Chip, Arrival, Thonburi,

I met Chip at The University of Michigan where he was the support staff for Ceramics and I was a new undergraduate. I was his work study. He liked what I did for him probably because I worked. If my memory is right, he came in and told me to be ready to help him unload the truck and I said, “another one?”. I had already unloaded a truck, counted the bags and cleaned up.

Kurt Weiser was a graduate student at the time. I used to sit and watch him work. He was an innovator in the field. He was always looking for some new tool or process. I am not sure that there was a direct influence, but it would be easy to look at my work and infer one. I am certainly not sure that there was not a direct influence on me. If I had to guess, I would say that there was. Kurt took me aside one day and told me I should go visit The Kansas City Art Institute. When the end of the semester came I got ready to go. This was Spring Semester 1975. I was an art student, it was my first semester in art school, and was taking an Asian Art History Survey with the late Professor Walter Spink as well as a ceramics course with Kurt, a figure drawing course, a 3D design course with Professor Georgette Zirbes, and a 2D design Course with Professor Ted Ramsey. It could be that one of these courses was taken the next semester but 18 credits was a normal full load.

The Asian Art History course feature thousands of slides, all shot (except where noted below) by Walter Spink. These were from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, China, Japan, Tibet, Nepal, and Korea. I do not remember images from other countries of Asia, but there could have been some. The course was special. It was personal, he shot the slides. He was an expert on the Ajanta Caves but I remember all the big sites of India. There was a lot of memorization. But he started any section with culture, and his explanations were those of someone who had a lot of experience trying to give the sense of a culture to someone with no experience in that culture. How do you explain Buddhism to someone or how people relate to a Hindu Sadhu to a young Jewish kid and make it not silly, comprehendable. He had a hard task and did a reasonably good job at it. He was also funny.

The final exam was on material that was not from his own slides. It was on a traveling exhibition, “Recent Archaeological Finds of China” . I was going to try and get to Kansas City before the end of the semester. I had only a few days to hitchhike there so I brought my backback to the final.
From Ann Arbor I went south to Indianapolis. Indianapolis was always hard to get through but still easier than Detroit or Chicago. I made it to Kansas City the next morning. I got dropped off in front of The Nelson Atkins Museum. On the front of the museum was a show banner, “Recent Archaeolical Finds of China”.

The Nelson Atkins has free admission. But the Blockbuster show was not cheap. I paid for it anyways. When I got inside I met a young woman my age. She was attractive, at least I was attracted. But she seemed to be on drugs, I stayed with her in the museum and ended up giving her a guided tour. About halfway through she said, ” I thought you were making all of this stuff up about the work, but what you say matches the labels.’ The exhibition was great to see. I remember The Flying Horse. It is spectacular.

Kurt fixed me up a place to stay. I remember that the guy I stayed with had girl friends. I liked the school.
But really walking in the studio, everyone’s work was better than mine. There were a bazillion people in the studio late at night.I did not meet the teachers.

I left Kansas City and hitched to Yosemite. I have a hard time detailing the trip because I hitched out there so many times —–

Chip, I am supposed to be talking about Chip. Chip has a big sca

David

It is hard to know what life would have been like as an adult without David. He is so smart, energetic, stable, he taught me so much. My debt is great. He taught me how to make tofu and bread. He put the idea into my head to make miso. He got me interested in making food from scratch.

My second semester we lived in a “quad” in the dormatory at The University of Michigan. Four people in two rooms. We had our own bathroom. It was so much fun. We were on a corridor called “The Co-op Corridor” in Alice Lloyd Hall. In order to be in that dorm you had to be in a program called “The Pilot Program”. It was a living learning community. In order to be in the program you had to take a one credit course called “Pilot Program Theme Experience”. This class just required that you attend a series of “lectures” although one of the lectures was a cello recital. I hear a talk by Dick Gregory. He was a commedian but was on a world and self improvement campaign. He first talked about vegetarianism, then, worried about plants he talked about only eating fruit and seeds and what it was like to run across the country drinking only fruit juice. He said that his ultimate goal was to become an airatarian. It was very hard to know how serious he was about this.
He was incredibly funny.
According to Wikipedia part of one of his comedy routines contained this,
” Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I understand there are a good many Southerners in the room tonight. I know the South very well. I spent twenty years there one night.

Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant and this white waitress came up to me and said, “We don’t serve colored people here.” I said, “That’s all right. I don’t eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken.”

Then these three white boys came up to me and said, “Boy, we’re giving you fair warning. Anything you do to that chicken, we’re gonna do to you.” So I put down my knife and fork, I picked up that chicken and I kissed it. Then I said, “Line up, boys!”

Anyhow, the second semester David, Roz and I took a pilot program course called, “An Overview of Low Energy Technology with Jim Burgel” . He lived in the dorm. The teachers of the Pilot Program courses all lived in the dorm. Also in the dorm at that time was Norman Hartweg who was one of Kevin Keasey’s Merry Pranksters. You can read a little about him in Electric Coolaid Acid Test. It was a very exciting place to live, there was always something going on.
Anyhow this is supposed to be about David. We both had 8 a.m. classes. We used to get up at 10 minutes to 8 and then run with our bicycles down the stairs and race to class. We left our combination locks open so that we would not be late. Then I got pleurisy and inflamation of the chest wall. I was told not to exercise. We got up a few minutes earlier. I walked down the stairs and he carried both bicycles. Then he would pull me to class with a rope.

David introduced me to “The First Rule of Money” from “The Book of Money”. If I remember all of this correctly the first rule is, “Do what you want and the money will come.” It seems glib, rather stupid but you have to put these words into the context of the author. “Want” seems easy. I want a new car, I want dinner. These are small wants. The want he was talking about was the want that is all encompassing. The want that contains all desire.The bigger the want the easier the problem of money is. If the want is big enough than money is not the issue. I am sure that there are exceptions. Only orthodox purists believe that rules have no exceptions.

I did not know it at the time, but my desire to visit Thailand to see potter was big enough that the money problem dissolved. By 15 months after Suwanee visited The Bray we had over $5000 saved up and I had gotten a Fulbright Grant.

Mae

Mæ̀
Suwanee’s mother, who I call “mom” picked up the phone. We had a converstation. It took a long time. She told me to call back in one day. I confirmed that I should call back in 24 hours, she said yes. The only word she used in English was bye bye. I was thrilled.

There are a few things that I feel like I have done really well at during my life. This phone call was really well done. I prepared. Prior to the preparation I knew how to count to ten, ask where something is, but not understand the answer, and a few simple words. I checked out a phrase book from the library (no internet to speak of in 1987).

I got a very big sheet paper and wrote a chart. The first column was my introduction. I am calling from The United States. I do not speak Thai. Is Suwanee Natewong there? The next column had possible responses with key vocabulary underlined.”not here”, “who?”,”I don’t understand”, “Could you repeat yourself?” “please repeat” etc.

The next column was a list of vocabulary and phrases for my responses. I had a list of time terms, tomorrow, hours, week, and other phrases like different number. It worked. Suwanee’s mother was not “well educated” but was smart as they come.

When we did get to Thailand Mae was very helpful. She had no idea what we knew and did not know so she showed us how to do many things. It was really rather amazing. She was in someways clueless and in otherways so full of welcoming gratiousness, nam jai, literally “liquid of the heart”. She showed Gail how to use hangers.

Liz R

The summer Suwanee turned up at The Bray was a wild summer. Our friend Owen came and helped me build my kiln on the scrap brick pile. Mary Rutger, who we all lost too soon, was there with her friend Liz R. Liz is important here because she suggested that I apply for a Fulbright Grant from the US government.

So I called the Fulbright Office. Some of you reading will not have experienced this, but there was no internet available. No email or online phone books. I dialed the telephone information number for Washington DC and asked for the number of The Fulbright Foundation. Just in case it comes up to get information you would dial 1, then the area code, and then 555-1212.

They were located on Dupont Circle. The program is administered by The Council for the Internation Exchange of Scholars (CIES) I asked for information and was connected with the head of the Southeast Asian Section.

He asked me a series of questions.
1. Do you have a doctorate?
2. Are you teaching at a college or university?
3. Have you written any books?

Since all of these questions were answered “no” he said that I should not bother applying.
Liz told me to call back and just get an application. The application arrived August 5th 1987 and was due August 15. Suwanee had already returned to Thailand.

Other than that sheet of slides that my Thai friend in Normal Illinois had shown me, I knew nothing of Thai pottery. It did not seem enough for a long proposal. I looked through all the books in the Bray Library, the local public library and the state library in Helena Montana. I decided to drive to Bozeman Montana to the University library. I found a book with one paragraph about Thai Pottery. It was about glazed porcelain and I was more interested in stoneware. I also turned up an article on Thailand in National Geographic from 1934. One of the pictures contained some utilitarian pots.

At this point in my life a four page paper could be torturous. It is not that I could not put ideas together, or did not know grammar, it was that I was dysgraphic. When I learned what the diagnosis meant I knew that it applied to me.
Insert dysgraphia essay.
Anyhow, I got to writing a grant. I did the obvious and asked “What do they want to fund that I want to do?” and described that intersection. Gail helped me proof this. I could not have gotten the grant without her help. She writes and proofreads well. I have some significant deficiencies.
People occasionally told me, “You were so lucky to get that grant”. Sometimes this attitude is irritating. I worked my but off for that grant. I went to graduate school for that grant. I was friendly to people to get that grant. I wrote down people’s phone numbers to get that grant. I stayed up late ten days in a row in order to write that grant, and I had a conversation with Suwanee’s mother in Thai when I could not speak it for that grant. Here is how.

Nui, Professor Poonarat, who I have already wrote about taught me how to count and ask where the bathroom is located and a few other words. I had Suwanee record about 10 minutes of Thai Phrases from a book. I had the book checked out from the library. I knew that if I called Suwanee’s phone number that she did not live there, her parents did. No one in the village of Dankwian had a phone. There was a village phone office with one number. So I made a chart. It had greating on it in transliterated Thai. Then it had a statement, ” I do not speak Thai” . I want to speak with Suwanee NAtewong. Then it had a list of possible answers with keywords underlined. Then there was a long list of questions or statements, “Could you say it again?” ” What time”?. “Where?”, What number?
How many hours? What day? etc.
It then had a list of keywords regarding time, date, place, telephones etc.
I called. The phone call cost about $2.00 a minute.

Archie 2

I heard that there was a Thai woman coming to the Archie Bray Foundation.  Some people thought she was from Taiwan. This confusion is pretty common. But Kurt Weiser said Thailand.
I was working in the Summer Studios, a part of the old brickyard that used to sell building supplies but now is used in the summer for summer residents. It is built of hollow clay tile and has a roof with little slope. At the time the lighting was pretty dim and there was no heat.

Anyhow, someone said that the Thai woman was at the old studios so I went over there. I started into the kiln room and there was a very short Asian woman standing there. I could not quite see her that well. I put my hands together in a wai and said, “sawat dee krap” the greating has Sanskrit roots in the word sawat, meaning goodness, fairness and prosperity. Dee pronounced similar to the letter ‘D’ means “good”. She greeted me back. I felt the need to use up my vocabulary, so I counted from one to ten, asked where the bathroom was, and then asked if she knew where the village of Dankwian . It was more like “Have you met the village of Dankwian”. She asked me why I asked. I said, “Its a little pottery village, do you know about it?”. She said, I own a pottery in Dankwian Village. I had to go.

I knew that I should learn Thai. I seemed to already have some interest in it. Its a tonal language ,with some sounds not in the English phonemic inventory, to a singer, it captivated my motivation.  I went to the library and checked out “Spoken Thai”. It is not a very good book and it had no tapes. I had Suwanee read a chapter into cassette tapes. I am not sure that it helped much with vocabulary but became critical in terms of me getting to Thailand and getting a grant. Suwanee still makes fun of the archaic and formal vocabulary of the tapes,  That said, without the Helena Public Library it would have been much harder to get to Thailand.

Then 10 days Suwanee was in Montana were very busy. I was working mixing clay and I believe we were getting ready for The Archie Bray Bash, a celebration of the purchase of the brickyard. Each day at around 5 Suwanee would come around with a “lets go dancing” to the residents or some other activity. Near the end of her stay we all took a whirlwind trip to Yellowstone, including geysers, Boiling River, Old Faithful, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and drove up to the Beartooth Pass so that she could see her first snow. It was August, there was only a little bit of a snowfield left near the road. The snow was dirty from dust. Suwanee said it looked like the ice in her refrigerator. She was not all that impressed.

Suwanee

 

Microparsing

Microparsing: The deliberate or subconscious parsing of the least significant parts of word definitions or elevating the importance of unintended connotations to obscure or misinterpret the intent of the writer or speaker.

Thailand 2019-10-25 Suwanee Natewong Aeng ซูวานี เอง (spelling?)

Suwanee Natewong.

My name is Suwanee. I come from the Northeast of Thailand. When I grew up we had water buffalo and oxcarts. My father was an important federal judge and my mother a country woman. I had five brothers and a sister.

When I went to college I went into law but only stayed in school for two years. During that time my sister Sudarat and Jum, now my brother in law, and I used to take trips out of town to the village of Dankwian. Dankwian means oxcart station. It is about 30 minutes from the provincial capital of Nakorn Ratchasima where my father was then a judge. Dankwian is a rice farming village where during the dry season the farmers made pottery, mostly water storage jars and mortars and pestles for cooking. When I arrived in Dankwian to start working there were only a few families that made pots.

In Danwkwian I began carving the unfired wet water jars that the village potters made with patterns and images and selling them on the side of the road to passersby. My sister and brother in law moved there with me. At first sales and life was slow, and we would play guitar, talk, and carve while waiting for sales. It was a wonderful time.

The business, Umdang Ceramics, grew. We bought land and started to make more products and sell them more widely. The products included commissioned murals for the King and Queen’s upcountry palaces, hotels and government buildings. We also made ceramics jewelry and tiles.

In 1987, the Thai government organize a trade fair in Edmonton Alberta. It was our first trip out of the country. We brought lots of samples and sold them to pay for the trip. At the fair, I met an artist visiting from the United States named Kurt Weiser. He told me of a place called The Archie Bray Foundation where lots of potters worked and invited me to visit. My family decided after the trade fair to visit Las Vegas, a big dream for them. I called up Mr. Weiser and asked him if he would meet me at the airport in Helena Montana where the Bray is. I stayed at the the Bray for fourteen days and met many wonderful artists. The Archie Bray Foundation was a lot of fun and Edmonton taught us how to do international trade.

The next year I was invited to work at the Bray for 6 months. It was scary to be at such an important place with such great artists. I had to make friends before I could make work. Once I got to know everyone and got started it was easier. I lived there with Josh DeWeese, Gail Busch, and Louis Katz.

My business continued to grow. When we started if we sold one or two pots a day it could seem like a success. At the height of our business it seemed like we were counting semi truckloads a month. The Asian monetary crisis that started in Thailand in 1997 took all the air out of our business. Now our children are starting to build it back up.

Dankwean village has grown from just two or three kilns in the 1960’s to well over 50 now. There are also people working in other materials such as stone, fake stone, wood carving, and painting. Nearby we have villages that do bronze casting and Ikat silk weaving. Every day trucks leave the village with pots.

During this time, between meeting Kurt in1988 and today, I have been able to travel to many countries, and have been a visiting and resident artist in many places, most recently my second residency at LH Projects. I feel lucky to come from such a small place and have friends all over the world.

notes: write about father, mother, politics, sister, jum, santi asoke.

Thailand 2018 -11-09 Archie

Archie Bray (Senior) was a worker at The Western ClayManufacturing Company. Western Clay produced architectural clay products in Helena Montana, the state capital. For those who live in more populous places you have to understand that Helena even in the 1980’s only had a population under 30,000. The whole state, really a large state had few people living in it that many large cities out east.

Helena as a city got its start in the mid 1860’s with the discovery of gold. Development in town centered near the gulch,  and the placer deposits of gold. However there were also mine up the gulch and production of quicklime up the gulch not far from the townsite. During the later part of the century there was a series of devestating fires that started in the gulch. Coming out of the gulch these first created there own wind system and spread very quickly. Brick veneer was quickly added to many of the local houses and brick housing became a standard for new quality homes. There were several brickyards, but Western Clay is the one that survived.

Archie (Senior) started a subscription perfroming arts series in Helena. Through a booking agent he would arrange to perfroming artists on their way to Seattle to stop and spend time in Helena. They would go to the Natatorium, ride horses if they wanted, visit the Bray and watch demonstrations by resident artists there and perform. Because these performances happened on a stop they often wanted to make in a long train trip, the costs were affordable in a small town. The series was able to book big time perfromers such as , “” .  Music, fine arts, dance, and theater are big players in this town. Thry are out of proportion to the city size , and although seen as a draw for tourists, the biggest proportion of audiences is always local.

In the first years of the 1950’s Archie Started inviting university art students to work at the brickyard over the summer. They would work for him during the day and make art on nights and weekends. The ceramic pieces were usually fired on top of the brick in the beehive kilns.  Over time the needs of the artists grew and kilns specifically for them were built.

In 195- , on thier tour across the US, Soetsu Yanagi, Shoji Hamada, and Bernard Leach, stopped at the Bray. They lectured, and did demonstrations.  This tour, in terms of pottery was a turning point. It was influential enough to change the face of American Pottery. The Bray developed a line of standard ware that potters were supposed to produce to support The (Bray) Pottery, the people developed what really can only be seen as an appreciation of Wabi Sabi, without using the words, and much of US potter began to look towards the East for inspiration and less to the BausHaus, Scandinavian design and other European influences.

The pottery building grew in stages. Archie Senior, while building a wall, fell from a ladder and died of complications. Archie Junior took over the brickyard. He built a tunnel kiln on a loan and was never able to make it work right. A tunnel kiln is a long skinny kiln where the bricks are stacked on cars with railroad wheels and highly insulated floors that are slowly pushed through the kiln. Both ends of the kiln are cool and the center is the hotest. The kilns are left running. Only needing to be heated once, they also make good use of the waste heat to preheat the air used in combustion, and to preheat the brick coming into the kiln. There is a question if the tunnel kiln was too big for need, but it probably would have worked out if the brick were not cracking in the firing.
Part of the problem was certainly the clay. It could be that the best clay was played out in their deposit. I heard that this was the case when I visited there, but it also seems true that Archie Junior did not have the experience or knowlege to blend the clays well enough.  Either way, they never got the tunnel kiln working properly.

The loan from the Small Business Administration was unable to be paid and Western Clay Manufacturing Company was scheduled to be auctioned. David Shaner convinced the Auctioneers to separate off the Pottery buildings from the Brickyard.  There was a downturn in the economy and people were broke. Ken Furgason told me that Dave Shaner went around town looking for donations to save the pottery. People told him that they did not have money to spare. He said, ” we will take the change in your pockets, anything”.  The auctioneer opened the bidding on the pottery and Dave Shaner bid every last cent he had. My memory is that this was $32,000 for the pottery, Chicken Coop, Director’s House and Garage.

In case I fail to mention it anywhere else David Shaner was a spectacular human being. He always had a smile for people. He was helpful, generous, and just plain nice. HIs teapots were full bodied unlike Fergusons. Ferguson liked understated Teapot bodies feeling that the forms were finished by the spout, handle and Lid. Shaners were fuller. Both made wonderful teapots.

In the early-mid 1980’s the Bray was the most important residency for clay in the world. It was busting at it seems even with 5 people there. The old pottery building had the directors studio, The Clay Business director worked in the old Directors house. The director, then Kurt Weiser, and Christie, his wife and son lived in the Chicken Coop. Christi had her studio in an old shack attached to the garage. The pottery also housed the community classes and the gallery.

Anywho, after graduate school Gail and I became residents at The Archie Bray Foundation. The director, Kurt Weiser, had been my first college Ceramics teacher in the Spring of 1994. When he was hired he insisted that someone be hired to run the commercial clay business and that they would pay for themselves. He hired Chip Clawson. While I took classes with Kurt, Chip was my workstudy supervisor.

Sometime while I was in graduate school the Brick Yard was purchased from Medicine Hat Clay.

When we finished graduate school Master of Fine Arts Degrees in hand we applied for residencies at The Archie Bray Foundation. We both got them. At the time, Sarah Jaeger, Akio Takamori, Ei Yamamoto and Kurt and Christy Wieser were residents there. It is hard to keep the chronology straight. I helped move the Clay Business from what became the winter studios and is now the sales gallery, to the Brick Yard. Not only a resident I was again working for Chip.

Mixing Clay,
Rebuilding the pugmill and mixer.

Kurt Weiser one week took off for a workshop in Edmonton Alberta. While he was there they took him to The West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping mall in North America.  At the mall at the time there was a trade show from Thailand. In the trade show was a display of pottery from Thailand. Kurt invited the managing director of the pottery, Suwanee Natewong to visit the Bray.  I heard that she was coming and thought, “Great, I can use my 25 word Thai language vocabulary”.

I was in the studio and someone came through and said that she had arrived. I walked over to the kiln area and saw a short Asian woman standing in the kiln room. She saw a giant western man with long hair and a beard backlit and filling the doorway.

Thailand BE 2531-11-08 Ajahn Poonarat

unfinished-draft

This is going to be hard to start. It is hard to know when the beginning really is.

I walked into high school in 11th grade.  A scoial studies teacher, Chuck Domstein handed me my schedulre. I said, I have to change my math class. He said, “we can’t change your math class. I said, “No! I have to change it.” He said, “We can’t change it.” … I can’t take math with this teacher. He said, “Look, I told you we can’t change it just cause you don’t like the teacher.” I said, “She’s my mother”. He said, come lets see if we can change it. ”

It was complicated, I wanted to take Electronics, I needed to take choir, there was not much flex. So I tried to get into Drafting. It was full. Metals shop, full. Welding, full. Every foreign language either did not fit the schedule or it was full. Finally I ended up signing up for something. I really think that I was not sure what it was, it was called “Ceramics”.

Once a week I was taking piano lessons. I did not like the music. The teacher was trying to turn me into a concert pianist. It was not happening. I was practicing Ragtime, or at least playing it daily.  The lessons did not go well, but they were kitty corner from the Detroit Public Library and I started checking out books on ceramics. I started with 2 or three a week and finally started checking out the limit of 5 on one subject. By the time I was done with 12th grade I knew a lot about clay. Over the summer I worked at a Jewish summer camp with an endowed ceramics shop. We had a salt kiln. I became involved with atmospheric surfaces. I built a wood burning raku kiln in my back yard and a wheel in the basement.

I started college with the intention of going into architecture. I was going to The University of Michigan School of Engineering.  I felt like I kept getting kicked for trying to hard to learn and not taking the easy way out of assignments. After a little over a month it was clear that I was not going to hold out for four years. I was confused. A very smart friend gave me a matrix to use to straighten out priorities in  complex and difficult decisions. Since this decision was driven by future employment/vocation this was the first column. I suggest that you do this.

In the first column write down all the jobs you ever wanted; every one. This might include garbage truck driver, sledge hammer operator, ceramic artist, computer programmer, hair dresser. Anything and everything. It has to really include everything you ever wanted to “be”.

The second column a list of positive attributes like: makes a lot of money, gets to pull those cool garbage truck levers, my parents would like it, get summers off, work outside, varied work, not challenging, very challenging.

The third column are the  negative attributes. Note that some positive attributes might also be negative, not challenging, too challenging, parents will hate it/love it. Makes little money, no advancement, smells bad.

Then you have to rank the positives and negatives. This is the hard part. You have to use your motivation, your ranking.  If you think lots of money is important to your parents but not you, then rank it low unless how your parents feel is very important to you and add it as another positive, “parents will like the high rate of pay”.

Then do the negatives. Then associate the numbers with the jobs. Please don’t try to add up numbers or anything like that. Things are way too complex and nuanced for this to work. It will however clarify motivations. It helped me clarify motivations surrounding earnings and risks. I probably would have come up with other choices by age 30, but that was 12 years later, I could not have found those motivations at age 18.

At the University of Michigan in the Art Department  I took a variety of courses. They all seem tied to my future now although outside of ceramics I wondered about why I was taking them. There already seemed to be a hierarchy,, but I was immersed in clay. Kurt Weiser was my first college ceramics teacher. I was a work study under Chip Clawson. I also took a class with John Stevenson. Georgette Zirbes was my advisor.

Kurt suggested that I check out the Kansas City Art Institute. Finishing my first Art History final exam, I had my backpack with me. The Art History Course was An Overview of Asian Art History taught by Professor Walter Spinks. For almost the entire course he used slides that he shot himself. The last test included in the final was on a traveling exhbition called “Recent Archialogical Finds of China”. I left the final and hitchhiked to Kansas City to see the Art Institute . They were still in session.

About this class, the first test could have been a killer. It was designed to get you thinking. You had to identify half a bizzilion ( I remember 12 carousels I think holding 1000 slides total) images of the head of the Buddha by style. It was impossible to do without actually finding stylistic similarities.  By the end you recognized the style by the eyes, the ears, the hair, the shoulders, the chin, the libs, by every detail. This had a big impact on me, but the most important part of the course were the descriptions of the cultures that produced the art.  The course was my first exposure in any significant way to Ch’an, Zen, Taoism, Hinduism(s) Jainism, and Islam. I was taken by the political impetus for the stylistic changes in Chinese painting between Northern and Southern Sung dynasties. I became a fan of Mu Chi, Fan Kuan, and Li Cheng, but there were so many others.

The class was taught in a huge room with hundreds of seats. Along with a group of others I sat in the front row.

On the way into Kansas City I told my ride where I was going and he decided to drop me off. As I had never been there before this was great. He dropped me off next door at The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. Over the limestone front entrance was a banner, “Recent Archaeological Finds of China”.  I ended up giving a young woman  my age a guided tour. The Art Institute Ceramics shop that year had 50 ceramics majors. Most were transfer students. Each brought with them experience, skills and knowledge. It was vibrant, exciting, energetic and expensive. I did not think that my parents would monetarily support my going there. I finished by trip and worked another summer teaching kids ceramics at camp.

The next year was my second at The University of Michigan. I was not an easy or model student although I worked very hard. I rarely worked on assigned projects. I was unable to work on things in ceramics where my intrinsic motivation was not really high. What I needed was a really good psychological examination. It would have turned up ADHD although I think it had a different acronym back then, and Dysgraphia (essay later) It would probably have turned up the frequent bouts of depression. They were still mostly seasonal back then starting in mid February but by then cropped up in small bits all the time.  At the end of the year I decided that if I stayed at the University of Michigan I would not gain the skills I wanted or needed in order to succeed in the field. I do not know if this was true although it seemed to be and still does. The program was fine for others.

I told my parents that I want to go to Kansas City. They said I could if I earned the difference in tuition over the summer. I found a job that would come within $30 of earning the  difference this if I spent nothing over thesummer. I went to work. The first day I came home asthmatic. My memory of this was that I was almost unable to walk home. I probably should have been hospitalized. I told my parents I was quitting. My father went ballistic.  I started looking for other work. Nothing stood a chance of making the difference. A friend road her bicycle over to tell me that I was going to be offered an “Assistant Manager” position at Burger King. In one of those flash decisions that happen when you are really tuned in, I decided and told her that I was leaving town in the morning. I hitchhiked to a friends house in Cincinati.

I did eventually get to school in Kansas City under the arrangement that my parents paid tuition and I covered everything else. I learned to cook good food inexpensively using “The No Fad, Good Food, 5$ a Week, Cookbook” . I bought very little food that was not unprepared. Exceptions were non-instant dry powdered milk, margarine, and very occasionally cottage cheese. One schoolyear I kept track of food costs. Not counting some beer it cost $3.27 per week.

Beyond the art history from the U of Michigan, thinking back a short lesson in 5th Grade with Ms. Cohen(?) seems important.  We learned about the word ethnocentrism. It took root. The idea that how we see the world is controlled by how we are brought up, that from inside a culture cultural practices seem to make sense, that from outside the culture they often seem wacky. Its been important.

This idea, ethnocentrism, really naturally occuring disease, was studied at the college level in the courses “World Ethnography” and “Language and Culture” taught by Professonr Anderson at the KAnsas City Art Institute. I am lucky to have had the ability to take these courses.

One of the interesting things about pottery, especially as taught in the 1980’s and perhaps before is that most of the models, stories, and information that we learned was about Asia. We learned about Japanese, Korean, and Chinese Ceramics. Its not that there were not a few strong European models, we and our teachers were mostly not interested. Consequently information was scarce and hard to find. The big exceptions  were information about The Leach School, The Bauhaus, and some Mediteranian ceramics and Majolica.

I became enamoured with wood fired raw  unglazed surfaces. I did not know the Japanese word Wabi Sabi, but others would categorize my interest as paralleling this concept. We fired a low fire wood kiln using a very coarse brick clay. We decorated mostly with slips, and the glazes were volitle and sensitive to temperature and atmosphere. After a year of this you either were in love with these surfaces or hate them.

One January before the start of the semester I went to Kay’s Rockhill Bar. It was a small neighborhood bar. There were always a few locals. There was a pool table, and Kay, a friendly owner/bartender. The ceramics department had 60 students and many of us hung out at Kay’s.

There was a girl with long hair, beautiful eyes, and stripe on her pants, cook’s pants. Shy, mostly, especially with girls, I did something unusual for me. I walked up to her, stuck out my hand and said, ” Hi, I’d like you to meet Louis”. She looked around thinking that there was someone else. Her name was Gail Busch. She had a nice smile.

A few days later I was out in front of his office and Ferguson, the KCAI Department Chair, a large gruff man with a huge reputation, walked up and said, “Louie, come here, sit down.” So I sat in his office across his desk from him.

“Louie, you gay?”
Louis: No Ken.
“You want a girlfriend?
“Sure”. I was thinking , ‘what, you got one in the closet, whats this about/’
Ken: Clean up your act, you knwo the drill, comb your hair, clean clothes, you know.
People sometimes think that I don;’t know how to take advice, but this is often not true. I thought, ‘nothing else is working’, so I gave it a try.

I bought new jeans at the Levi seconds store downtown. I started combing my hair. I wanted a good scientific test. So I carried a comb with me. Everytime I moved from one place to another I took my comb out. I brought a toothbrush to school. I decided to iron my clothes. Pants, shirt, underwear. My socks had creases. I polished my shoes, and my belt.
So Gail and I was working out well. We went out, drank coffee ate pecan pie late at night, and made pots all the time. I was not really allowed in her dorm room and the doors going in were locked so she would throw the key out the window. One time the cord it was on got stuck in a tree. I had to borrow a ladder from the janitor. He was highly amused. Gail made me omlettes, I made her kasha.

I ended up with alot of experience  talking with people from other cultures. It probably started with my grandmother whose English was iffy. My best friends mother spoke with a strong Cuban accent. Growing up in a 90% Jewish neighborhood there were loads of people from Eastern Europe. In high school I worked in a Chinese Restaurant. The cooks and the owners English was fragmentary and the pronounciation was poor. In KAnsas City I took classes from MAdame Chu. Students would ask me for explanations after class. I could understand every word.

Summers I worked at a Jewish camp for children. One summer after thousand of refusniks had been allowed to emmigrate and many came to Detroit. Lots of children ended up at camp. I had one as a camper. He was a year older than the other campers. He was smart. He had good schooling in the sciences. His English language skills were poor. He was just learning. The other campers treated him poorly at least in part because they could not communicate well with him. I asked the camp social worker what I should do and he said, “put him in charge of something every day”. This did not work well so I put him in charge of teaching me Russian,,, just a little. We worked on it most days during the afternoon swim.  I learned how to say, “How is your belly button, Your mother wears army boots. It is only 5 Kilometers to Kiev” and to count, not much else.

Learning some Russian normallized my helping him with English. Having the lessons go bidirectionally made it more like help from a peer and less stressful. I learned Thai, just a little as I helped him. It also gave me another experience communicating with someone whose English was not so good.

 

When we got to graduate school we met Poonarat Pichaiyapaiboon. He is Thai. Poonarat, was short, friendly, had an interesting sense of humor, and clearly was from another culture. He was fascinating and we became friends. His English was not hard to understand if you could make out what words he was saying. Like most Thais of his generation who learned to speak English he failed to pronounce final consonants and most consonant clusters. FInal ‘l’s often were pronounced “n”. “Liked” became “lie”.  Hotel was pronounced hoe-ten . Lips was pronounce lip but with a very short, dropped “p”. Once you got a handle on that he was easy to understand.

However, this was Middle America. Most people had little experience with listening to such bad pronunciation. He said that had I not be friendly with him, shown him some respect that he would have left the program and returned home.
One day he decided to cook for us. This was well in advance of the great profusion of Thai restaurants. He made us a dish based on Beef liver. You have to understand that liver in Thailand is a special food as it is in many places and times when animal protein is scarce. It is high in vitamins B6 and B12. It has a lot of cholesterol. When I was a child, liver was the one food I despised. I could eat anything else I was given, even if I did not like it. Liver I had to force down. It was vile. The last time my parents made me eat liver I asked to be excused from the table. I was told that I could not eat anything else until I ate my liver. I was determined to starve to death.  I woke up in the morning put on my clothes and walked to school without breakfast. When I came home for lunch there was lunch at the table for me. I guess liver was not so good for you that starving to death was a reasonable punishment for not eating it.
Anyhow, the first step was to put some oil in a pan and fry a ton of peppers. The air because so hot that we sat on the floor by the door while Nui cooked.  It was rather intense. I was able to eat a little.

Soetsu Yanagi, Shoji Hamada, and Bernard Leach went on a tour of the United States, giving lectures, and demonstrations in December of 1952. I went to graduate school and found a copy of Yanagi’s lecture in a trash can.  Yanagi coined the word “Folk-Craft”. Like William Morris, only later and  half way around the planet, Yanagi saw the demise of hand skills, and the plain work and products produced by local craftsman as detrimental to society and aimed to help preserve them.  He talked of plain Korean wooden bowls, Ongi, and other “rustic” ware designed for use.

Rather than join academia, Leach set up a pottery and taught apprentices.  The apprentices became famous potters, really most of them. One was Michael Cardew. Cardew also had apprentices, but first he went to Ghana on a British Government grat to set up a stoneware pottery. There he had contact with the robust earthenware pots used in the villages, further strengthening the Yanagi/Leach tie to folk pottery. Cardew had Mark Hewitt as an apprentice. We will circle back around to Mark later.

Cardew’s pots and his pottery aesthetic was something I put in a pigeon hole that I call Majesty of form.  His pots often have the fullness and grace of Sung Dynasty Chinese pots. The tend to be large, robustly functional, and show strength and vitality. Of the Leach School potters he is my favorite. I got to meet him in Wichita at a conference of educators. He said that you cannot learn to make good pots in a university.

At school in Kansas City, we were given the opportunity to buy books about Japanese pottery published by Kodansha. We ordered the books and they were picked up and shipped by Akio Takamori who was in Tokyo at the time. Akio has influenced us all. He was a great man, and a great friend to so many. But it may be these book orders where he had his biggest influence. We were wildly infatuated with Japanese pots, but could get only limited information. These books could not be read by us. But they contained large pictures, high quality. When they came we devoured them. I have had them 40 years now and they still are the books with the pictures I want to look at. I think that these books changed a generation of potters, at least the ones from the Kansas City Art Institute.  I think I bought 5 books, I was broke. Gail, now my wife bought another 5. I wish that I could have bought the two sets. I think that there were 70 books. So it goes.

Gail and I got married and moved to Rhode Island to set up a pottery. We did not have the skills, and my brain would not let me do this. I could, and really cannot stay focused like that. It has never worked. I was fooling myself.  I ended up deciding to go to graduate school. We went on a tour of schools and applied together to five. I am not sure what they all were but they included Alfred, Illinois State, and Montana State. We both got into Illinois State and Montana State. Alfred turned us down. I go to their receptions at the annual conference to rub in the mistake. They serve good food.

My life at Illinois State in Normal, was not good. Lots of things were wrong. I was one of them. When things got tough I did not make them better. However the real blame seems to lie on my instructors, both of whom are now dead. I am mostly over it, but they were not nice to me. I started hanging out with the Glass students. They were nice. The glass instructor, Joel Meyers, was great to me. It was an escape for me. I started making some good work there. Poonarat took a glass class with me. We had a lot of fun. Thinking about it I can hear his laugh, see his smile and his voice.  He says that I was important to his staying in Normal, thinking about this makes me realize that he may have been just as important to me, only I ended up leaving.

Sometime Poonarat brought a sheet of slides. If you are young these are transparent images of photographic film. They were a inexpensive way to get images that you could project on a wall. The images were of a village in Thailand, Dankwian. There was an image of a kiln, another of firewood, and images of dark clay pots, fired to vitrification with no glaze. These were Mingei, not fake folk-craft made by the college educated or designed by people with marketing degrees. There were pots of the people, made for storing water, basins for washing, mortars and wood pestles. The surfaces were amazing with spots of melted woodash from the fuel, scars from where they stuck together. I was amazed.

By Thanksgiving our first semester in graduate school it was obvious that the choice of schools was a mistake and we got on a bus and went to Montana. Greyhound was going on strike. The bus company told us, “no matter what we will get you to your destination”. In Chicago we saw our luggage on a cart as we were leaving the station. We got them to stop so that we could get it.  In Minneapolis they said that they could no longer transport us but that they would get us to our destination. We got on the train and got to Havre, Montana. From Havre we took a small bus company to  Billings. In Billings we were left stranded. Chandler Dayton drove her pickup truck  3 hours and picked us up. She took us to Bozeman straight into the Montains to camp, have steaks cooked on an open fire, drink beer, and whiskey, and smores. No one in Montana said “yes” to anything. It was always “You bet” or “You betcha”. It became our mantra.

Somehow we returned to  Illinois. It might have been Greyhound, I do not remember it.  But once we returned anytime one of the instructors asked us to do anything we answered, “you betcha”.  We were leaving but decided to finish the year out. This was a terrible mistake in many ways but I did make some great work. I invented slipcast glass. I started my series of kilns. I coated welded wire fencing with slip. I made some pots that I prize.

When I finally left Illinois I was almost not sleeping. I would sleep maybe four hours and wake up and worry. Sometimes I would get back to sleep. I was a mess. While I did not cry much, I was a man and we are supposed to take it. I should have, I think tears carry some of some stress out of your body. Oh well.  We left with friends who helped drive.

I do not know that I will ever feel the same joy ( its different when a child is born, not the same) that I felt when I crossed the border into Iowa. It was the lifting of weight, a thousand brick. We stopped and saw Clary Illian, a Leach apprentice, fantastic person, a maker of quiet beautiful pots and a great friend that I see only rarely. We spent the night in a campground and in the morning one of the tires on our 16 foot box truck was near flat. We did not have much money to spare.  Truck tires can be wicked expensive. We also did not have appropriate tools for dealing with it. We borrowed a small bicycle pump and worked for an hour pumping it up and then quickly drove into the city to get it repaired.  That done, we got back on the road.

The truck stopped running like it was out of gas and I pulled to the side of the road. John got out and said, “I think its the carbuerator. We were lucky to have him. As we were taking the top off the carbeurator  I finally started to cry. These were big tears. My nose dripped, they just about squirted from my eyeballs and Jack Kirkpatrick try to console me. “Louis, it will be ok. No worries everything will be fine, we will get it running”. Well he was right,  but we had no money to spare but I was not really upset. The tears were joyous. I was out of f-ing Illinois. I was elated! I could walk to Montana. The truck broke down again in Livingston Montana, just the other side of the pass into Bozeman. I thought, “no worries, I can push the truck into Bozeman with a pry bar.

We rolled into Bozeman with the engine running and air in our tires. I remember very little about the time until school started.

We lived in Married Student Housing. Rent was cheap, I think when we started it was 98$ per month. We had to pay our own utilities. The houses were WWII housing that had been moved to school. They had been given new windows and lots of insulation. They were about 1/2 mile from ceramics.

We met great people. Sheila and Halleck and Bobcat, our professors, Mike, Rick, and Jay, Allan, and Stephanie. I took a class on technical photography from Dick Molina who worked in the sciences. He introduced me to good chocolate. Of the grad students Chandler and Frank stood out. Josh DeWeese was an undergrad about to leave for Kansas City to go to the Art Institute.  It seems like all of his teachers went there, or almost all.

I do not remember being signed up for classes in the first summer, but I probably was. Gail took a graduate English class. There were some hiccups in the fall. The graduate dean sent Gail a letter saying that her undergraduate English classes were not acreddited by an organization that the University could accept and that she would have to take leveling courses.  It seemed like a joke. I could hardly write a paper. Gail went and pointed out that not only had she taken and passed a graduate English course at the Montana State, she had earned the highest grade and all the rest of the students were English Graduate students.  Further we pointed out that most of his art faculty went to that Undergraduate School and he accepted their transcripts when they were hired.

Unfortunately graduate school in Normal Illinois traumatized me. I had a hard time getting along with my teachers in Bozeman. They did not really help things, but I should have been able to tolerate more.  It was very hard for me the last few semesters. Still, I made work I am still proud of. I picked up skills I did  not have when I got there. I also made tons of work fired to cone 8 in residual salt that had surfaces that are much like Dankwian or Bizen surfaces. I learned to throw fast. I started become irritated about “Art” History, and its narrow myopic view of what art is. I should probably thank it for its myopia because it really became the subject of my work for decades.

From Montana State University we moved the 100 miles to Helena Montana, The Queen of the Rockies. Helena, is right under the continental divide. It is dryer than Bozeman and the scenery is less dramatic. You could easily say Bozeman is more beautiful. You might be wrong, but you would not know without being there a while.

reorder
I dropped out of undergraduate school for a year and half. During that time I lived in San Francisco with a friend. At the beginning I had a hard time finding a job so I played ukelele on the warf for change. One day I noticed this little hunched over old woman with a can walking towards me. I was playing “Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone”, and “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”. Both songs have the same circle of fifths cord progression so they blend easily one into another. She hobbled up under my chin, looked up and said, “you sure are older than you look.”

One of the things that I have learned to do is to play the ukelele sing and balance a broom on my chin. I can do all three at once. I have not worked at it much but I have substituted an accordian for the Uke. Its a bit more difficult.  On the street I prefered music to the show. Others with more show than music did better.  But I cannot say my music was exceedingly high quality. It was just better than my main competition. He was earning a real living, but I heard he had been  arrested for non-payment of taxes.

One June I hitchhiked to Montana to visit The Archie Bray Foundation in Helena from San Francisco. Kurt Weiser was my first college ceramics teacher was the Director. He hired Chip Clawson to run the clay business. I ended up on a bus from Denver to Helena. I called Kurt from the bus station in town. He was busy, so he told me to walk to the Bray. It was 5 miles. He said to “be careful of the wolves”.  Well Kurt is known to be a leg puller so I did not think much more about it.

As I approached the Bray, it was dusk, the howls of the “wolves” was really intense. A neighbor of the Bray raised sled dogs that were part wolf. I was scared, but not enough to turn around. Maybe that qualifies as stupid or foolish, I am not sure. The Archie Bray Foundation had a smaller footprint than it does now.

unfinished-draft

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We had had our garage sale. Our things remaining were on 4 pallets. Both Datsuns were outside on pallets so that they could be picked up and moved around by the Archie Bray Foundation forklift. Our other belongings were in the old covered scove kiln storage building.

The video camera had come, we bought film and packed. It is hard to know if we brought too much stuff. Lots of things were hard or expensive to get. Pants that fit me were all imports or carried import prices. Shoes were unavailable in size 14.  We brought some books. They ended up being helpful. We got so short on reading material that anything in English was a prized possession. I remember that we called our families. Things were rather frenetic. We were excited.