Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Embrace The Future Without Strangling The Past

     So the Christmas shopping frenzy is coming to a peak and one thing is painfully obvious... society's addiction to technology has far surpassed the tipping point.  There is no going back now.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those misguided romantics who actually think that torchlight and outhouses were the "good ol' times".  Indoor lighting, heat and air, automobiles, television and computers, toilet paper... the list of items we rely on daily could go on forever.  But you have to admit that every now and then it feels sooo good to open the blinds and windows for natural light and fresh air.  Jumping on a bicycle instead of driving the car for a short trip.  A television can never replace the feeling of a live concert or walk in the woods.  And honestly, who doesn't like a hand written letter?  Instead of toilet paper one could.... well, never mind.  That's one advancement I'll never hold a grudge against!  Fact is, we actually see doing something "the old way" as a treat.  Homemade cooking, camping, riding a horse, a bike ride, making functional pottery, a garden; all things that were once part of daily life for previous generations.  And we consider them recreation?  A reprieve from our daily lives?  I thought technology made our lives easier, less hectic.  Perhaps it's time to re-evaluate.

     I realize I'm using a computer to write this as well as a complicated network to pass it along, but at one time a wood club was a huge advancement over a bare fist in warfare and courting a mate.  What concerns me is how we have a tendency to shun common sense in the pursuit of anything new.  I know every one of you believe you are the only person actually capable of driving while on the phone or texting; sure, keep convincing yourself of that.  But what did you do ten, fifteen years ago?  Pull over and send an emergency smoke signal to your spouse about how you think pizza would be good for dinner?  Remember life without navigation in the car, and we had to read those pesky road signs?  Oh the horrors!  Bet you can't hold a five minute conversation with a friend without one of you having to answer a call or check a page at least once.  What a strange coincidence that blood pressure and anxiety prescriptions are at an all time high! 

     Time to relax, read a book, or a Nook, or tablet, or your phone, or your..... really?!?  I realize how popular all these devices are and many of you have them.  But do you seriously want to abandon the written word?  Sure you can store hundreds of "books" on a tablet.  Then someone steals it, or you drop it, dog pees on it, or surprise, a glitch! (That NEVER happens with electronics!)  A friend recently dropped his phone off the table and lost EVERYTHING.  It automatically rebooted and erased every last bit of information stored in there.  Now imagine the Dead Sea scrolls being deleted.  "What Bible, Ahab?  Oh, that thing.  It didn't translate well onto our new version of papyrus V.2, so we scrapped it."  Rosetta Stone? Old news.  "Thomas, we don't need to write the Constitution down on paper, we won't forget what it says."  The known history of mankind only exist because someone took the time to WRITE IT DOWN!  It's been chiseled in stone, written on hide and paper, documented and cataloged for all future generations.  And we want to trust the same device that pocket dials Tokyo during peak rate hours with all our vital information?    

     It's too late to go back now.  Heck, I can carry my entire CD collection in my pocket, and that's pretty cool.  But I still have the CD collection!  Take THAT, information cloud!  All I ask is that this Christmas, after you wire up the new flat screen, load up your mp3 player, isolate yourself from society by playing that new video game, or download the "You with a mustache" app on your new phone, that you step back and take a breath.  Think of how you actually did survive without all this stuff in the not so distant past.  Open the blinds, take a walk, eat some cookies out of your oven, not a bag.  Better yet, go to the library and check out a book.  An honest to goodness book with pages and everything!  Cozy up to it.  Book mark the page when you put it down.  Appreciate the importance of the written word.  A defining invention in man's history that we are in danger of forgetting. 

     Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year to all! 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Community Christmas Trees and the Spirit of Rock-and-Roll

     Cindy and I chose a smaller town to live in because we felt the city lacked a sense of  "community".  We wanted to be part of the town, not just living in the town.  What a small town lacks in storefronts and ammenities, it more than makes up for in character and personality.  Seldom is this more on display than during Christmas time.

     One of the biggest draws for us to move to Oak Ridge was the art and culture that permeates throughout the town.  I'm not talking endless galleries and theaters like you might find in Santa Fe or Ashville.  No, the arts in Oak Ridge are more "by the people" than "for the people".  The Art Center is a public facility where you can learn how to do just about any fine art or craft in a weekly class or weekend workshop.  Generations of artists come there to teach and learn from one another.  We have a fantastic group of actors that perform in tiny historic theaters year round .  There are dance groups, choirs, orchestra, and a community band second to none!   Cindy lends her percussion expertees to the band, while I am involved with activities at the Art Center.  We are once again proud to be part of a community, I believe, because we are truely part of the community.  This brings us to Friday night.

       This past Friday was the annual lighting of the community Christams tree.  It sits on a prominent corner in town at the edge of the main city park.  The property also contains our library, civic center, recreation center, and outdoor performance pavilion.  So after the tree was to be lit, everyone was to gather for music and cookies in the rec center.  Hundreds of people gathered around the tree buzzing with anticipation.  Well, actually the buzzing may have been the sound of chattering teeth, for it was quite chilly out.  The microphone didn't work, eliminating the need for the handful of local dignitaries to drag out the cerimony any longer than neccesary.  Finally the croud counted down... TEN...NINE...EIGHT...(I wonder if anyone did a test run?) SEVEN...SIX...FIVE...(Just saying, it would be kinda' funny if after all this...)FOUR...THREE...TWO...(LIGHT!  LIGHT!!)ONE!!!  Nothing.  I jinxed it!  Oh crud, hope nobody can read minds.  Wait, seriously?  Nobody tried this out before the croud gathered?  Nobody was assigned to stand guard over the plug? Had we elected Chevy Chase as our Mayor while I wasn't looking? As overdressed dignitaries held cell phones toward the ground  searching for the power cord, and members of the crowd shouted helpful tips like, "Try the cord!",  the children had figured out that you simply had to continue counting down from ten, over and over again, to trigger the display to life.    Finally, the tree came to life, followed by a rousing cheer.  It was time for some music!

     The music for the evening was provided by a local grade school choir, a Junior High orchestra ensamble, and the community band.  All three groups did quite well, but I was intrigued the most by the singing grade school kids.  There were about sixty of them and the song selection was anything but simple.  The directer did a fantastic job keeping them focused and professional.  Yet I couldn't ignore that a few of the kids just had the spirit in them.  One girl was positioned in the back row on the very edge, most likely because she moved four feet in any direction while dancing;  be there music or not!  Another little fellow had a new facial expression for each and every word out of his mouth.  But the highlight of the evening came at the very last note, of the very last song, called " Peace! ".  The smallest boy in the back row, who had behaved perfectly all night, THRUST his fists and arms up in the air, fanned slightly to the side, and held them there like a rock and roll icon!  "YES"  He had done it! "YES...YES!!!"  It was the most authentic display of self gratification I have ever witnessed in my life.  he didn't look for accolades, praise, or a cheap laugh from the crowd.  He had done it.  And dang-it, he was celabrating!  Eyes closed, chin down, and fists up!   Rock on little buddy, rock on!

    In the coming year I encourage you to become a part of your community.  Join a community band, teach a class, become a volunteer firefighter, help clean up a stream or roadway.  And when you're done?  Hands up, head down, and soak it all in.    Enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sugarplum Fairies and the Blue Lizzard!

     The ballet.  Is there another single word that conjures up as many images?  For some it's grace, beauty, elegance; the perfect union of music and dance.  While others think boring, pretentious, absurdly tight pants, and how do I fake a deadly fever to get out of going.  Admittedly very few of us have much exposure to ballet other than as a cameo appearance in a movie or being referenced in a sitcom during a "You never take my anywhere!" argument.  Community theater gives everyone a chance to experience ballet without the expense and commitment of a Broadway performance.

     Today Cindy and I had the pleasure of attending The Nutcracker for the first time.  Though we were both excited to finally see this Christmas classic, we had a touch of apprehension because we knew the matenee was generally attended by families... a.k.a kids!  To be honest, the young ones actually made the atmosphere much more relaxing and loose.  Forget black ties and gowns.  Our t-shirt and University of Montana sweatshirt ensambles were a perfect fit for the crowd!  As for the performance?  BRAVO!  There were very young children who turned the wrong way, got distracted by balloons and glitter, you know, kid stuff!  Yet they also poured themselves into the parts.  Quite honestly the little mice nearly stole the show during the big battle scene.  As the age of the performers increased the dancing parts became more involved.  Sure there was timing that was off and a couple star struck faces,  but it was quite obvious that even the most awkward, inexperienced dancer on the stage was doing something I will never be able to do in all my remaining years.  Finally the oldest performers were absolutely incredible.  The combination of strength and grace was stunning.  Whether it was from toddlers dressed as fighting mice or the amazement of the skill in the young adults, I found myself with a huge smile etched on my face from start to finish!  I can only imagine how touching it would be to see a  production by one of the great ballet troupes in New York or Moscow.

     One thing was for certain; though not professionals, it was quite obvious the incredible amount of training, practice, and desire these dancers had put into thier art.  They did Oak Ridge and all of East Tennessee proud.  And the audience?  Rousing applauses mixed with laughter, oooohs and aaahs only enhanced the fun and pride one feels knowing that your community, on this day, was no different from the World's elite centers of culture.  In fact, probably better.  Better because community arts are truly for the people, by the people.

     As a side note, after the Nutcracker, we walked across the street to a community art and craft show.  (Do you see a theme here?)  Not expecting much, we walked through mostly smiling and nodding to the craftspeople with the obligatory  "Nice work.".  Then, out of nowhere, the lizzard painting!  It was mine, period.  I was not leaving without it.  Why?  Because it made me smile.  An uncontrollable, from the inside smile.  And it was a steal to boot!  So now you can say it.  You read an account where someone referenced the ballet and a blue lizzard painting in the same story!    ENJOY!


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Few Of My Favorite Things....

That song....I can't get it out of my head!  Every Christmas we hear Julie Andrews list off a few of her favorite things as Maria in The Sound of Music.  Any list of favorite things is bound to be very subjective.  Yet the song tells us that no matter what our favorite things are, thinking of them when you're down is sure to lift your spirits.  Even dog bites and bee stings can be forgotten with thoughts of kitten whiskers and apple strudels!  O.K., I can see the point with apple strudel..... Mmmmm... [ note: add apple strudel to own list. ]  What brings a smile to your day?

   This past weekend I was walking through our living room with "the song" running through my head when I stopped and took notice of the great collection of art on display.  What makes our collection so endearing is not the popularity of the names signed on the pieces, but the meaning behind each one.  Several are gifts or purchases from dear friends.  Others are small pieces purchased at shows where wide eyed new artists were just getting their feet wet.  And some are things I've made over the years that I just can't part with.  The item at the top of the page is something my Uncle Larry made for me before he passed away.  He called them "Chicken Balls", and would laugh out loud every time he said the words.  We had a lot in common including our sense of humour and I miss him dearly.  But every day I pass his Chicken Balls and can't help but smile.  A perfect example of a "favorite thing". 

   Below are some photos of other items that carry the distinction of being labeled "favorite" for various reasons.  Enjoy!

A stunning pen & ink with watercolor from a young lady in Oak Ridge.  It depicts the story of a Japanese Snow Princess, with the text written in the background.  Cindy and I fell in love with this at the Open Show and it become the first real art purchase we made together.

A platter from Anne Snijders. 
LOVE this piece!!!

Goldfish by Tina Curry.  I tried to win a pair of these in a silent auction, but was out bid by my friend Roger the back-stabber art thief, grrrrrr...... ( just kidding, Roger. )  In comes Tina to the rescue!  She tells me she has a better pair I can get!  Take THAT, Roger!!!  Tina is an incredible sculptor and a sheer delight to be around.

A pot by Bill Capshaw.  Bill is the person responsible for me getting into ceramics and has been a splendid mentor.  We have several of his pots, but this one has always been my favorite.  It is the ultimate, "Hey, look at me!!!" piece in the room.

A copper plate etching..... One of my first purchases and still one of my absolute favorites.

Two small tri-pod dishes by Jane Cartwright.  She is not only a phenomenal friend, but one of the most creative people I know.  These particular dishes are two of Cindy's favorite things.  I have it on good authority that the model for the dog was our newf, Lance! 

The centerpiece of our living room!  The photos are of Lance and Katie.  Even though Lance is now gone, we have this giant daily reminder of how silly humans can ruin a good dog walk by taking out the camera!  The marimba is our pride and joy.  Cindy because she never thought she would actually get to own one, and me because it brings her so much happiness. 

A collection of etchings, prints, and photos of domed architecture.  The bottles are some pieces I made that seemed to be a perfect fit for the collection.  I've always had a love for unique architecture, and it's funny how that interest has influenced my work through the years.  The dead stick is also a good representation of how bad I am at keeping things alive out in the yard! 
  So, look around you.  What is it that brings a little smile to your face when you're feeling down.  A photo?  A child's drawing on the fridge?  A television the size of a roadside billboard?  Or just simply the company that you keep?  Take time to smell those proverbial roses and and put your worries of the day on the back burner.  Aaaah... that's better.   The Sound of Music, anyone?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

     Fall is in the air!  For many people that means cooler temps, fall leaves, and football!  For artists and craftsmen, it simply means CRUNCH TIME!  Shows and sales are almost weekly between now and Christmas, and galleries are looking to stock up inventories.  Problem is, many of us have been drawing in sketch books, experimenting with new designs and materials..... oh fine, just admit it, we procrastinated!  And now we have weeks to do months worth of work.
     Recently I posted a photo on Facebook of my clay studio after a day of  blitzkrieg pottery.  Oddly enough, instead of  being ridiculed for the disastrous mess, most of the comments were very positive!    Then again, most of them were from artists....  ;)    I make no apologies.  I was measuring out chemicals to new glazes as the raku kiln raged outside, slide over to the sink to dip another vase, pet the dog, add some cobalt carbonate, wax another bottom, check the kiln...... you get the point!

     Is it necessary to have a studio space to be creative?  No,  but we don't really "need" a lot of things like shoes, transportation, the five senses.......  but we won't readily give these things up either.  A space of our own allows us to pursue our interest with minimal interruption.  Others occupants of the house are also shielded from the mess, noise, smell, and crazy mood swings when things aren't going quite as planned.  This photo of my clay studio reveals WAY too much about my working habits!  The other half of the studio ( to the left of the photo ) is my painting and two dimensional workspace. 

     I feel very blessed to have so much room in my house dedicated to my artwork.  I also have a wood shop and outdoor kiln.  How did I bribe my wife out of so much square footage?  Her idea, actually!  Is she the best wife ever?  Well, yes actually;  in my mind for sure!  But it could also have something to do with her music room sporting a huge drum kit and keyboard.  or is it the concert marimba, snare drum and guitars that reside in the living room?  She is a brilliant musician and I love hearing her play the wide variety of instruments.  Currently the last remaining spare room is being converted into a library/reading/listening room.  This will make roughly 75% of our house into creative space.  All inhabited by our cow sized dog who has a "creative" streak of her own.  Emphasis on streak, as in "streaks" of drool stuck to impossible places!  But she watches over the place for us and we love her dearly.  The one thing both of our "studios" are missing?  More time to use them! 


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Give Until It Hurts

Aaaah, charity work!  Last week was the Oak Ridge Art Center's annual Hot Pots, Cool Art event.  It's a fantastic event that exposes the community to a wide variety of arts and crafts with plenty of hands-on opportunities.  Overall a great fundraiser for the Art Center, and a great time was had by all.
     As an artist and craftsman I feel a responsibility to expose the public to the arts whenever possible.   Kids get little to no exposure in schools, and adults see it as a guilty pleasure or an excuse to gather for a glass or two of wine.....  O.K., pretty hard to argue with the last couple statements.... but you get my point!  I think it is very important for people to see a craftsman in action.  It is rare in our modern society that we get to see something transform from raw material to finished product.  Even stranger to grasp is the idea that the finished object came from a human hand!   What I strive for is when the observer wants to become that human hand.  It may take some encouragement and a little prodding, but to see some one's face light up the first time they remove a 2000 degree pot from the kiln is fantastic.  And by " face lighting up" I don't mean  like what's happening in the photo!
     Saturday was cold, windy, and hours of standing on concrete with my head engulfed in flames,  yet I wouldn't have it any other way!  Get out there, volunteer, show someone your craft or talent.   They will either be so impressed with your skills that they find themselves inexplicably reaching for the checkbook to buy one of your pieces, or they will enquire as to where they sign up to learn how to do it themselves!  The more people involved in the arts, the stronger the Art community becomes.
     Any funny, strange, or just plain terrible experiences for you while doing a show or demonstration?  Feel free to share them under the comments banner! 

Warming the cans... and the kilns!!!
A perfect Fall morning.

Helping the rookie out while she's not looking!

Katie came to help, but quickly discovered the HUGE grill
loaded with racks of ribs!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Creative Influences

I dropped into the Oak Ridge Art Center today to say hello to Jane Cartwright.  She has been teaching a hand building clay class for a little over a year now.  There were a half-dozen students breathing life into the studio with an amazing variety of projects being built.  A giant squid (and I do mean LARGE!), square folded bowls, a canister with a fish for the lid, wine stoppers, tri-pod coffee mugs, and free flowing sculpture.  Despite the incredible diversity, you could see a hint of Jane in every piece.   This is not to say they were copying her, just that her style had influenced some aspect of each one of those pieces.  I thought this was a huge compliment for Jane's work and her teaching abilities.
     Creative types face an interesting tug-o-war between sharing our ideas and techniques with those interested enough to ask, yet wanting to also protect some of those hard earned discoveries that come from hours of hard work and experimentation.  I remember the first time someone asked me how to get a taller, straighter vessel.  The next one she threw was twice the size of anything she had done previously and I felt a ton of pride for both her and myself for giving her that "boost" to the next level.  I also remember the first time I saw a shelf of pots that looked incredibly similar to some work I had been doing; down to the glaze and firing technique.  This becomes even more irritating when a portion of your household income relies on you having something to offer that others don't!  All this would seem trivial if EVERYONE contributed SOMETHING to the mix.  But life shows us this is the norm.
     Enter Bill Capshaw.  He is the person responsible for getting me started in ceramics.  Not just me, but hundreds of people!  His classes are legendary and have produced many of the "who's who"  in pottery for this region.  His teaching skills are intuitive, entertaining, and most importantly, designed to help you find your own "style" and methods, not just copy his.  Because of this, his students tend to develop quickly and in a wide variety of styles. For that we are all grateful!
    So what do you do when you see your ideas being implemented by others who seem to not posses a single creative bone in their body?   Go on a rampage and smash all the offending work like Carrie Nation in a distillery?  Tempting, very tempting.....  I've found that I can use the incident as incentive to keep experimenting and coming up with something new.  Competition spurs innovation.  But it can also create animosity;  I think it depends entirely on your personality.

    So for the positive note of the day, try to remember that  "Imitation is the highest form of flattery".  

    And if that doesn't make you feel any better......

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Waiting For Inspiration To Strike

Aaaah... procrastination.  The simple act of putting something off.  Usually we spend more effort NOT doing a particular activity than we would have spent actually doing what we are supposed to be doing.  I have kilns to fill, pots to throw, some new designs just begging to be tried, and oh, let's not leave out the daily activities of a working husband and home owner.  So the obvious solution is to sit down and write about all the stuff I'm not doing!
   I went to the park for my evening walk with the full intention of using the time to clear my head and focus on what project to finish first.  Instead of narrowing the list, I actually added a new idea for a chess set, a wall sculpture, and some really cool bowl ideas.  It wasn't a complete loss.  I did get to witness a two foot toddler make his mother run nearly the length of the park.  It was quite amazing!  He was looking backwards and taking four steps for every one of his mom's, yet she was hardly gaining!  I'm not sure if her seeing me laugh was partially responsible for her anger when she finally caught him, but obviously she needed to see it from my perspective.  I mean damn, that little dude could move! 
   Did my trip to the park inspire me?  Nope.  But it sure made me glad we never had children!  And I bet that woman was inspired to look into re-purposing Fido's shock collar for use on Jr.  But there's always tomorrow; one day closer to the deadline.
     "Glass Half Full" analogy for the day-  He who procrastinates all the time never runs out of anything to do, thus warding off boredom!  See, there's good in everything!