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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The µBITx, pronounced Micro -Bit -X is an amatuer radio transceiver. It works from 3 – 30 Megahertz. It is a kit, sort of, and is very inexpensive. Mine was $109 with a $10 dollar extra charge for REALLY fast shipping from India. It was accepted for shipment 65 hours before delivery in South Texas.
There are many cool things about this radio. 3- 30 Megahertz is a very big swath of radio frequency. It sends and receives morse code and single side band voice. AM radio waves are made by combining a radio frequency signal, a plain sin wave at a fixed frequency with an audio wave. What comes out of the radio is the fixed frequency wave called the carrier and two side bands that are the carrier plus and minus the frequency of the audio. The carrier , although it is called a carrier carries no information other than what the fixed frequency is. The two side bands duplicate the audio information. What single side band does is eliminate the carrier and one of the side bands early in the process and amplifies the remaining sideband. Having to only amplify one part of the signal allows it, using the same amount of power, to be stronger. All of the juice goes into the one side band making it louder, stronger. It also creates a much less wide signal allowing more conversations to go on at the same time. Please do not consider me an expert on any of this. My knowlege is really limited and people with more abound.
So, how does this radio work? Old radios produced the carrier with a combination of components. The easiest way to make an oscillator is with a coil and a capacitor. The coil holds a charge in magnetic field, and a capacitor holds one in an electric field. These two devices when set up properly send energy back and forth between each other at a certain frequency determined by how they are constucted, how “big” they are. The problem with these simple oscillators is that they change frequency with temperature, and the heat up with use.
Skipping all of the other intermediate steps in oscillator development, at least in part because I really know little about all of this brings us to the µBITx.
The µBITx creates its base frequency with chip that has a circuit designed to create the frequency of your choice. You program in what you want and the frequency comes out. The chip accepts commands using a language called I2C. THis language goes over a pair of wires. The computer that sends this is a small computer I am a bit familiar with called an Arduino.
It doesn’t but I do. About painters, at least young ones that I knew when I was young, or at least younger.
Frequently I have had people from other media wonder/ask how the uncertainty of firing could be dealt with. I always found this question baffling. I could not always put it into words.Ceramics is no different in this way than any other medium.
Uncertainty can be excitement. You can have certainty if that is what you want, or at least close in onit. Test and measure until you are certain. Its not what I want from clay, but someone can want it. Somep[eople think that they have it. They have more of it then I do, maybe, probably not. Life is uncertain, you are always balancing variables in everything, is the pan hot enough for the eggs not to stick or is the butter going to burn? You think that you know how the details will be seen. You think you understand your motivation. You think a lot of things and they are not always right, rarely if ever really. They are never complete. You cannot know the whole story. Stories are always too complex.
All of this, “I know what I am going to paint” nonsense, is prefaced on the idea that painters can visualize, fully comprehend, fully plan, fully understand, what their work will look like, how it will impact people, themselves, how it will stand. They work in a similar manner, and really have no idea until it is finished. They too have surprise. The too are orchestrating process. The finished content is not controlled, and never fully revealed. The work will be different through the lense of a weeks time, and a year, or however long.
Really though, the work is not finished until we are gone, and well after that. When someone uses your coffee cup or mug, or looks at your work anew, each time the work changes. It is not some fixed static entity when it comes from the kiln. I have a cup from a friend Wally. I bought it at t thrift store. I remember when people made handles like the one he put on it. Its ridiculous in many ways, but it shows time, it shows where it was made. It also has a handle that is hollow and since it is dishwashed the handle fills up with water. Could he have imagined how I feel about it weeping on papers after filling it with coffee?
The classic example of this post firing manipulation of work is Old Japanese Teabowls, with records kept of who drank what and when, with stains, cracks, repairs, Kintsugi, thoughts, writings poetry. But it really is not different for any other object. Price is part of the work, What Rick Newby thinks about it becomes part of it, who bought it, what gallery, a thrift store? The teabowl, The Kizaemon, the teabowl that is supposed to express it all was made by a peasant potter in Korea then taken to Japan. It is rarely displayed. How could the maker know? It is a plain bowl for rice, disposable. Its worth was in its being collected, appreciated and held.
There is nothing that does not add to the work, even if it seems to detract. I am not sure it is over if it is buried. Although if its been subducted, melted in the middle of the earth and extruded as new igneous material the relationship is getting a bit thin,, Perhaps a trace of carbon will remain firmly placing it in time by C14 dating or some other scientific alchemy.
people should read this:
- 3-4 cups papaya Julienned fineมะละกอดิบสับขิ้นฝอยๆ
- 1/2 cup ground dried shrimp (coarse)ก้งแห้งป่น
- 8-10 cloves garlicกลีบกระเทียม
- 4-5 small chillies pequinsพริกขี้หนูสด
- 4-5 black peppercorns or green if availableผริกไทย
- 1-2 dried chilliพริกแห้ง
- 2T Fish sauce, jaggery lime juice and tamarind pod water if available.น้ำตาลปีบ น้ำปลา น้ำมะขามเปียก
- 1t Shrimp pasteกะปิ
- 2T fresh roasted peanutsถั่วลิสงเผา
- 2-6 cherry tomatosมะเขือเทศเล็กเล็ก
This recipe is about balance. If something is too powerful add something else.
Julienne the peeled papaya with a sharp knife and a coarse vegetable peeler.
In a Danwkean Mortar pound the peppers garlic, shrimp paste adding the peanuts last and pound the peanuts lightly. You can also use mortars from Ubon and Nongkhai.
Add papaya and pound each small batch until partially translucent.
Often my memories seem tied to ideas. I remember the ideas and then the facts flex to fit the thesis or concept. So I remember Victor Babu with his feet together slightly on his tiptoes hands open and arms outstretched above his head saying, “blossoming” in reference to a pot form. My memory is that despite his huge shoulders and small hips this dance, this pose had a grace, perhaps equivalent to the suggested grace in the to the phrase of Cardew, “The Majesty of Form”.
He, Victor, a fantastic human, was describing a condition of a pot, a kind of breath. This word, breath, is not one I hear defined directly in “A potter’s Workbook” but Clary Illian talks the concept. She talks about the interaction between the surface or wall of a pot and the column or volume of air on the inside. I describe a relation between the skin, the absolute-skin-surface of a pot and the volume – the air inside is surely a better description for some. Breath, as a word, is tied to Buddhist ideals but these ideals or ideas, are not really that removed from the fullness, balance, and active stillness (active or anticipatory stasis) suggested by the breath in pots. Back then while I was in school either we did not use this word “breath” or my ears had a special filter to keep it out.
Patty Driscol, Gail Busch and I were sitting around one evening (Kathy Ervin) could have been over, looking through the dictionary for some reason and thinking of this dance of Victor, his word, “blossoming”, or at least the idea of it and I came across the word erumpant. Erumpant is ready to burst, ready to pop. A pregnant woman, a ripe fruit, and as I have a certain taste for the tasteless, a zit ready to pop. I think we had been playing scrabble.
There is really only one sort of ripeness, one fullness, described by “erumpent” but I think it is one sort with stages. It is a useful word but rather one dimensional. We really have many different varieties of fullness in the field of ceramics. Having thought about it for years I now have more categories, a bud, a blossom opening, opened, even wilting, there is growth like a shoot of bamboo, thickening of the trunk like a tree or a kapok tree, the beer belly, as well as the various perceptions of erumpancy. There is beginning to bulge, quickly beginning, a hint of readiness or ripeness, ready to burst, actually bursting , burst and a sort of flacid loss of muscle or skin tone. Each have their place, and grace, and all can have breath if done well. Some are harder to pull off than others.
The words themselves have little meaning when it comes to pots until we categorize ideas, visual ideas and assign them to the words. Some words collect these ideas better than others. These words contain action, emotion, and layers of expectations. If they do not have these layers of meaning then using them adds nothing to the already obvious characteristics of the pot as in,”that is a smooth pot”. So it is not really the use of words, but what we put into them. ya ya ya.
Recently I went to a ceramics conference in Kansas City. I got to see Victor for a few short minutes. I don’t think that I can trydescribe talking with Victor in any way that truly captures it. There were scores of people waiting to talk ad I had only a few minutes. It was delightful.
Shape, a separate essay but attached to the original version will appear in a different post.
It is clear to me that as a media we are making progress at least in some ways. Sure there is more technical know how and horsepower than there was 40 years ago. There is more knowledge and more people doing glaze calculation and substantive kiln innovation. But even the pots themselves are getting better. This can be demonstrated pretty well by looking at handle attachments. I have joked about looking at upper handle attachments pictured in CM from the first issue forward using the criteria of intendedness(1). But I am not so interested in quantitative research in the field. I just want to generate thought. Still it seems that progress here can be demonstrated.
In this regard I have been looking at Simon Levin’s handles on cups. Really the whole cups are wonderous but it is the handles I am most in to. The mimicry of the smooth upper attachment is so well done at the bottom that the effort that goes in is not apparent. There are no signs of any effort. The bottom attachment looks as is it was accomplished the same way the top attachment was, no muss, no fuss. But it wasn’t. Simon has apparently developed the skill and technique to make the bottom attachments look the same and a lot of effort went into this.
The lack of unresolved details in the bottom attachment meet my definition of intendedness. Every part of the attachment looks like it was considered. The details look like they were all intended. The clean lack of struggle, the lack of unintended marks, makes these lower attachments look effortless and I wonder if the terms “apparent consideration”, “intendedness” and “apparent effortlessness” are not in some ways relating to pots, synonymous.
(1) Intendedness: This is the appearance of intent, rather than intent itself. Something can look like it has intent but if it is actually accidental, or a controlled accident it still has intendedness. The Bauhaus designers used to say that every aspect of a design needs to be considered. This is an important principle, but in my opinion poorly stated. I say that every aspect of a design needs to look considered or intended. They do not need to be intended. How well something conforms to this ideal, this look of intention or consideration is its intendedness.
Once something looks intentional it is possible or easy and almost automatic to either think you know why something was chosen the way it was or to wonder why. Either of these is a gateway to meaning.