Sunday, October 23, 2011

I'm a little angry about arts education

Recently I learned that the governor of Florida proposed to stop funding majors at state colleges in subjects that do not lead to “practical degrees,” meaning that many arts, English, and other liberal arts degrees will be considered unimportant. As a student of art history and history, I am frustrated by the idea that what I studied was “worthless” and what the greater implications of this are. Here are my thoughts:
When we say we will only used state funds to fund majors that will have jobs waiting for them at the end of the line, what are we saying about arts, literature, history, and other “liberal arts” studies? Are we saying that the limited jobs in these fields are not worth funding, and that no matter what people have talent in, we should only fund those careers that will have jobs that will bring a better return to the state? Are we then saying that private schools should carry the burden of the liberal arts, thus creating an even bigger divide between the “haves and have nots?” Where does the talented kid in drama, painting, sculpture, dancing get an education when private schools are not an option for him or her because his or her parents can barely afford to put food on the table? How will this child develop talent in a world where extra lessons are too expensive, and he or she is required to get a part time job at 16 because his or her family needs that extra income. Maybe this isn’t the kid who is going to go to college anyway because there isn’t going to be a way to pay for it. But maybe, just maybe, that kid has a talent like no other and has to put dreams on the back burner. Why can’t we decide that as a society we do value art? Why can’t we say that there is a place for the aesthetically pleasing? Or a place for the thought-provoking? Why do we feel that there is less value in a person who paints or writes (or makes pottery) for a living than in someone who uses a pipette to separate out biological matter? I’m not demeaning what scientists or others do, I’m just frustrated by the social value that’s placed on one over the other. We all can’t be in those positions. As someone who was told she was “too smart” to be an artist, I get frustrated at how we (as a society) try to tell people what to do with their talents and their skills. While I wouldn’t trade the fact that I get to work with artworks every day, and am very fortunate to be where I am, art historian isn’t a job that is valued. Nevermind that it takes tons of grey matter to memorize art movements, artists, influences, social history, social changes, and how our history as people is so intertwined with our history as artists. Let’s not tell kids that the only value education has is to train you for a job. Let’s teach our children that art, music, poetry, drama, and so many other things have value. And that funding these projects lets not just children, but everyone see the value in the arts. I don’t often get political in my blog because I don’t feel that it’s an appropriate forum. But I am passionate about the arts. I believe there is so much value in what they bring to our lives. I want to know that my kids can be a part of a world where knowing how to draw and paint, and write are important skills that can transform who they are. And I want to live in a world where what I can do with clay is considered amazing, not just something that “must be fun and relaxing.” I want a world with art.

Note: This was a very stream-of-consciousness post with very little editing.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bakeshop Update

Short post to let you all know what my thoughts on a bakeshop are. First, thank you all for your comments, encouragement, and suggestions for how I can get my business going. I think for now, the best way to go is through a farmer's market. It helps build a rapport with local customers, create relationships, and gives me a set group of people who are potential customers at a set time each week. Now that I'm in Silver Spring, I'm considering applying to be a part of their weekly market next year.

And, I've been lucky enough that two very dear friends who are getting married next year agreed (after I asked) to let me make their wedding cakes. Thanks to Drew and Jess, who are an adorable, fantastic couple! More posts to come as I move forward with my ventures.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Etsy Bakeshop?

For a while now, I've been kicking around the idea of starting an Etsy bake shop. You know, a store front on Etsy from which I sell baked goods (like cookies, brownies, pies, cakes even), but I'm hesitant for a couple of reasons:

1. I'm not quite sure I understand how to ship baked goods. When I read about it on Etsy and on the USPS site, I feel very confused about how to go about that.

2. Not sure where my customer base would come from. I want to make some money off this venture, so I need to build a customer base (like you, friends!).

3. I'm not sure how much to charge. I want to have fair prices, but also need to include realistic costs, as well as my own time.

4. Should I build a menu of choices and then also allow special orders? (ie, gluten free)

So, blog-reading friends, I can you provide me answers for these questions? Should I build up social networking (Facebook, Twitter) to notify people of my ventures? Would any of you be willing to be guinea pigs for me, placing orders, allowing me to ship to you, getting discounts for being loyal customers?

And as a random last note, I do want to make my own wedding cake, but am definitely going to do a trial run. Anyone want to volunteer for taste-testing that?

Feel free to post answers/comments/questions I need to consider below.


Photo is of a peach pie I made this week.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

And thus it ends

This is the glazing yurt. A smaller version of where I do wheel work.

So, the last few weeks managed to get away from me without posting anything. Pottery class ended on on Thursday. I am pretty bummed. I want to go back for more, but until I get a job, that is on hiatus. Everyone was incredibly nice and encouraging, and I'm glad I did it.

A few things I learned:

I was definitely trained to be a production potter. I throw very quickly (with too much water) and make things that can come off the wheel, dry, be sanded, and go into the kiln. I rarely trim. The only things that get trimmed are bowls and plates, because I believe those need a foot rim. On Tuesday (the penultimate class), I made vases that could just be cut off the wheel and be ready to go into bisque (with a little cleaning) on Thursday. The woman next to me was astounded that I didn't trim things. I realized then that trimming A) wastes a ton of clay and B) wastes a ton of time. When you're in production, you don't want to waste that time or money, thus you don't trim. I still can't figure out why they teach trimming on everything, but perhaps I'll learn when I return. Also astounding was that I sand down my pieces before putting them in bisque. You want smooth work! (Thanks Mark and Meredith for teaching me to sand at every stage!)

I'm still really good at pulling handles. The woman next to me was pretty astounded by my skill. It was awkward, because she would ask me to call her attention to whatever I was working on to teach her. I tried my best to teach her how to pull a handle, but that felt strange. I think I blew her mind when I pulled the handle off the mug. I love doing that because I love how it looks finished, but it's tricky. I'm very proud of myself for that.

I think altered 1.5 to 2 foot vases are my calling. I started doing them in my last semester of school, but never really pursued it further. Yet, when I sat down at the wheel on Tuesday, that's what I kept making. And having tons of fun with it. I like the challenge of getting 3 lbs. of clay into a tall, even cylinder and then completely skewing the sides, while keeping it functional. Also, tall forms are the envy of many of my classmates, so I ended up giving a "lesson" to the two people who sat next to me on how to keep your hands together and steady when you pull up a tall vessel. I also realized I have no idea how to explain that. I wish I took pictures of these things, but I forgot in the moment. I've also been a little distracted by another (wonderful!) event in my life, so I'll use that as my excuse.

Things come out of the kiln today. I may stop by and see what I've wrought! (Plate below glazed in Woo's Blue and Leach's White)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I tried!

Encouraged by Meredith, over at Whynot Pottery, who knows my clay skills, I tried to tackle a 4 lb. casserole dish. The first one ended awkwardly when I didn't remember how to make a rim for a lid. I got all the way there, shaped the pot, it was going so smoothly. And then, I suddenly found myself staring at the rim, trying to figure out what to do. I asked the guy next to me, but he said that he'd only made one lidded container, and that was by accident. (How does that happen?) So, I turned the casserole into a large bowl and tried again. What resulted is what you see above. That was last Thursday.

This Tuesday, I charged myself with making a lid. I was in a funk when I went to class, and didn't really want to go, and that was clear when I sat down to work. I pulled a handle, which took me four tries, (Four!!) and then started on lids. I thought originally I would do a bowl lid that I could trim to fit the pot, but that didn't work out. I ended up going with what I was taught was called a "Tom Terrific" lid. (Not sure if anyone else in the world calls it that.) (And a quick Google search tells me it was named for a character on Captain Kangaroo. Thanks, internet!) No pics of the lid, and not sure how well it will work. My calipers are still set to my original measurements, so until I'm satisfied, I'll know what size I need to make that lid.

Threw a few little tea cups, no pictures of those either. I really want to push myself to do altered forms and keep looking at pictures. I sketch, but when I sit down at the wheel, my hands go to what they're used to. Must work on fixing that. Ultimate goal: make an altered, yet functional, teapot.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I'm loving pottery class. Really thinking (hoping I have the money) of continuing to go back. I realized last night that in this world of clay, "Advanced" means throwing larger pots. Seeing as I made the personal rule to not throw more than 5 lbs. of clay at a time, I think I'll keep that for now. But I did throw a few bowls, a coffee mug and some sort of little pitcher that I'm not sure will make it to firing or not. Above is my wheel all set up to throw. I'm sitting down, which at the end of each evening, my back complains about, but alas, there are no standing wheels in a yurt.

Above we have a small bowl I threw which matches the one from last week, but smaller. I think they're going to turn into wide nesting bowls for pasta, decoration, or whatever else strikes my fancy. The coffee mug got a nice pulled handle and is sitting on its rim to get the curve in the handle to set properly. I like pulling handles, so hopefully more things that need handles will come along.

I saw these beautiful lidded casseroles (not pictured) that a fellow student made last night and was instantly filled with inspiration and envy. Beautiful round shape, lovely handles, really the kind of thing I like to use. I am not quite sure I'm ready to jump into covered dishes yet. I know I should try, but I think I'll try some bottles next week before I start bigger things.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Making pottery, again!

I started taking a pottery class last week. It's at Glen Echo Park in Maryland. It takes place in a yurt. I was very nervous going in. I haven't thrown since the early summer of 2008. That's three years ago. I signed up for the Intermediate/Advanced class, figuring that I'm close to one of those two things. I mean, I got an associate's degree and worked for potters, right? I showed up, nervous as a kid on the first day of school. Everyone was incredibly nice, and the instructor gave a me a great tour of the facilities. Small, but clearly very productive.

I just threw to get myself back in the rhythm of what clay feels like and how I work with the wheel. I kept my bad habits in mind (I still use too much water when I throw) and just kept making cylinders, cutting them in half and seeing how I was doing. Not bad. I really focused on making my rims as well, as I had the bad habit of reaching the end of a piece and it had no rim. That was night one.

Night two I had plans. Plans for bowls. I wedged my clay, sat myself down and got to work. I threw several nice things, but nothing up to my standards. Plus, I kept cutting things in half, just to see what my wall thickness was, how my rim proportion was, you know, the things that, if you enjoy pottery, makes the piece so much better looking and feeling. It takes a lot of work to make it happen. The people sitting next to me kept wondering why I was destroying what seemed to be perfectly good pieces. I tried to explain that I hold myself to a very high standard.

All that said, I have 5 more weeks of making work! And, I kept a coffee mug and a bowl. I might just keep on taking these classes if it goes well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I'm a Cone 11

I had a very vivid dream about doing pottery last night. It was amazing. My dreams have been very real lately, not sure if it's the stress of graduating this week (yay!) or getting rejected from a few more jobs (boo!), but I wake up and can recall my dreams in incredible detail. Which is nice, but sometimes confusing.

But dreaming about clay, glazing, and firing was really nice. I was taking a class in ceramics somewhere, and my favorite part of the dream was when the woman showed me how to set up cone packs. In the dream I looked at her, smiled, and told her I learned long ago how to set up cone packs. For those of you who don't know, temperatures in kilns are measured by pyrometric cones. Each cone has a number that corresponds to a certain temperature that you want the kiln to reach (ideally). I really like cones aesthetically after they are fired - especially Cone 10 firings. They slump over, like they just gave up, but if your kiln didn't get too hot, and you put a Cone 11 in there, it stands up defiantly. I like defiance. I'm not much of a rebel, but there is a part of me that secretly sides with rebels. I can't explain it. I'm a rule follower to a T, but sometimes, I want to do the tiny rebellious thing, just because I can.

I feel defiant today. I've been feeling down and insecure this week, but today I feel strong. I can stand up to the world. I have talents and gifts, and I know that it will come through some cover letter and I will get a job that is perfect. I will find the space where I can be a Cone 11. Standing proud, strong, and not taken down by the fire.

Photo from

Monday, May 9, 2011

Renwick's Craft Invitational

Last weekend I went to the Renwick's Craft Invitational, "History in the Making" which will be on the first floor of the museum until July 31st. The four artists in this year's invitational are silversmith Ubaldo Vitali, ceramicist Cliff Lee, stained-glass artist Judith Schaechter and furniture maker Matthias Pliessnig. The work by all four of these artists is astounding, beautiful, and full of detail and craftsmanship.

When you enter the gallery, you are confronted with the highly refined, reflective surfaces of Vitali's silver work. Often, not one who loves silver, I really liked his quality of craftsmanship, attention to detail and clear knowledge of historicism. Even before reading his biography, where I learned he's from a long line of amazing silversmiths, I was taken by his awareness of history and how he made it modern, without making it postmodern. I really enjoyed the sketches for his work that were included in several of the cases, helping me to understand how he arrives at his designs.

Cliff Lee's porcelain work shows his background as a neurosurgeon with small details that I think would drive any other person blind or crazy. Or both. His work is sensual and his colors are rich and deep. He's spent a lot of time working on researching, developing and creating his glazes. One of his glazes has a long history, one better told by the wall text at the exhibit. (This is my passive-aggressive way of telling you to go see this!) His work is so refined and delicate, yet sturdy. His celadon glaze is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. And it highlights his intricate carving in a way I'm pretty sure the Chinese originally intended.

The stained glass by Judith Schaechter is some of the most beautiful contemporary stained glass I've seen. I've been in a lot of churches (where else do you see stained glass?), researched Tiffany, but her work is thoroughly of today and takes stained glass to a level of storytelling and deeper emotions than what I've seen in other works. Rather than stick to one color in a pane, she uses several techniques to achieve patterns and create multiple colors to tell her stories. With a leaning toward the macabre, her work is delightful and disturbing. But the way she truly won me over was with her Judith and Holofernes window. One of my favorite apocryphal stories (that I only learned in art history classes), she turned it to an almost whimsical, playful image of a young girl merrily going about her way. I loved it.

If I'd seen the furniture of Matthias Pliessnig earlier on in my life, I might not have the feelings about furniture that I do. However, his use of boat-making techniques to make organic, flowing furniture captivated me. I wanted to sit on it, I wanted to touch it, but instead, I just spent a long time staring at the bench in the room, moving around it, seeing it from different angles, and being astounded by his ability to manipulate wood in beautiful way. Fortunately, the Renwick has a "touch" gallery, and I was able to touch a sample piece of his work, finally, tactile enjoyment of the smooth, bent wood. If only I could sit on it. Or take a nap.

Go now before the invitational closes! The works are absolutely gorgeous and it is so heartening to see such beautiful craft on display. It gives the potter in me hope.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Embracing Unemployment

I'm entering week four of no job and I still have the ups and downs anyone looking for work does. The hopeful cover letter sent to the organization I'm dying to work for. The bleary eyes from reading job description after job description, wondering how I can more eloquently express that yes, I do have excellent written and oral communication skills. The frustration from the passive rejection that comes from an empty inbox and a silent phone.

But those are the bad things. The good things are these:

I actually stopped and smelled roses today. I went to my local coffee shop where I go to hang out for a few hours and interact with other people, just to keep the insanity at bay. Today is so beautiful, so I decided to take a long, meandering walk home. Joblessness = more time. As I walked down a street I'd never been on in my neighborhood, I came by lovely, huge, red blooms, gently swaying in the breeze over a fence. Roses are my favorite flower and I was compelled. The sun was shining, birds chirped (I only hate that sound in the morning, it's awesome in the afternoon), and the roses smelled heavenly. Sweet, but not overpowering. And they had that grown-in-nature smell that hothouse roses will never achieve. It was perfect.

I've started reading novels again. I had trouble reading for fun while in graduate school. All that other reading just made me want to put down books at the end of the day and watch something on television. But with the library only a few blocks away, I've started taking weekly trips to find new books, maybe read some old favorites I don't own, and actually read a book in only a few days, not a few weeks. It's like reconnecting with an old friend.

I do want a job, don't get me wrong. But it makes it a little easier when I have things that I can enjoy in the midst of the exhausting hunt.

Photo: Roses from the rose gardens at Reynolda House, take by me, 2010.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Situation Wanted

Over the last week of job hunting, internet browsing and general boredom, my mind keeps going back to one place. Being a potter. It's hard work. I know. I worked for potters. It's tough to keep the production line going, there's always something that needs to be done, should have been done yesterday, and a solo potter is a tough life. But I still miss it. I miss having my hands in clay. The wet spot on my jeans from where water drips down to my elbow braced against my leg. The clay in my hair because I kept tucking a stray piece behind my ear.

The only problem is that I really need a benefactor, or a grant. I need studio space. I need clay. I need glazes. I need a kiln. I need to find my clay tools and assess them. I probably need (want) more tools. I want a slab roller. These things cost money. I'm searching for possible places that will give me money, or a place where I could rent studio space and kiln space, but that also involves having a full-time job that will enable me to afford those things.

For a long time I pushed down the way I missed working in clay. There wasn't anywhere to fire, so there was no point in making things. In fact, I think I have a box of greenware somewhere out of a clay that I don't remember if it's Cone 6 or lower. I loved school, and I'm really glad I got my graduate degree. But I'm ready to go back. Ready to use my hands and my skills again. Ready to try some new things and break away from what I did before. I'm ready to challenge myself.


The teapot is part of my dinnerware. Not the best picture, but it's a great little teapot! (I like earth tones in my pottery.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Craft Show Update

I loved the craft show. True to my normal self, I was drawn to the ceramics, but I can't help it. It's what I know. There were other things, but mainly, I collected postcards from potters. It's ingrained in me.

I met Elizabeth Kendall, mentioned in my previous post, and she was an incredibly nice person. Her pieces are more beautiful in real life than in pictures. And she also does large installation pieces that are pretty amazing. Check her out at You'll be glad you did. She also has a few pieces with a bit of applied color, not every thing is black and white, but the color is sparse, yet fun. There were two little cups that I'm kind of wishing I'd bought. The work above is her's.

I liked the work of Betsy Williams, also a ceramicist. My favorite thing that she did were wall installations of cups. She makes other functional forms, but the rows after rows of small cups, each with a different glaze or patter was so visually stunning. I could stare at it for hours. I was drawn in at first by the copper red glaze on one of the cups and then it went from there.

Felt jewelry is becoming bigger I think. Or felt as a medium is taking off. Or it's always been popular and I've just now noticed, but Danielle Gori-Montanelli makes large, colorful, fun pieces that I'm sad I couldn't afford. She also was willing to let me know when she has non-post earrings, since I usually wear fish-hooks. Isn't that great?

One of the more fun and whimsical potters I saw was Beer's Pottery by Paveen "Beer" Chunhaswasdikul. He makes grenade coffee mugs, lanterns that look like engines and a teapot with a million little parts that I admired for quite a long time. He uses a matte metallic glaze, giving all of his work a look that he refers to as "metal ware." Really fun and innovative. Sadly, he has no website to link to, but you can look at his pieces on the show website.

There were plenty more exhibitors with wonderful work. There was even live music! Here's hoping that next year I'll actually be able to buy something!

Image from Wall work titled, Cascade.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Smithsonian Craft Show

I'm going to the annual Smithsonian craft show tonight, and I'm very excited. Since I missed the American Craft Council's Baltimore show, I look forward to seeing what new craft shows up this year at this craft show.

I'll be honest, this will be my third time at this particular show, and sometimes I worry that I'll see the same things as before. But in looking at the website, I'm looking forward to seeing these awesome creations:

In Wearable Art, I look forward to seeing the bright colors and patterns of Sonya Mackintosh and Steven Seward.

In Ceramics, I'm intrigued by the altered forms and straight-forward color scheme of Elizabeth Kendall. I really like altered vessels, and the graphic quality of her designs works so well with her forms.

In Jewelry, Andra Janosik's leather pieces caught my eye. I like big, chunky jewelry, and this fits the bill.

In Glass, I was first captured by the color and then held in awe by the designs and beautiful lines of the work of Dan Mirer.

I'm very excited to see all of these--and more!--tonight. I'll report back tomorrow with my findings and if anything new and exciting catches my eye. The only drawback to this is I'm pretty sure that I can afford none of these. (Student discount anyone?)

Apologies for no photo. Didn't feel super ethical to take any from the Craft Show website, even if I gave credit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Missing the South

Since I moved to the DC area a few years ago, the small things I missed about the South have been available, slowly but surely. In fact, we just got a Bojangles in Union Station. Now all we need is a Cook Out.

But there are still things I miss and walking around in the beautiful weather today reminded me how much I miss azaleas. The pink, purple, red, white, multi-colored flowers on their dark green bushes always say SPRING! to me. More than lilies, azaleas are an Easter flower to me. There are a few bushes around here, but not nearly enough to satisfy me. I use to pick the flowers and keep them in a bud vase in my room. Or pin them in my hair.

The other thing that I miss are long leaf pine trees. Yesterday, Greg and I were in a park and walked between two short leaf pine trees and the damp pine straw smell instantly took me back to my childhood. But short little pine trees have nothing on tall, sturdy, long leaf pines. In my mind I hear my dad starting, "Here's to the land of the long leaf pine..." That amazing piney smell brings on a flood of happy memories of running around in the woods.

Even so, I'm planted here now. And I'll just find a yard that will support azaleas. And maybe built a sand pit for my pine tree. Now, back to job hunting.

Image from

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Poster Art

While I don't mention it often here, I do enjoy good graphic design, especially in poster art. The summer after I finished 9th grade, my family took a minorly epic road trip "out west" to visit the Grand Canyon, as well as a few other places. While Bryce Canyon still remains one of my favorite places on this earth, I also fell in love with the WPA poster re-prints we saw in gift shops throughout the National Parks we visited. I never bought one, mainly because they were too expensive for my poor 14-year-old self to afford, but I did get a postcard of the Glacier National Park poster (oddly, I've never been to Glacier, but it's on my to do list, since I always think it's weird that I bought that postcard, but I digress) and that satisfied me a bit.

Yesterday, though, my sister sent me a link to these amazing new posters developed for the Chugach and Tongass National Forests in Alaska (where she lives) in honor of 2011 as the International Year of Forests. Did you know that? Above is the "Find Your Inspiration" poster, and the design for all four is pretty much the same. It's a nice reminder that posters are art and that we should value the beautiful land that surrounds us. And, as spring approaches and the weather turns absolutely beautiful, step away from that computer and enjoy it!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Best Museum You've Never Been To

The National Postal Museum. I'm sure you've never been to it, probably not really heard of it, but it very well may be my favorite of the Smithsonians. It gets short tourist shrift because it's not on the National Mall (probably contributing to my love of it because it's never crowded) and it's not very big. And, when people think about it, they don't really want to go to a museum that is about the mail. Who cares? You should.

It covers the history of mail delivery from the very beginnings of the colonies to how we deliver mail today. There are lots of great interactives, from timelines to a stagecoach you can climb into. (See above.) I learned that there were never ponies used in the Pony Express--shocking, right!? And tons of other really fun things can be learned, usually with a hands-on component.

If you can't get to the museum, they also have one of the most informative websites I've seen. Not always completely interactive, but you can learn how a family mailed their daughter to her grandparents because it was cheaper than buying her a train ticket. Plus, if you're into stamps, they have some very nice examples.

But, if you're not convinced yet, you can always follow Owney the Dog on Twitter. He's adorable and is getting his own stamp this year!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Recommended Reads

Normally, I discuss my love of decorative arts and direct you to works that I find compelling. However, today, since I've got lots of time on my hands being done with the thesis and unemployed and all, I thought I would share a few of the blogs that I follow regularly and really enjoy what they have to offer.

First off is my friend Kelly Anne who can be found at Have Degree, Will Travel and Snails and Whales. Kelly and I were in school together before she moved to West Virginia to discover the wilds that Pocahontas County offers with the VISTA program. You can read about those adventures on Snails and Whales. For her fantastic "Door of the Day" series, which features beautiful doors curated from across the internet, visit Have Degree, Will Travel. Kelly is brilliant, funny, and knows her internets. Check her out!

My other recommend is the blog of my good friends over at Whynot Pottery. I've mentioned Whynot before, and if you're not following Meredith's daily goings-on, you're missing a great representation of a slice of life as a potter. While you're reading about making mugs, firing kilns, and their current shows, follow the link to their Etsy shop and buy yourself a little something. I use one of their coffee mugs every day and, trust me, you will not be disappointed by their wares.

Happy Friday and happy reading!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Presidential Medal of Freedom

Yesterday, President Obama recognized civilians who "have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors," by awarding them with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Among the recipients were Maya Angelou and former President George H.W. Bush. But one recipient warmed my heart and gave me hope for the arts in our country. Jasper Johns, painter, was awarded for his works that deal "with themes of perception and identity." (

Best known for his American Flag encaustic, Johns was (is) an Abstract Expressionist, working with Rauschenberg and others to push American painting to a quality and style that was easily on par with the greatest European painters. I've always loved Johns because he represents a time when things could be interpreted in new ways, could take on new meanings, and familiar icons could suddenly challenge thoughts and deeply held beliefs.

Sometimes art should be for us to enjoy and to give us the simple aesthetic pleasures we desire, but it should also at times reflect our humanity, our struggles, and tell a part of the human story. In the same way novels from a time period paint a picture of what life was like at a particular moment, so to does the work of Johns tell us about his perception of American life. Maybe we should be intensely patriotic. Maybe we should question what the flag means for us. Perhaps we should use the art work to examine deeper meanings about who we are. This is why I love art. Because it not only tell us about the artist, it tell us about ourselves.

Congratulations, Jasper Johns. I hope to see other visual artists recognized for their contributions to our society, and that as they are recognized the arts will continue to be funded and supported.

Image from National Gallery of Art. Numbers, 1966

Friday, January 28, 2011

Art Deco Screens

I've always liked room screens. In fact, one of my life's dreams is to own at least one. And when I was younger, I dreamed of a studio apartment because that was the only way I could conceive of why you would need a screen as a room divider. (I grew up in a rural area--I might have romanticized the idea of a studio a bit.) Now, I just try and make excuses to find one to separate my messy desk from the rest of our living room.

If I could have these room screens, by Jean Dunand and Séraphin Soudbinine, I would be a very happy woman. Seeing as it's located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I don't think I'll be able to acquire it any time soon. It was made for Solomon Guggenheim, further confirming my inability to every own it, or its equal.

Dunand was a French Art Deco artist, and pretty much considered the master of lacquer in his time. He also managed to incorporate eggshells into his work, which I find to be pretty awesome. These are a set titled "Pianissimo and Fortissimo" Pianissimo is on the left, Fortissimo is on the right. They were made for the music room--makes sense, right?

I love the stylized figure, the curling cloud-like forms, and the stylized buildings, or pilings, or whatever they are. I'm not sure what they are supposed to be, but according to the page on the Met's website, they are stylized rocks. I just love how sumptuous lacquer looks. Shiny, rich, warm, and gorgeous. It's an intense process, but Dunand was a master of it. His inclusion of mother of pearl and eggshells on the screens highlights the shimmering aspects of the lacquer, adding depth to already rich panels.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

C'est Fini!

My thesis is basically finished. I have to wait on some comments from someone, but other than that, I am done. All that is left is to print, bind, and turn in. I feel like I should be doing last minute tweaking, but that just leads to trouble. In honor of finishing, I'd like to turn back to Howard Kottler. He got a brief mention in my thesis, and in my two paragraphs devoted to him, I remember just how much I love his work. I was also happy that when I was at the Museum of Art and Design in December I was able to see pieces from his "American Supperware" series. Always clever, always biting, and always fun, I still get excited about his work. To quote Love Actually, it's true love, and true love lasts a lifetime.

This time, I share with you his American Gothic plate. Well, one of his in the series. (Fun fact: Kottler liked to number his plates 1/10, no matter what number in the edition it was, or how many he made in the set.) This one is from the Renwick's collection and is called "American Gothic: Playmate Conditioner." As with his other works, Kottler created a decal from the famous painting by Grant Wood, but with a twist on the original. Here, the man's face is blanked out, a fuzzy flesh-colored spot. The rest of the image is exactly what we would expect from the painting, but we are left to wonder what this means. Are men not important? What is the relationship between these two people that his identity is completely obscured? Who are the people in society who are considered to be "faceless"? These are questions to consider.

The title, too, is incredibly important. Kottler was as playful with his words as he was with his interpretation of ceramics and craft. I have always assumed that "Playmate Conditioner" refers to a variety of things, ranging from Playboy bunnies and "Playmates" to Kottler's own homosexuality and interest in men as playmates. A faceless man could mean a lot in either of those scenarios. I would love to go back and read more about Kottler, but now it is time to turn my attention to job hunting. Let me know if you hear of anything in the DC area!

Photo credit: American Art Museum, Smithsonian Institution