Author Archives: Louis Katz

Gail

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.

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, 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 know 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. Every time 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.

We tended to go to the bar on Thursday and Friday nights after school. Thursday was difficult as school started at 9 am on Friday Mornings. My pool game got really good. I was especially good at leaving the cue ball in difficult positions for the other player. I started beat Mac most days. Mac was the resident shark. But on some days, I played my old rotten game, like my cue stick had a curve in it.

One day I came in and cleared the table on my second time up. He had not gotten a single ball sunk. He looked at me, looked at Gail and then said, ” I know what it is, you can only play well when she is here”. He was right.

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 on a cord 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 ommlettes, I made her kasha. I kept ironing my underwear.

That semester Gail’s mother wrote her. “Gail, have you met anyone?”

“Well there is this guy, but I am not sure he is my type, He is so clean cut!

—————-
“

When we got to graduate school we met Poonarat Pichaiyapaiboon. He is Thai. His English was fine but I helped him when it seemed appropriate. It turns out that I had alot of experience by then 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 

Poonarat, was short, friendly, had an interesting sense of humor, and clearly was from another culture. He was fascinating and we became friends. Over summers I often worked at a summer camp.



Hangouts evolved in my class of ceramics students at The Kansas City Art Institute. The first year I was there I could not drink unless I snuck into a bar. I got good at this, but.
The next year I ended up going to Betty’s Hall. “Have a ball at Betty’s Hall”. We listened to the Kings of Jazz and danced country swing. I danced with a friend fairly often, it was a kind of contest between us, fast, hard and if you let go, you would fly into the wall. I had already learned not to drink much. Betty’s closed over the summer and the next fall we started going to Kay’s Rockhill Bar. It has a pool table. I was not very good.

There was a new student sitting on a stool at Kay’s. She had some blue pants on with a white stripe up the side. I walked up, stuck my hand out and said, ” Hi, I ‘d like you to meet Louis”. She looked around for Louis and then figured it out.

I graduated and decided to stay in school a semester. I signed up for an additional 3 credits for the next fall so that I could stay in school with Gail. We decided to go get summer jobs in San Francisco. We stayed with David. I got a job as a bicycle messenger. Gail was working nights as a cook on Fisherman’s Wharf. I was not doing good in the job. I was never good at hills on a bike. We never saw each other. After a month, it was clear that something had to change. So I called up the summer camp I used to work at, Tamarack, in Ortinville Michigan, and asked if they had jobs for us.

They did. We had to arrive a bit late for the start. We left San Francisco a day later. Camp had a policy, “Staff caught in compromising positions should expect to be terminated. Everyone always wanted to know which positions were compromising, but I proposed to Gail that we get married in Reno Nevada on the way. Gail thought Reno was tacky. We got married in Lovelock Nevada by the Justice of the Peace. Gail worked in the kitchen at camp and I worked in the ceramics shop.

The Camp director, a great jokester, gave us a mobile home to live in. It was on a small island in the main road. It had big bay windows. He removed all the curtains from it.

Meet Doris

We left the US and flew to Japan. Because so many of my ideas had to do with mingei, “folk craft” , it seemed smart to see some of Japan. We spent about 10 days in Japan on the way to Thailand. We went and visited Hiroshi Ikehata and his family for about 5 days on this leg and also went to Mashiko. Mashiko is a famous ceramics town. Shoji Hamada’s workshop is there. When we were in school we bought a small amount of a glaze material from there. It is really almost a perfect decorating glaze called Mashiko slip. It was like gold.

Kinako Cerve Katz – きなこCerveכץ

This recipe is for an amalgam hot beverage recipe.
Fresh roast some soybeans as you would coffee. I use a heat gun in an uncoated tin can stirring with a very long implement.
I roast the bean meat to a traditional US light roasted color. I ignore the color of the skins.
Allow them to cool and grind them very fine in a coffee grinder. I do not use a bur mill, but one of those cheapo high speed mills I add one cardomom pod to about a 1/4 cup of the beans.

Using a #5 Cerve pot (AKA Turkish/Greek/Arabic/Israeli coffee pot) heat some water with 2 teaspoons of sugar.
When near boiling add 1.5 Tablespoons of fine ground kinako.
Bring to a boil and allow to froth up.
Let it sit 20 seconds and froth it up again.
You can do this a third time.
The Kinako settles more quickly than coffee so wait ten seconds and pour. Reserve some foam for each cup.
Top this off with coconut milk. I do not know if it is good with cream but most things are. It would be fine with me if you used butter.
The recipe is also good with a bit of cocoa added.

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. In the backpack I had my normal gear. For food I decided to bring peanut butter, it was cheap. I also brought some homemade granola I had left over.
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 never hitchhiked out of Denver. It was illegal to hitchhike in Colorado so I would take the bus. I have a hard time detailing the trip because I hitched out west so many times but I think on this trip I took the bus south and got dropped of in Albuquerque. It was hot. People at the bus station told me the wrong direction for the freeway. I walked about five miles. It did not look right. I asked again. I was told another direction. It too was not right. This time I knew it right away. I had not crossed an east west freeway coming in from the north so I know if I walked south I would get there. I got picked up by a guy in a sports car and dropped off in 15 0r 20 miles, a much worse place to hitch from. Then a VW stopped and picked me up. The car was full so I sort of got packed into the back seat. There was a Spanish speaking man in and a woman in the front. The woman told me that she was a prostitute and that the man was an illegal alien. A we approached Flagstaff I started smelling gas and the prostitute said that the gas gauge was dropping and the car was running terribly. Some screw came out and gas was coming out of the whole. I thought we were stuck, but then I thought of how we used to fix canoes that had lost a rivet at summer camp with bubble gum, and that it got stiff in the cold. Well that would not work because gum almost certainly dissolves in gas, so I covered it up with aluminum foil and jammed and the screwed it into the hole. The first gas station was about 20 miles away. We pulled in, I showed him my repair. He said “This looks first rate, what do you need me for?” I said that they were driving into LA and gum was going to thaw. He said, “thats a real shame”. The driver and passenger spent the night in a hotel and I hitched in San Bernardino and spent a night on my Uncle Leonard’s coach. It was terrible hitching out of there. I went north. My peanut butter was really not in a very good container so I mixed it with the granola and it formed a sort of stiff peanut bar. At some point I mixed in a pound of rasins. It was really pretty good. I bought a cabbage. They keep well out of refrigeration, especially if you eat the outside leaves once a day.I do not remember if I went to San Francisco that trip or not. My brother Dave, and my good friend Dave both lived there.I htiched to Yosemite and spent the first night in Yosemite Creek Campground. In the morning I got a permit to go up the back of Half Dome.

I had crummy equipment and it was May. I think I stayed at Little Yosemite Campsite. There were some yahoos drinking beer there. I spent a night, left my camp set up, climbed the back side of half dome (its a walk up, not technical) came down and stayed the night again. In the morning there was snow on the ground and my cotton sleeping bag was insufficient. I left cold, and a little wet and hitchhiked to Berkely California. It was slow getting out of Yosemite and I remember sleeping in a field and waking up surrounded by cows. It was scary. and stayed the night I think anyways with my cousin Ellen. In the morning I walked to the REI store and spent nearly the rest of my money on a Polarguard sleeping bag. I left town and hitchhiked up the coast. I stopped in Fortuna and stayed a day with a high school friend Carmen. She was living in an old funky house in a grove of redwood stumps. There were people who had built houses on top of the stumps and were squatting on the land. I think it was all owned by Carmen’s husband. Carmen had a daughter who I was introduced to as Indigogo.

My memories from there are not very filled out. There was bees nest in the wall of the bathroom and you could hear them buzz if you banged the wall. There was a fridge full of frozen cider. I have a vague memory of picking apples, but it was May. Maybe we only went to look at them. Now I think Carmen described cleaning up the dead apples then shaking the tree. They had a little press and it was two fridges set to as cold as they would go, mostly frozen.

I think that Carmen drove me into Eureka.I left and hitchhiked up the coast. I did not get far the first day. I think that I had gotten too much sugar from cider,,, its hard to know. But I walked down to the beach at Eureka State Park and made some mussel soup and ate it for a couple meals. Noon the next day I packed up and walked out of the park. I had little money but I though that a cup of coffee would be good. I went into a restaurant that had a view of the park and ordered a cup. The man running the place brought me a coffee, and asked if I was the guy eating mussels on the beach. I said yes. He brought me a sandwich and gave me another wrapped up for the road.

Mid June each year 1973, 74 and 76-79 I worked at Camp Tamarack, a Jewish camp for children near Flint Michigan.

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.
You can read about my experiences with dysgraphia here: https://louiskatz.net/wpt/?p=265
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. It was not luck, but hard work, planning and being nice. It never hurts you to be nice.
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.