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  • What Dreams May Come

    On: July 27, 2017
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1381

    Dove at the Cabrillo College “Grave Changes” Exhibit, Davis, CA 2012

    The Summer Studio Journal ReRun Posts continue, and I have a longer Preamble to this one:

    It’s five years on from this post, originally published June 14, 2012. I have re-posted the true story at the end of it a couple of other times and places, since it is so delicious.

    What’s not so delicious is that my mentor Kathryn’s still gone. For lots of reasons I can no longer find creative refuge in the Cabrillo Ceramics Lab. But the undeniably solid one is: she’s not there. There are some of her lovely small works and her photo in a glass case with her name writ large on the entrance doors. I am proud of her legacy, but I still hear her laughter ringing and think I glimpse her moving away similar to the first dream recounted in this post.

     As it should be by now, an artist and teacher who I admire and wholeheartedly support just earned a tenure-track position and will occupy her long-empty former office.

    Here at my studio, I have a collection of her fabulous smaller works and lovely handwritten notes, which I keep nearby, occasionally shuffling them about in an afternoon’s agitation. She’s rarely in my dreams now. So it goes. What sings to me currently were her creative dry spells, her doubts. She continues to mentor me in retrospect. I get frustrated with my artistic direction at times, yet know I am compelled to continue, just as, well, just as I saw her do. She, too, wrestled with making meaning. Felt impatient with the selling, the galleries, the shows. Worried about the same stuff. And additionally carried the onus of being a teaching legend, receiving the projections of hundreds and hundreds, most of whom largely misread her humanity, mistaking her most unfairly for a demi-goddess. I hold her utter humanity as a person and a sensitive artist to heart and cry.

    And for all that lovably warped humanity, here am I as well, shambling along, telling my tales. Forthwith, here is another worth repeating:


    It begins: In my dream, my longtime mentor, Kathryn McBride, is happily tending a trayful of her wonderful new ceramic pieces. She’s comfortable with what she’s created, almost matter-of-fact in the pleasure she takes in them.  She’s just at the edge of my peripheral vision, off to the side, a tad behind me. I’ve glanced over at her, but we’re in parallel play mode, not interacting directly, not speaking.  Yet every bit of my psyche is soaking up her contented presence, enjoying her enjoyment. I notice how this one dream moment conflates a myriad of actual ones from nearly a decade of being around this artist, this teacher, this person, in exactly this manner.

    When I return to waking life, I hasten to write down such a marvelously domestic dream; after all,  I’ve been asking for it for months now.  My last Kathryn Dream – only days after she died in late February of this year – was metaphoric:  full of confusion and anger, milling and indifferent crowds, tilting kilns and broken bisqueware. I needed that dream at the time and it clarified my existential questions, but I have desired another to tell me how it is now and give me a specific green light.

    Since February, I’ve been majorly “called away and taken up with things,” as K used to say. Much of it had to do with helping to complete collaborative works at Cabrillo College that she had been involved with, and stretching to meet some formidable deadlines in the process. (The photo is from one of those: the Cabrillo exhibit for the annual Ceramic Conference in Davis each April.)  I also began teaching my own Beginning Handbuilding students, was accepted into a Big Important Exhibit and even Won An Award.  I could have used her trusted and willing ear many times and have groaned, moaned, yelped and winced at its loss. Slowly, through the busy-ness and the stages of grieving, I found new ways to relate to K: a snippet of memory, a phrase, new insight into why she was a certain way, a sense of presence.

    I hoped, though, that in good time I would receive at least one more dream giving me permission to write about the essential and yet often incidental things that knowing Kathryn afforded me.  What kind of attention was I really paying all those years of beach walks, field trips, art groups, projects upon projects and parallel play? What beyond the clay work at hand was the heart of the matter? It’s coming clear. It has to because it’s all I have.

    A Story.  One fall evening,  K and I stepped from the ceramic studio and kiln shed – where we were working on pieces for the Culinary program’s dining room and she was watching over a slow firing in the gas kiln –  and we went right next door to the campus theater to take in a performance of the dancer/choreographer Tandy Beal’s multi-media production  Here After Here: A Self-guided Tour of Eternity. It is an unflinching, often humorous and exquisitely artful look –  done through dance, video, spoken vignettes and audience participation –  at what we think happens after we die. (If you ever get the chance, go see it.  I hear she plans to take it to San Francisco.) Right before Intermission, there is a small reveal and the audience is challenged to ask, either by cellphone or of the person sitting right next to them: “What do YOU think happens when we die?”  After nearly an hour steeped in the sensitive and moving performances addressing this profound mystery, I swear, K and I turned to each other…paused…inhaled…exhaled…and then she said, “Do you think the kiln is up to cone 8 yet?”

    ~Liz Crain, who is relieved to at last be able to share and celebrate her special take on her ceramics-plus life with Kathryn McBride, 1950-2012. This post’s title is from the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet. which is worth another reading.  And additionally – five years later – she wants to tell you that the effects of a some mentors absolutely go lifetime deep and surprisingly wider than originally thought.


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  • Tales of the Workshop: In Which Art and Spirit Meet the Creative Process in a Clay-Collage Mash-up

    On: August 26, 2013
    In: Artmaking, Community, Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1584



    The Workshop  Art and Spirit led by the venerable Coeleen Kiebert, is a way to access and define one’s creative vocabulary, personal imagery, art-making process and style. Held at her stunning sea-view ceramic studio in Rio Del Mar – which also manages to be intimate and comforting – we found sharing, guidance and time for insights. While I’d taken this course in a longer format over a decade ago, it simply can’t be called a repeat; I am just not the same artist as when I first learned these methods. My goal was to arrive with as few expectations as possible, stay in the moment and tell the truth. Oh, and to circle back around to the intelligent, protective energy that Coeleen provides. What a week!

    Day One: Re-steeping myself in Coeleen’s descriptive creative process and beginning again with the making of a found imagery collage on a huge 18×24 paper support. We are silent and it takes hours finding the pictures and words to select, where to place and interrelate each piece.  The collage-making proved intuitive and I did not over-think it.  Coeleen suggested we pause and look for evidence of the four elements in our imagery and colors.  I found tons of Earth (natch), reasonable amounts of Fire and Water, but almost NO Air. When the seabreeze kept lifting my unattached piles of papers and blowing them upside down and into different arrangements, I decided that Air was playfully present and I did not need to try to represent it with imagery. I dreamt of my images that night and returned in the morning to attach the last ones before we gathered to share and respond.



    Day Two: Collage completed,  Coeleen introduces The Map, a conceptual grid of thirds which aids in interpreting our images by where in the rectangle they have been placed. The grid includes a continuum from unconscious to conscious, higher and lower realms, fears, undeveloped concepts, dreams, outward and inward movements, archetypal and Shadow areas.  What images and colors did I repeat or put in prominent positions? What meanings can I pull from them, literal, analogic and metaphoric? These represent a language I think in: a glimpse of my image vocabulary. She suggested we pick three images and fashion them in clay,  recommending that one of them be an image we don’t quite understand or are disturbed by.  I started with the piano-playing hands and the seed image from the lower left, then went to the straight-forward ceramic pitcher, the vessel near the center.  Side pieces appeared, but it was great to work with clay independently of needing it to have any sort of outcome: just be there and be attentive and responsive to what comes up. I could not decide on a third piece, but slept on it.



    Day Three: In the morning I quickly made two clay pieces from collage imagery I did not understand. They were curvilinear and abstract,  and I wound up liking both really well, even if I still didn’t quite get them.



    In the late morning Coeleen guides us to The Doodle as way to access a personal style. We have a few warm-up doodles and we’re off for an uninterrupted time, moving the oil pastels silently and goal-lessly over the page however we like. And, yes, it IS touchy-feely in just the right way: a supremely visceral and kinesthetic experience for me. Outcome is not important, but I do find myself wondering what the page “needs” to express itself: Another color? Another series of marks in this corner? It was a dialogue. We hung our doodles next to our collages and began to notice similarities of colors and patterns,  the division of space, the energy expressed. The collage and doodle processes are so different, and yet the results are clearly cousins!



    Day Four: Time to doodle with the clay!  Grab a grapefruit-sized lump of clay, work with eyes closeddoodling in 3D for at least 15-20 minutes, open your eyes and continue working.  Out came this giganto spiky pod thing! What is similar here to my previous collage and doodle imagery? What has evolved? Insights? I’m beginning to think I enjoy seed pods and potential growth more than I thought I did.



    Day Five: This last day is dedicated to refining the clay pieces and making one last foray into something we each wanted to understand better. I found myself making another collage. In this one I specifically was asking to understand what the concept of vessel means to me. The night before I had looked up all the meanings of the word, so I let myself find the right imagery for ships and veins and containers, even metaphoric ones as in, “He was a vessel of the Lord.”  I placed the new collage next to the old one, with my doodles and clay work alongside. I find only a few connections, and only the ones I had intentionally put there; I’m spent.  But the other workshop folks pointed to one similarity after another, the unity being obvious to them. And obviously I have tons more to apprehend, which I take as a Very Good Thing.


    Coda: I took my wet clay pieces home,  finished and fired several.  The one I still don’t quite understand – the screw-like piece taken from the first collage – got a coat of black underglaze and after firing it,  I covered it unevenly with thin gold leaf. The aim is to have it look more like the mysterious gold object (originally an artifact in a National Geographic.) It’s hanging on the wall a glance away, just to the upper left of my monitor, the spot on The Map where dreams reside.


    – Liz Crain, who is so happy to be working this way again, she signed on for six more weeks at Coeleen’s studio starting in late October!



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