Ceramic Arts Network: What’s the best advice you’ve been given by a fellow maker, mentor, or teacher? How have you applied their advice?
Susan Messer McBride: My introduction to clay started after I received my Master’s in Education, and as a secondary school English teacher in my 20’s. I found it too late to go back to school for what I truly desired: a formal clay education. Since that time, I have been a longtime student of clay at Lillstreet Art Center. When I had the chance to begin teaching there a few years ago, I became a workshop warrior, seeking out ways to enhance my journey with clay.
At Anderson Ranch, Julia Galloway’s “New Ideas from Old Ideas” led me to investigate historical pots while seeking my own voice. This past summer I visited Anderson Ranch for a second time, then went to Arrowmont to learn “Designs for the Soft Surface” from Ben Carter–an attempt to pull myself away from porcelain to work with red clay. But it was the voice of Doug Casebeer that really resonated wth me when he said ‘make 100 of something and you might find one or two that you like.’ Practice slow clay.
My application of these three strong influences comes in the form of my first solo show. It recently opened at Lillstreet’s Annex and is called “99 Vessels: Body Form Surface Fire.” I made eleven forms from nine clay bodies (earthenware, blue porcelain, black porcelain, raku, stoneware, ochre, reclaim, b-clay and porcelain), and utilized several different surface decoration techniques. The vessels are sequenced in eleven groups of nine, one form from each clay body, and arranged within each group by firing method (electric, raku, reduction and soda) in a counter clockwise direction to emphasize circularity and the direction of the wheel.
I have a 100th vessel that is not included in the show. It is a bottle I made in Ben Carter’s class that I have decorated but haven’t yet glazed (and am not sure I ever will). It is the piece that prompted me to create this project, and its unfinished state serves as my reminder of the infinite possibilities for learning through clay.
Most of all, I had fun, and pushed myself out of my comfort zone to learn new things while reflecting upon and utilizing what these amazing people and potters offer through workshop instruction.