Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mary Fox Discussion Group

It was a beautiful Island afternoon with the warm moist air surrounding me as I checked the tire pressure on my bike and then went inside to close the plastic sheeting that surrounds my wet work shelving, not that my pots would dry out too much while I was away for a few hours. I had no idea what to expect once I got to Ladysmith and finally met the infamous Mary Fox.

I have been a potter-for-a-living for the last four and a half years and have run into all sorts of potters from all walks of life with varying levels of, shall we say, interpersonal skills. I was told that the "club" in my area was not running this year, that they were not accepting new members and a few months later that they don't allow new potters into their show because I would have had to be a member all year to join the show. (pause) I also had a potter stop what she was doing in the gallery she belongs to and look me straight in the eye and tell me that she was just sure she had seen a pot of mine in a thrift store!! I turned and walked away quickly to avoid further ugliness.

So you can understand my trepidation with the 27km bike trip to meet Mary and a few others with clay under their proverbial fingernails!

The ride was perfect, no flat tires, despite the broken glass along the highway, meant that I arrived as planned about 15 minutes before the 1pm discussion was to start. Mary was alerted to my arrival by a beautiful small, white dog named Judy who I soon found out, had a wonderful little bunk-bed right beside the wheel close enough to get clay splatter on her! Mary opened the door and welcomed me in with a wide smile and assumed I was there for the clay chat despite my neon yellow cycling jacket, helmet and gloves. I was immediately put at ease and I knew this afternoon would be spent among friends.

As I gobbled up the most beautiful studio space I had ever been in, I bent over to realize that she actually had so many finished pots that they filled every carefully designed drawer at the bottom of each shelf. Stunned at the sheer volume of work that was there I heard Mary say to the next people who came, Joe and Pam, that we were going to sit outside and have a fire with our discussion so we all wandered through the throwing studio and into the courtyard in the back to find a tiny fire pit made out of a few refractory bricks.

The preliminary discussions of how we were all related to clay began straight away and I was amazed to meet two people who actually work on the same pots! No one comes into my studio without a few days warning and for a short lesson only. Valerie and Rose-Lynn came in next and we all found a seat around the fire and started to chat openly about clay, art, getting an art education, the current clay art we are seeing in galleries, the craft and the endless work that is clay and many other strands of conversation that are too numerous to mention. Sharron joined us after a long drive up Island and brought some photos of her many wonderful clay works, she also added to the conversations about an "Art" education having recently finished her own adult studies.

The major questions about life as a working potter were fielded by Mary but she is so comfortable with her life's work that she is not defensive about being the source of all information. She has spent a few lifetimes already learning about her decorative lithium and copper glaze that, in all it's outer beauty, seems to have been born in a completely different time and galaxy and in order to work with it at all she has had to learn a whole different language just to ask it a question. Now, anyone who has made a few glazes from scratch, knows that there is a certain amount of magic put in the tub with the kaolin, but the work she has done developing this unique line of decorative pieces deserves a medal (or metal, hahaha, you decide)

The special beauty of this discussion group is that we weren't trying to DO anything, we weren't planning a show or working out a teaching or firing schedule, we weren't trying to jury a new show or gallery hanging, we were just there to talk. It was an amazing break from the endless hours that most of us spend alone in the studio working without time parameters (except the number of hours to the kiln finishing) or days of the week (except for the number of days until our respective studio sales) We were able to talk and listen with respect for each other and the clay so everyone seemed to feel safe and open, the way I would imagine the clay workers would have been a hundred years ago as they loaded a huge beehive kiln with the season's work they had all made together.

I have searched long and far for a safe place to talk and listen about the life I have chosen, without commitments towards how many pieces I will have ready for this event or that one, just an afternoon out of the studio with people who share some of my love of/obsession with clay and after quite a few attempts where I was not quite able to relate to others, at Mary's I felt relaxed and at home, as though I could just as easily have put down that trimming tool and stood up to answer the door or go get girl guide cookies for everyone.

As I rode the 27km home to Duncan, I am totally sure that I was glowing with potter's conviction, that I was truly on the right track for myself because other people were able to do this work and survive in today's world full of mortgage payments and walmart.
Now, a few days later I am on the back porch of my home with a group of "just the right moisture to trim" ovalated baking dishes calling my name and the bottom of my favorite coffee mug showing, and the sun is shining on my hands, and it just struck me. The clay conversation group at Mary Fox's studio is kind of like plugging in to a solar charger for your pottery batteries, it was a welcome break from the studio but also a good charging up that only a common purpose and true kinship can give you. As potters we get used to, and have clearly chosen, a life full of vague discomfort, from the long hours of work to the many stools that we have tried until we find one that is just right (usually with our own adjustments however barbaric) and to find a place and time with such comfort and rejuvenation was, almost...indescribable. But, I tried.

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