Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Clay Speaks--Update on Bodyguard

I have just finished the first layer of underglazes on Bodyguard.  To avoid having to fire the piece too many times, I applied underglazes to the unfired work (greenware).  

Although my plan was to have a fair skinned girl with red hair and blue eyes, the more I looked at the sculpture, the more I felt the need to go in a different direction--brown haired girl with brown eyes.  As you can see, the faces of girl and dog are at the same level, with facial features lined up.  Also, the dog's eyes are quite anthropomorphic.  I wanted the eyes of both to be the same color.  Although Boston terriers, like other dogs, can have blue eyes, I felt that might be a bit much.  So the brown eyes work.

Here is an early photo--I have more recent ones, but need to update my iPhoto.  In the meantime, I wanted to get this entry posted.  

After firing, the  girl's skin will be a little darker.  I'll layer on more underglazes (in slightly different colors) and refire.

Because these two "own each other," the dog has a collar, to which I will attach a bone-shaped license tag, with numbers that correspond to my name:

2-9-12-5-19 for BILES.


Well, here's something spooky--heard from my brother the other day, who had seen my earlier post (before any underglazes were applied) and said, "I see you in this piece."   That reminded me of when I was a Tween, had longer, straight hair and was thin--and, yes, there is quite a resemblance!  So that may have been a subconscious influence on my hair and eye color choices.  Growing up, we had only one dog, a cairn terrier mix my Uncle Gino rescued from the animal shelter.  His name was Mickey, after a dog my father had in his childhood.  Mickey and I were inseparable.  Spoo-ky....

Friday, September 25, 2009

Sharing Our Passions

When not in the studio, I'm in the classroom, as an artist-in-the-schools.  For the past 5 years, I've been contracted by schools in Wake and Johnston Counties.  With a background in biology and anthropology, and a tendency (possessed by many artists and scientists) to find connections between things, I've developed several programs that integrate different subjects (the technical term is "content areas"), like science and social studies  with art, and, for that matter, math, reading, etc.  

It's been a great opportunity to share my passion of working with clay.  And to learn from very fearless creative people who are shorter than me--6 year olds!  Just kidding.  So far, I've worked with people ages 4 to 97 and have learned so much from everyone I've met.

Like being fearless and just enjoying the process, with little concern about the outcome (ages 4-6), what happens if you get too worried about the end result (a few kids here and there, ages 8-10), never to have preconceptions (all ages), the wisdom of enjoying the process with little concern about the outcome (yes, I know I just said that, but this lesson was from a 97 year old--amazing how it takes 90+ years to relearn that lesson, huh?).

On Saturday, 18 elementary school art teachers from Wake County, NC (Raleigh and Cary areas) came to the studio for a half-day workshop on clay projects.  The theme was animals and I set out several models I'd made for various grade levels.  

We had a great time.  Talk about dedicated!  My husband was a teacher for many years and we know teachers spend countless hours outside of the classroom preparing lesson plans, grading papers, etc.  Art teachers need tons of energy--they  have to set up for different projects many times a day and there is the potential for a lot of mess making that has to be cleaned up between classes (which are a few minutes apart) and at the end of the day.  I can make a pretty good mess with clay, but can you imagine paint, glitter and glue???

These teachers traveled an hour or more, so really gave up most of their Saturday.  

They brought wonderful food.  Sorry--no photo here  ;-)

We shared ideas.  

How one idea can work for different grade levels.

The teachers made several models they can use for projects with their own classes. 

What a thrill to be in the presence of so many talented people!

A creative use of tools.  This poodle was made by one of the participants.  

I used to be terrified to speak in public but it's not hard when you're passionate about your subject.

Even the clay models had a good time.

Afterward, I heard remarks like, "I can't wait to get back to the classroom to share my new knowledge."  One teacher said she now has a project for her fifth grade, studying Pre-Columbian art.

WhaddaYOUlookinat?  A jaguar pot for students studying pre-Columbian art.

Many thanks to Slater Mapp for taking and sharing the photos!!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

New Body of Work

Nothing like a commitment or deadline to get ideas out of your head and into the kiln!

For a while, I've had in mind a new body of work that combines human and animal figurative sculpture.  So, way back in May, I signed up to create a Masterwork for the Carolina Designer Craftsmen show.  It's held every year in Raleigh, NC, over Thanksgiving weekend.  This is the guild's 40th anniversary.

Several ideas ran through my head, but I felt most passionate about creating a series of pieces on people and their companion animals.  Here is a brief overview of how the Masterwork piece came to be.  

People often bring their dogs to outdoor art shows and,  in recent years, I noticed a lot of pugs, French bulldogs and Boston terriers.  I hadn't seen a Boston terrier since childhood, a long time ago!  So I became interested in why these breeds are enjoying a resurgence.  Consensus is they are great family dogs, and do well with couples who live in apartments and can't let dogs run loose.

We have a lot of dogs, but all have pointy noses, so I challenged myself to sculpt the aforementioned breeds as part of my "Big Dog" series.  (By the way, if you read my previous post, 5 dogs, including pointy nosed Opal and a fictitious daschund I named Madge are currently at the show at the Center for Creative Leadership, in Greensboro, NC. ) 

The piece, entitled, "Bodyguard," is inspired by a photo I found searching the Internet (I think I keyed in "people holding dogs").  Up came an image of a girl holding a Boston terrier.  It made me gasp aloud, "That's it!"  OK, being somewhat compulsive, I continued my search, but this photo was clearly the keystone for the series.  

The photo was taken several years ago.  The girl, Phoebe Thompson, is the daughter of  Julie Zickefoose and Bill Thompson III.  The dog (or is he a person in a dog suit?) is Chet Baker, named after a famous jazz musician.  To me, Phoebe has a mysterious Mona Lisa smile, with a touch of attitude, and Chet has a "Just try and mess with my person" look.  Of course, I'm not sure what Phoebe and Chet were actually  thinking, but my initial interpretation was that these two would fiercely protect each other.

Phoebe and Chet--the photo that inspired the Masterwork.  (Photo from Julie's blog, included here with her permission)

Since the image is 2-dimensional and the sculpture is 3-D, I needed to be able to represent Phoebe and Chet from different angles.  After this initial discovery, I've been following Julie's blog (check it out at, where she posts many photos of Chet ("Chet fixes"), along with many other wonderful photos.  [Quick digression--Julie is a Renaissance woman!  Bill is editor of Bird Watcher's Digest--his blog is . (Check out the end of the telescope.)  They know everything here is to know about birds and Nature!] 

That has been most helpful.  However, it was obvious I needed a live model.  I didn't know anyone who had a similar look, but our friend Sheri did....

Savannah came to the studio and was very patient as I took some photos and measurements--if you stand like Phoebe, what do you look like from the side and back; how long are arms relative to hands, relative to face, etc.   Since our dogs are either too big or too wiggly, Savannah held a beach towel part of the time.

Savannah--a most patient model!

I incorporated a lot of realism, but also took some artistic license (see post on Harried Possum).  And, although my initial vision was a red-haired, blue-eyed girl that may change, too.  Hope you don't mind, Phoebe and Savannah!

Per the rules of the Carolina Designer Craftsmen Masterworks Program, Bodyguard may not be shown in any exhibition before the guild show in November.  However, I am allowed to show photos.  So here is a preview--


Bodyguard, close up

As I write this, the piece is drying slowly in my studio.  Please send good karma that it gets through its firings safely (and that I can get it into the kiln!  It's heavy!). 

Currently, I'm working on two other pieces (a middle aged woman cuddling a small dog and an elderly man with an old dog) for this body of work.  More on those later.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Beyond Our Understanding

Dad and me on a bridge over a gorge at Cornell University

I wasn't sure I would post this, but have to get it off my chest.  You may have noticed that I haven't posted in a while.  It's been a difficult summer.  On June 20, we lost our last horse.  He was 30, and had some health issues, but it was still unexpected and we were in shock.  

Then, on July 9 we got a call from my brother--the kind you dread: "Call me."

My father, who had worked on July 8, became suddenly ill at 3AM and called 911.  After many tests, he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

I was able to travel to upstate New York (600 miles away) see my folks on two occasions this summer.  During the second trip, my father's condition suddenly worsened and we lost him on August 22.

So the last few months have been a whirlwind (or maelstrom) of shock, grief, disbelief, extreme worry and sadness.  So I won't share all the details, but will mention a few things.

My cousin, Joe, is a priest and most eloquent orator.  He truly captured my father's spirit and essence when he spoke at the wake and during the church service--how my father always helped people and made their lives easier through his work.  And that death is "beyond our understanding."

When we told people about his passing, grown men would break down.  People I had never met were sobbing as they shook our hands at the wake.  So many told us about their interactions with our father--how much he helped them, how he brightened their day with his jokes and funny stories, how they always looked forward to seeing him.  I knew he was very generous in his dealings with people--he did a lot for what he charged, not at all like the stereotype of lawyer jokes.  But I had no idea how much until the wake--it was a rainy evening, in the summertime, when a lot of people we knew were out of town.  Still, the line extended out the door and we shook hands with visitors for four hours.

People have asked me how I am able to function so well.  I don't, much of the time.  But, if I appear to, it's for two reasons--it's still pretty unreal, and Dad was never one to dwell on unhappy events or thoughts.  He kept telling me, "I don't want 'my situation' to interfere with your work."  When I feel down, I remind myself of that.

Still, there are so many questions--How could this happen to such a kind and generous man?  How could this horrible process be going on inside him and no one know? He devoted his life to taking care of his family and, after we moved away, our mother.  Why did this happen now, when his garden, his pride and joy, was flourishing (unlike most gardens in the area, and ours in North Carolina)?  He never got to see it or to taste his tomatoes and cucumbers.  Did Dad know he was unwell, but didn't want to worry us?  Could we have done more?

Some things we are not meant to understand.

We met so many amazing people on this journey.  The compassionate and tireless nurses, staff and residents at Wilson Hospital, Woodland Manor, and Bridgewater Center.  I spent the night there--Dad's last night.  He was not able to speak, but could communicate through hand squeezes for a while and, after that, eyebrow movements.   A couple of nurses told me what I would see and, when I described other changes, assured me that these are part of the process of dying.  It was surreal to be told, "That's natural" or "That's ok," but the last thing Dad would have wanted was to suffer.

I'm glad that Dad got to enjoy life until very close to the end.  And I'm glad my mother is safe and doing well, despite many recent changes.  Thank you to everyone who told us "Ted stories," who were so kind to my family, and who continue to visit my mother.  I'm almost afraid to mention names, for fear of leaving someone out.  But I have to say, we cannot thank Aunt Elvira and Uncle Sam enough, as well as Aunt Jennie, cousins Marilyn and Ron, Judy, Anita, Uncle Gino, my parents neighbors, Dad's colleague Charlie Collison....the list goes on.  Thank you to Pucedo's Funeral Home, who so gently helped us through this experience.  Thank you to John and Donna, who arranged for a 21-gun salute, to help send Dad on to his Next Life.

We've been so fortunate to have been spared the experience of losing a parent until now.  To those of you who have been through it, I realize that when I've said "I'm sorry for your loss," I really didn't appreciate the depth of the phrase until now.

A 21-Gun Salute--a most touching and beautiful ceremony.  Veterans and soldiers from 5 wars participated.  Father Joe is on the right.  (Dad served in the Air Corps in World War II--before we had an Air Force!).