets scaled back to about 30 students during this time. During the rest of the year, there are 10–20 kids in after-school classes and 40–60 adults taking classes. We also have a weekly date-night class with one-time students and private classes that are 1 session only. This brings in more than 20 one-time students per week.

Our two-day weekend workshops bring in 15–20 students. The Florida Woodfire Conference and Florida Surface Symposium each bring in up to 40 people. They draw in attendees from all over, and are busy events at the Morean.

Shared Space

The design of our studio space inherently promotes interaction, overlap, and conversation. I can’t walk in without noticing who else is present and I am always able to look up and see someone else working across the room. This is a precarious layout—without mutual respect and communication, six artists would have difficulty sharing a single room well. There is no soundproofing, our projects can easily stretch beyond our areas, and the space can quickly become crowded. From the get go, the six of us have fostered respectful relationships. That individual choice and commitment to our community has been pivotal.

We support each other and try to encourage one another’s commitment to studio practice. Having colleagues in the same studio space influences everyone’s drive and creative energy. None of us have been part of a community studio with such a high concentration of young, motivated artists. This peer group inspires me to persevere through difficult projects.

The six of us have a wide variety of perspectives, methodologies, and priorities toward making, which challenges my assumptions. We contrast on multiple fronts—in different lines of thought, material processes, relationships with clay, and aesthetics. It’s surprising and exciting to be surrounded by people working with the same material, but with completely different goals and passions for it.

1 Jacob Meer loading a kiln.

2 View of the resident artists’ spaces at MCC.

Inevitably, our diverse perspectives as makers lead us to challenge and question one another often. Emmett Freeman remarked that being located in a studio between two residents who love to talk about form compelled him to consider its importance more critically in his own work. For me, interacting with residents who are passionate about conceptual art prompted me to question and pick apart my own interest in functional pottery. Perpetually opposing ideas can be exhausting, but there’s a huge payoff as well: when it comes, validation from each other is more meaningful.

Work Exchange

A core part of the artist-in-residence program is work exchange. The MCC offers us free studio space in exchange for one full day of studio assistance per week. Each resident is individually responsible for a different area of the studio: classrooms, kiln room, glaze room, gallery space, members’ space, and kiln pad, in addition to helping with overall studio needs. This work affords us institutional education about the inner workings and demands of a large art center. What’s more, it allows us to feel directly invested in the MCC’s wellbeing.

We also volunteer to assist during visiting-artist workshops and national symposiums. These are chances to work closely with other artists from all over the country from the comfort of our own art center. The exposure and dialog created by such events is invaluable. Because of these opportunities, one resident remarked, “my work has aged ten years in the time of two.” It’s a big statement, but it’s been true for each of us—the professional development built into the program’s structure accelerates growth. Workshops facilitate frequent critique of our work, exposure to new ideas, and discourse about making in the field.

3 Resident artists pictured at a group exhibition at MCC. From left to right: Ailynda Ho, Katie Kearns, Danny Dobrow, Jacob Meer, Katie Fee, and Emmett Freeman.

4 Ailynda Ho’s lunch plates, carved B-Mix clay, fired to cone 6 in oxidation.

A Typical Day

Katie Fee: A couple days each week, I co-teach an art class at a local elementary school with Emmett, teach an after-school teen ceramics class, help out with the MCC’s event center, and also spend 2–5 hours working in my studio. There are 2–3 days per week when I’m able to wake up, bike to the studio, and have a full day of making. I like to get to the studio quite early and get right to work. I’ll usually break for lunch, socialize, and am a bit less intensely focused in the afternoon as visitors often pass through my studio.

Emmett Freeman: I teach three classes at the MCC, co-teach at a local elementary school, and sell my work. A typical day for me in the studio involves showing up and establishing a connection with the people who are there. This helps me get into a work space and prepares me to make. While working in the studio, there are many active presences; this helps me to take natural breaks that include talking with patrons, discussing my work with studio mates or visitors, and participating in impromptu critiques. After 5pm there is much more productive, quiet time to make work. 

Jacob Meer: I have a simple studio routine that works well as an artist in residence: make ten pots a day. It keeps requiring my attention and forces me into the studio. The ten pots from yesterday need addressing or they will dry out and be lost, and creating every day establishes what I will be working on the next day.

Two days a week I help a studio member with his projects, and one day a week is spent working for the MCC with things like cleaning the studio, maintaining kilns, cleaning our kiln pad, making clay, and loading and firing student work.

5 Ailynda Ho trimming a plate in her studio space at MCC.

6 Danny Dobrow’s kiln sculpture, installed near the kiln pad at MCC.

Ailynda Ho: The majority of my work circulates inside the studio. A typical week for me is teaching classes, making commission work and pieces for art-fair sales, work-exchange day(s), and additional work for the MCC (during special events, for example).

Katie Kearns: On a typical studio day, I take my dog on a walk, make breakfast, and get to the studio by 11am. I spend my whole day working, and either take a dinner break and then come back later at night, or just stay for a long day until 8.

I work a part-time job three days per week, and generally try to get into the studio at night after relaxing a bit.

Danny Dobrow: Over the past year I have spent my time making and selling work, teaching classes to kids and adults, doing janitorial work, and working part time for a public art sculptor.

7 Emmett Freeman pictured in his studio with his work.

Community

The vitality of the MCC is thanks to the long-term studio members who have contributed to the center for years. Most residents are in and out of the studio within two years; so, although we factor into the day-to-day atmosphere of the studio, none of us are here to see it through significant changes. The members breathe energy into the space and support the center by welcoming visitors with impromptu tours, helping with open studio events, and refreshing areas like the sculpture garden and community shelves. They’ve also made us feel welcome and valuable in spite of our comparatively short-term presence.

Our community is situated in The Warehouse Arts District. This neighborhood of St. Petersburg includes a mix of art centers, private studios, retail shops, and galleries. We get a great deal of foot traffic thanks to the neighborhood’s magnetic pull. In addition, we participate in a monthly art walk night, which blends open studios with show receptions and live demos for the whole district.

St. Petersburg is building its reputation for supporting the arts. The city hosts Shine, an annual mural festival that brings in international muralists and includes locals. It also has an incredible mix of museums, including the Salvador Dalí Museum, the Chihuly Collection, and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. The region supports ceramics and crafts specifically—Florida CraftArt gallery puts on an annual art festival in November each year, and the Tampa Bay Tour De Clay includes stops in town. There’s no shortage of gallery openings, art events, and new exhibitions in local museums.

8 Katie Fee’s pitcher, wheel-thrown and altered groggy stoneware, fired to cone 11 in reduction in a gas soda kiln.

9 Jacob Meer’s mug, white stoneware, fired to cone 12 in a wood kiln.

Work Development and Inspiration

KF: Since joining the Morean, I’ve honed in on the body of functional pottery I started two years ago. I’ve finally made a much bigger leap into vessel-based sculpture, incorporating the same inspirations and processes as my utilitarian pots. It started with carving and constructing wall-mounted pieces that read as miniature cliffs or rock protrusions.

EF: During my residency, I was pushed to make my ideas larger and more refined, to bring focus to an idea for a longer period of time. Working with potters helped me see the ideas of working a series and making subtle changes over the course of a marathon rather than a sprint.

JM: I started creating my own flashing slips to experiment with different colors and textures from the wood kiln. I kept hearing the same thing, clay has inherent qualities that inform the pots being made. So, I created my own stoneware and porcelain bodies and started making new pots. That quickly became a new direction for me to experiment and play with.

10 Katie Kearns’ The Banyan Tree Motel, slab-built earthenware, newsprint slip transfer, fired to cone 2 in oxidation.

AH: My surfacing developed. I took time away from wax resisting designs on my pots to carving the lines into the clay. From there I started to impress the larger areas for a smoother surface for incising lines.

KK: Within this past year I tried out different ways to incorporate architecture into my work. This inspiration extended to the city we are living in, which also happens to be the city I am from: St. Petersburg, Florida. I would take images of specific buildings around town and from these images I would construct these buildings from slabs of clay. I draw their facades onto newsprint, paint the image with underglazes and then transfer it on to the building.

DD: Soon after beginning my residency at MCC, I stopped working with ceramics as my primary medium. My practice has become an amalgamation of multiple materials and processes.

The MCC has been fantastic place for me to meet other artists in St. Petersburg and find opportunities to show my work in galleries. I had a solo show, “ode to SAKRETE,” at Pollyanna Inc, in St. Petersburg, and have shown work in group exhibitions in Tampa galleries.

This past year Emmett and I opened The Dobrow Freeman Gallery, a project space highlighting local emerging artists.

11 Emmett Freeman’s My Peace My Pleasure, 16 in. 40 cm) in length, earthenware, terra sigillata, slips, fired to cone 03 in oxidation.

12 Katie Fee’s plate, fired in reduction to cone 12 in a soda kiln.

Benefits and Personal Development

The benefits and personal development that come from having a studio at MCC vary for each artist. They include feedback, networking and marketing advantages, gaining connections to a larger arts community, meeting collectors, and getting exposure and invitations to participate in exhibitions. We also receive mutual support and help with the logistics of making, moving, and firing work.

Most Important Lesson

We’ve all grown in different ways from our tenure as residents. My time here has affirmed a truism that one of my first mentors taught me, “you get out of it what you put into it.” First and foremost, that means work hard and make a lot of art. If I hold myself to a high bar of work ethic in the studio, my work improves. If I put half-hearted attitude into my work, that’s what I get out of it. But of equal importance, this saying intones the necessity of bringing positivity and gratitude with me into the studio each day. Overworking myself has drained me in the past; to sustain and build a studio practice, my work ethic and enthusiasm have to be equally vital.

13 Jacob Meer’s pitcher, fired to cone 12 in a wood kiln.

www.moreanartscenter.org/center-for-clay
Facebook: www.facebook.com/MoreanArtsCenter
Instagram: MCC: @moreanartscenter; Danny Dobrow: @dannydobrowart; Katie Fee: @k_feefifofum; Emmett Freeman: @emmettfreemanclay; Ailynda Ho: @thatailyndaho; Katie Kearns: @ohhayykk; Jacob Meer: @jacobmeer.

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