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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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  • The Apron

    On: March 9, 2014
    In: Creativity, Studio Journal
    Views: 1448


    My first clay studio apron is done for. Look at that threadbare hole with the wood floor peeking through right in the Solar Plexus Chakra!

    For that matter, look at the stained and faded rest of it. It used to be as blue as the bottom hem. Looks aren’t all that crucial to me – it’s an apron, after all, and I am more into how it functions – but it cannot do its job now either, and that’s the truth brought home after its last washing. So, I am retiring it to Ragsville, which is actually Fine and Fitting.

    In the beginning of my clay work, I did not wear an apron. Too busy. Too cool. When my All-in enthusiasm wrecked a few favorite shirts (Iron oxide wash, I’m lookin’ at YOU!) I found something to strap on in defense: this denim delight. I wore it constantly in the Cabrillo College clay lab for nearly a decade and, like my high school gym clothes, I took it home every weekend to wash.

    The demise of this apron got me to examining the other aprons hanging on the back of my studio door. Looks like I will be wearing them more often. And all of them have a story nearly as rich as the one I am letting go of. Here are just a few: (more…)

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  • Crouching Teacher, Hidden Student: Crafting an Excellent Clay Handbuilding Class

    On: January 30, 2012
    In: Art Biz, Artmaking, Community, How To's, Studio Journal
    Views: 1128

    Step right up and lookee here: I said YES when the enthusiastic folks at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center asked me if I would  be so kind –  and organized! –  as to offer a structured series of Beginning Handbuilding classes. That was a few months ago and now, here they come in just a few weeks. I better get this figured out.

    I got thrown into the briarpatch at the outset, because in order to write not one course description but three of them  – Short, Long and For the Press – I needed to have my raw concepts of what these classes would be about aligned with my personal take on the ginormous field of ceramics. Nothing like starting right in.

    Just what do Adult Beginners or Re-Newers want? Or need? What do I have to offer them? Could I parse this out and still keep it meaningful, soulful and artistic, for us both?

    How much does my editing, formatting and delivery of this wide-ranging subject affect outcomes? I concluded it was puh-lenty and I would do well to start back at my own beginning, boil it down to the bare-boned basics and embellish prettily from there.

    So what you see to the left is my long-time method of distilling knowledge: get a side table, dedicate it to the topic at hand, and proceed over the ensuing unfocused weeks to pile it high with everything which might be valuable to that cause. (It’s also how I wrote my college term papers, so I guess there’s a workable precedent in force.)

    Supposedly Right-Brained Creatives respond better to horizontal, visual, tactile piled-up available information – as opposed to vertical files behind cabinet drawer-fronts –  and I agree: when I have a thought, a pertinent quote, a book, an article, a snippet of anything I suspect might be useful, I just throw it here, feeling rich and capable.

    In good time, I will comb through the cornucopia and discover the inherent order there. Yes, I have a goal in mind, but the only way I realize it is to plow through and let it grab me. Inevitably the outcome is so much richer and denser than what I thought I was creating.

    These stacks are certain to contain my decade-plus collection of notes and handouts from my stable of teachers too. Some of them have had genius ways of simplifying and Explaining It All….or genius techniques, genius timetables, and genius projects which I can freely channel, if not outright copy. I bow to those who gave this kind of effort before me, and I reap the harvest of their cultivation. Nobody comes out of nowhere.

    And that’s really all there is to it. I’m no expert. I’m just someone who’s studied how to share and how to be a guide and to deliver substance. I’ve got some ideas on what sorts of things are good to know in the beginning and what sorts of things might logically follow.  I have theories on how to engage learners and how to aid them in discovering their own realizations and about how to foster the creative process as it relates to clay. Beyond that, what happens is what happens and I mean to stay awake to it. I’m a Hidden Student inside a Crouching Teacher.

    Class Nuts and Bolts: It meets 6 Thursdays, 2-5pm, Session I: Feb 23 to March 29, Session II: April 12 – May 17 held at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, 9341 Mill Street, Ben Lomond, CA,  831-3364ART.

    If you’re so inclined, you can call or register online at Class is $180 for Members/$200 Non-Members.

    Next Time: A discussion of the super slo mo similarities between an illustrated ceramic process and cooking shows.

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