Sunday, May 10, 2009
A Memoir from the Watershed Year: CriticalCeramics.org
Earlier this year I wrote an article that was posted on the CriticalCeramics.org website. It was, honestly, rather difficult to write. I really think the Watershed experience, likely similar to any other residency program, is a direct result of the people who are there. How could I describe the experiences of six people living and working together for eight months in 1500 words or less and do it justice? I tried. The only thing I can say is that Watershed is an amazing place - it is an experience beyond words.
If the link ceases to work, the article is as follows:
Watershed: Eight Months, Six Lives, One Shared Experience
Tucked away down a dirt road in Mid-Coast Maine, the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts is a place that "provides time and space for serious artists to work." Leaving out the distractions of public classes, work study, bureaucracy of operations, and the pace of city life, Watershed does exactly what it proposes. Artists are given cabins to live in, facilities and kilns, a personal studio space, and lots of snow; there is not much else. Home to six ceramic artists for eight months (September - May), the challenges and the outcomes of each residency cycle is determined by those selected.
Tyler Gulden, Programs Director and Interim Executive Director, said that the 2007 - 2008 collection of six resident artists was the most diverse group he has seen during his tenure. Our group ranged in age from twenty-two to forty, three with MFA's and three with BFA's. In addition, we had strong roots spread from California to Texas, the East Coast, Greece, Ecuador, Thailand, Cambodia, and Africa. The 2007-2008 residents included:
* Misty Gamble, daughter of a puppeteer, created life-sized figurative sculptures; she explored ideas of normalcy in society and womanhood.
* Monica Leap, a potter at heart, played with the simplicity of the calligraphic line to convey growth, strength, and movement on her thrown forms.
* Krisaya Luenganantakul, hailing from Thailand and inspired by her mother, illustrated the beauty of the woman's body and the role of the woman in the home.
* Elisavet Papatheodorou, intrigued by the process bees use to create homes of honeycomb, entertained the ability of a seemingly ordinary form, multiplied hundreds of times over, to become something greater.
* Daniel Teran, a mold maker and thinker, combined issues of social conscience and self-reflection into his process.
* Adero Willard, a potter, investigated the complexity of an individual's identity through layered and juxtaposed colors, shapes, and forms.
"The Watershed winter residency is really about reflection. We are isolated, and more often than not, snowed in. There is not much sound, the snow muffles most things. That leaves you a lot of time to work and a lot of time to think." says Elisavet Papatheodorou. In a rural setting with an often snowy and icy hill for a driveway, the world became very small. Days would pass where residents would only walk the triangle from the cabins, to the studio, to the kilns, to the studio, and back; that limited environment was a constant reminder that residents were there to make work. As there was little structure, besides the occasional meeting with the office staff and one's self imposed work schedule, residents used their own discretion allocating time. Salad Days Artist Adero Willard described Watershed as a place "designed specifically for artists to make work. Unlike other centers that have a class structure with workshops, events, and lots of people moving through, Watershed is very much about solitude and freedom. From your schedule, to studio, to food, you are on your own."
Due to its open structure and seasonal seclusion, visitors have often found the charm of Watershed to be in its seemingly timeless nature. However, winter residents quickly learned that time still passed, and passed fast. Howard Kottler Funded Resident Misty Gamble said, "If I were to do it again, I would have the clay delivered the day I got here and the research done 3 months prior." Once we were established in the studios, we had to prepare for a Worcester, Massachusetts show, and once the Worcester show was up, we had to prepare for a Port Chester, New York show. When that went up, the Worcester show came down, and when we returned from NCECA in the spring, we had to de-install Port Chester. One month after that it was time to pack and say goodbye.
Although all we did last winter was work in the studios, the residency period was still not enough to realize all of our grand ideas. For each of us, there is a sketchbook full of ideas left to be investigated. Even though we walked in with an "all clay, all the time" mentality, we learned how much is possible in eight months. Essentially, there were two different approaches to our studio work ethic. Elisavet and the MFA students, Misty, Krisaya, and Adero, took one approach. Each had a clear idea of what they would make, figured out how much time it would take to make, and then planned each month out around shows and other obligations. Daniel and I took a more exploratory attitude by allowing the discoveries found through making educate the next study or series. In either case, each of us developed a daily rhythm - some people became nocturnal, some worked sixteen hour days, while others worked steady eight to ten hour days all the way through.
Choreographing how to live, work, eat and travel together took a collective effort. In addition to writing and submitting show proposals, we installed and de-installed group shows, and prepped and fired a wood kiln. Also, we taught on-site for a mentorship program, and off-site for the Mudmobile Program, which required tactful task delegation and follow through. An even greater testament to our collaborative skills is the fact that Watershed only has one hookup for electric firings in the winter. Come crunch time at the end of the residency, developing a firing schedule took planning, negotiation, and compromise.
A large part of our success was a result of how well we got to know each other. Misty Gamble entered the residency, "expecting more solitude" but instead, "made more friends." We were fortunate in the sense that we bonded like sisters and brothers. We cooked and baked together, ate and exercised together, shared movies, shared stories, and essentially, our lives. A daily battle of 'time to work' vs. 'time to bond' perpetuated in the communal kitchen, and, thus, the kitchen became grounds for a phenomenon whereby a critical mass of three or more people caused all concerned to remain for another two hours. We often found ourselves talking all evening. Conversations generally divided themselves into two categories - 3% art and 97% life.
These times in the kitchen served as the setting for the start of many of the inside jokes and stories we'll remember from Watershed. Saturday Night Dinners gained new meaning once the winter took hold of Maine; each Saturday we would create a meal with a theme, multiple courses and an assortment of desserts. Cooking from scratch, we shared the responsibility of planning, buying, making, cleaning, and, of course, eating. These dinners revealed some of our skills outside studio; Elli sang with a voice that gave reason for us take a moment's respite from our busy schedules, Adero baked Anadama bread that welcomed us to the kitchen, Misty concocted the best salads - Fake-O's and all, Krisaya prepared amazing Thai cuisine, and I made desserts galore. With so many great cooks in the house, Daniel ate the most. All these sounds, scents, flavors and memories made Watershed home.
During our time at Watershed, we never scheduled a critique. Instead, they came naturally at times after a firing, before or during a show, or late at night in the studios. As we lived and worked together, dialogue about work came without effort and without reservations. The feedback flowed spontaneously, simply, and informally. There were few boundaries because we developed mutual respect and honesty. Under those circumstances, critiques were not challenges of personality, but rather educated discussion of meaningful issues.
This isn't to say that there were not conflicts or differing opinions. Seen with positive eyes, Paptheodorou observed that "one of the most valuable things about being here is that when you are working through a problem, you have five different perspectives and potential solutions that would never have occurred to you." Each person had a unique background of experiences and education that had shaped their character and their work. As such, each person brought completely different perspectives and feedback throughout the winter remained insightful and encouraging.
Sharing work space with such motivated individuals served as incentive to keep pushing as hard or harder than everyone else. It was an unspoken influence, a kind of casual competition. Each person understood the importance and the limitations of time, and worked diligently. Because we worked so differently from one another, our competition hardly took on negative aspects in the studio. The same went for our post-Watershed plans; we all took very different paths.
In the end, we came to understand more of what we value about our lives as artists. In many ways, what one person said about their own experience applied to each of us, as we shared many similar reasons in pursuing art. Adero mentioned the freedom of flexibility in schedule, and cited the ability to go to the grocery store when everyone else is at work as a simple, but meaningful, pleasure. Daniel said of his purpose, "I want to share what I see as beautiful with other people. I really like making poetry in clay, and if I could communicate solely through objects, I think things would make more sense to me." For Elisavet, being an artist provided order to an otherwise "dreamy and disorganized" life. She said being an artist allowed the expression of "things deep in your psyche that don't usually come out. For some it is sadness, aggression, or sexuality. For me, it is order." For me, it was the people. The ceramics community enticed me my first year at Syracuse, and the community continues to be one of the most exciting things about being a part of the field. It was as if my full time job was to meet people, with the benefit that the people I met were amazing individuals, interesting, intelligent, and very human. Misty goes further to say, "Everyone is different and everyone is a mirror. If you take the time to get to know people, you can learn more about yourself."
Even though Watershed was almost everything the six of us were looking for in a residency, it is not for everyone. Our creative and personal lives were intertwined, though not the same. The Watershed Residency left us tired yet excited, in solitude yet with community, obligated yet free. Selected to live and work together, nolens volens, we learned about ourselves, we learned about others, and we learned about art.
The Watershed Center for Ceramic Art
19 Brick Hill Road
Newcastle, Maine 04553
Daniel Ricardo Teran