Artist Q&A: Meet Toni McPhee

Q: What is the most important thing that has happened in your career so far and why?

A: About 8 years ago, as I faced retiring from teaching high school and middle school art, I did some introspection about what had been the most rewarding aspects of my profession. I have, during my 18 years in the Center Unified School District in Sacramento,California, taught art and design, drafting, arts and crafts, and pottery. Working with the youth was all good, energizing, and very entertaining. I loved it all. While other teachers had students anxious to escape the classroom 10 minutes before the dismissal bell rang, my challenge was to get my students to leave so that my next class could come in. Then, they would often pop back in during lunch break or after school. The love that my students had for the enrichment arts spilled over into my relationships with them and it was very positive and rewarding for me. No aspect of the “arts” was more beloved and more satisfying to myself and my students than pottery.

There is something re-affirming and therapeutic about taking a lump of clay and making something lasting and beautiful. Those students who struggled and often failed in other classes found a place where they could succeed. Their hands and heads found a natural outlet for their creativity in working three dimensionally. Also, the surprise of cracking the kiln after the final glaze fire was always something we looked forward to. The “gestalt” of putting clay and minerals and heat together made something more valuable than the elements individually. I decided that after I retired, I could and would continue making and teaching pottery.

So, I now spend at least 1/2 of my day 6 days a week in my studio, hunched over a wheel or carving, glazing, firing and selling my pottery. My ‘AHA’ moment in this endeavor came just a few years after I started selling my work…that those who do not have the opportunity of working in the studio can still be a creative part of the process. I am constantly trying to grow as an artist and improve my skills, but it does not have to be an isolated struggle alone in my studio. Even though I sell most of my work on ETSY, over the internet, by including my customers in the process, it has become very interactive and much more satisfying. I now specialize in working with my clients to make customized pieces to the size, color, shape, and design they visualize. Once they understand my willingness to work with them and make their piece unique to their vision, they become excited and inventive and have given me great ideas that I translate into other pieces of my own as well. I love the challenge, they love the involvement and we both love the results of our collaboration.

Comments
  • Toni’s statement is so reflective of how I feel about my students. The kids and their love of the medium is what makes teaching so special. I too plan to continue teaching once I leave the formal classroom, I would miss the energy and enthusiasm too much to stop teaching. Have to laugh, the last thing I ever wanted to be was a teacher, but sharing what one loves changes the whole dynamic.

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