Wednesday, December 1, 2010


"In matters of art our society has substituted taste for truth, which she finds more amusing and less of a responsibility, and changes her tastes as frequently as she changes her hats and shoes."

- Mark Rothko

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Well, wasn't I mistaken! After some quality time with the afore mentioned Bernard Leach book I've realized that the drawings and verse and prose are all his own! What a prolific artist. No wonder they say he is "the greatest artist-potter-writer of our time" and "perhaps one of the greatest men of our time."

While I don't agree with his Baha'i beliefs, I think it fascinating to find someone who has beliefs beyond himself and is willing to expound on that and live by it. Believe something and live by it?! What a novel idea...

A New Book

I just found a new book by Bernard Leach (that famous potter I mention frequently). You can see the cover to the left. I wasn't quite sure what I was ordering when I presses "buy" online but the cover was enough to make me want it. Bernard Leach was very influenced by Eastern thought, both in his artwork and in his worldview. It is interesting to see how this played out in his philosophies and drawings as he brought them back and modified them to his western life style.

From what I can tell, the book is not his drawings but a collection of drawings that he either owned or enjoyed. The verse I am not sure about yet. Books are so wonderful. Full of mystery and promise. All you have to do is open the cover.

Here I go!

Friday, November 12, 2010


So here I am, on the edge of the Chesapeake, learning, living, and generally loving life.

Now that the initial suspension of reality is dropping, I am settling into my artistic rhythm again. The work load at the Academy has been difficult to balance, especially with regard to artwork. I didn't expect it to be quite this hard but its a challenge that is growing me in areas of responsibility that haven't been touched. That is a good thing. You can keep telling me that, cause I sure forget some times.

Among the many things that I am learning, I've discovered that space is essential. While learning the ropes in the beginning, my mind was preoccupied and I was hard pressed to be creative. When I was finally inclined to create, I felt claustrophobic with my ideas. I had no where to give space to that creative energy. But creativity doesn't just go away. Much of it was expressed and still is expressed in daily activities, in social creativity: creatively engaging with the surroundings, with the other fellows, and adding or highlighting beauty where I can. I put clippings from outside in vases for the dinner table, decorate spaces, draw in community, encouraging others to creatively engage as well.

Recently a couple donated a bunch of freshly caught rockfish to the fellows (always wonderful to get more food!). I volunteered to write the thank you note and decided to paint them a fish in gratitude:

Meanwhile I am working to create a real creative space for myself. As soon as I've worked that out, I'll post some pictures. I am excited about the secret space I've found and am renovating.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

*Close Curtain*

Well, this is it Ladies and Gentlemen. I leave on Saturday. I am completely at peace and looking froward to this new adventure. My wheel and tools, my clothes and jewelry, my sheets and books: they are all making their way into boxes. The kick off for my program is on Sunday. After that I will know my schedule a little better and thus my ability to take the time to write.

Here goes.....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Once upon a time....

...I was an apprentice in Northern Virginia. That time has come to an end. I am no longer apprenticing with my mother and my days in Northern Virginia are numbered. I will soon be embarking on a new journey come August and have decided to end my blog for now.

When I started this blog, my purpose was to educate and be educated in pottery, beauty, and life as an artist. With a clear apprenticeship and purpose, I found writing to be a wonderful way to organize my own thoughts as well as fulfill a dream of including the public in my work.

In August I will start a 9 month program focusing around leadership in arts and community. I am excited and nervous but ever positive that this is the best next step for me. I hope that my time there will foster a maturity and focus; that I will gain a depth that will give me confidence in encouraging a fresh infusion of understanding and love of art into the public's scope of life. And, while I don't know what this time will be like, I hope that my time there allows for writing. I would love to continue to share an insiders view of one artist's struggle to find a place. But we'll see.

Until then, enjoy the colors of your food, sit still and listen, touch the bark on that tree you walk past each day, smell the fresh cut grass, and notice the way an artist uses these inexhaustible inspirations to capture a moment of beauty.

Thanks for reading,

Support your local artist!

Friday, May 14, 2010


Become a fan on Facebook!

I just uploaded a short video of the pump action trimming wheel that I used while in Spain.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Smithsonian Craft Show Review

I attended the Smithsonian Craft Show for the first time this year. It was a gorgeous venue (The National Building Museum) and a wonderful show. I loved getting to walk amongst some of the greatest crafters in America, seeing their work first hand and talking to them. Crafters by definition want people to use their work and are generally people friendly. Here were some of my favorites:

Jennifer Heller Zurick: Willow Bark Baskets

Robert Briscoe: Functional Stoneware

Stephen Merritt:

Lara Moore: Furniture, Wall Art, etc.

There were more favorites but I didn't get their cards. Look up the Craft Show for a complete list!

Monday, May 3, 2010


At the MET: Contemplations on the Moonjar. Looks too gorgeous not to share! If you go, please tell me!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Smithsonian Craft Show

The Smithsonian Craft Show is on NOW! The show is held in the gorgeous National Building Museum (worth a visit to the show just for that!) and showcases amazing artists from across America, producing functional beauty by hand. Go see it!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Silence is Golden

"Silence is golden..." I think that quote came about because those who work (making the "gold") all the time are never heard from! My silence has been the product of long hard days full of starched shirts, hot plates, aching feet, hungry people, and beautiful annual flowers coming in by the truck load. Spring has brought a different sort of rain this year and work is flooding my days, whether at my garden center or at my restaurant or in my studio.

Because my passion and focus (art/pottery) is not a clear cut job to apply for and work in solely, I find that I often forget that I do have a passion. What do I mean? Well, as I rush to the kitchen on my first rounds, dropping off dirty dishes, entering the order in the computer, and picking up another server's drink order, I know that serving is not my passion. I'd like to have one job, a job where I can be paid to do what I know, want to learn and am passionate about.

My best friend is a chef. She is enthusiastic and beginning to focus in a particular direction with her culinary talents. She just got a job at an incredible restaurant with the ideals she holds and the passion she exudes. Good food, exceptional food cannot be replaced by microwave boxed meals. Because real cooking, fresh cooking, is still somewhat practiced in homes across America, people can recognize a good meal. People seek out a good meal, share in it, are willing to pay for it, and enjoy it. They have experienced it once and want more, hence the typical longing for "mom's cooking" or a "fine home cooked meal." What they've experienced is real substance, prepared by human hands.

Unfortunately, artistry and craftsmanship of America is lost amongst the mass manufactured. While fresh home cooking has dwindled in the 15 second meal in a box (hopefully being revived by movements like "Slow Food" or Farm to Table"), art education is dwindling even more. And I don't just mean education in the formal sense. Education, especially in something like art and craft, can come from experiencing them.

Bernard Leach writes about this in "The Potter's Challenge". While he, of course, is speaking of pottery primarily, this can be applied to a much broader picture of art and craft - cooking, textiles, painting, photography, etc.

"One has to live with fine pots in order to appreciate their character, for they are intimate expressions of peoples and their cultures. Human virtues such as nobility, generosity, breadth, simplicity, sincerity, and charity -- virtues common to both man and pot -- are there to be discovered in shape, texture, color, and pattern."

It is in the familiarity with these hand made pieces, in knowing the maker, getting comfortable with the various aspects of the meal, of the picture, of the pot, that we really do learn.

[images: 'Cafe des Amie' sketch and 'Chef' sketch by Sarah Coffin]

Friday, April 9, 2010

Posts from a Spanish Diary: #8 Sketches

My time in Spain produced far fewer drawings than I imagined. I think I was a little overwhelmed by the already romantic, picturesque surroundings and intimidated by the rustic beauty of every scene. I did draw pots quite a bit and sketched here and there. I thought it might be fun to share a few of each plus some notes. Enjoy!

A mug by Seth Cardew and a pitcher by Michael Cardew. Drawn in the kitchen after using both for breakfast.

Seth's music room. Listening to Seth play piano, trumpet, or clarinet was one of my favorite aspects of my time there. He would play while I cooked dinner and I almost wanted to continuing cooking just to hear him play a little longer. He learned songs that were familiar to me and introduced me to some gorgeous pieces I didn't know.

Seth always looked so comfortable at the piano and sat at the grand piano with sculptures, pots, and books surrounding him. The side door was usually open, letting the warm, dry Spanish air swirl around the loose paper and music sheets.

Learning Seth's rules for lettering..

Dr. Vogel, Seth's sculpture professor, created this huge reclining nude. Seth proudly displayed it right next to his grand piano.

Wooden spoons in a Cardew pitcher.

Learning Seth's rules for bowls.

Monday, March 22, 2010


I grab the wooden handled wire tool, wrapping the thin wire twice around my fingers, and feel it press into my skin as I cut my wet pot from the wheel. I have dried clay cracking around my wrists and wet clay between my fingers. As I slap a new mound of clay on my wheel I can feel it give way and change shape. I throw the walls of my next bowl and my outside fingers mimic the opening motion they can feel of my inside fingers.

The sense of touch is a huge part of a potter's life. While everyone "feels" everyday, a potter's livelihood rests in a heightened sense of touch. A sensitive yet firm grasp of what is happening with your hands is essential.

This appreciation of touch was brought home to me when my sister, my niece and I sat together watching a documentary the other day. At one point in the film, a woman walked through a beautiful stone arched veranda in Paris. The camera panned over an immaculate garden full of trimmed hedges, brightly colored flowers, and rich green grass. The woman's hair, frizzy and red, made the colors of the flowers pop and both contrasted beautifully with the stone arches and gray, rainy sky. My 3 year old niece's immediate reaction to this gorgeous scene was, "Mom, can we go there for I can touch it?" And then added, "I want to touch it so I can feel it."

So human and so real! She wasn't just content to sit on the couch and see the scene before her, she wanted to envelope her senses in it, to truly experience it by touching the stone or wet grass or frizzy red hair. This desire is one that so many of us don't realize we are missing in our world of life on screen. TV and computers have made it possible to experience a vast amount of the world previously privy to the rich or well traveled. But this innocent sentiment of a 3 year old made me think. We should not be content with duo-sensory (did I just make up that term?!) experiences on screen, overdeveloping our hearing and seeing senses. We should seek out true full experiences for ourselves as well! We should be conscious of how each sense absorbs particular circumstances during the day. I believe that in developing and titillating all five, life will take on an extraordinarily satisfied feeling of fullness.

How have you fed all five of your senses today?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Are you free tonight?! The Kiln Club of Washington D.C. invited me to come speak! I will be presenting on Spain, Seth Cardew, and my experience during my three month stay. I am so thrilled to present and share some of the pottery wisdom I gleaned and some of the wonderful cultural experiences.

Lee Arts Center
5722 Lee Highway Arlington, VA 22207
March 17th, 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

International pottery

A friend of mine is in the Peace Corps, living in Burkina Faso. A little bit ago she got the chance to go make pottery with a local potter there. The process is beautiful! Take a look: adventures à go-go

Love it, Carolyn!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Potter's Plights?

There are plights with every job. Some are obvious: construction workers' backs, a waitress' irritating customers who send everything back or their feet, a computer programmer's wrists, or a plein-air painter's eyes (cataracts!). And some are not so obvious. I find it fascinating to understand those aspects of other people's jobs, the things that we wouldn't think to empathize with.

A potter, other than the usual "I'm an artist" plights, have some odd afflictions.

1. My middle finger, ring finger, and pinkie on my right hand are constantly scraping the wheel head. Because of that, my finger nails on those fingers are worn down on the right hand corners making for an odd feeling, odd looking set of nails. No fussing about broken nails here!

2. The muscle between my thumb and forefinger is awesome. Ok, really its just that I can flex it and its hard. Yes, rather like what I wish my biceps were, my thumb muscle IS. What IS that muscle called?!

3. Many older potters suffer from Silicosis, a disease from the silica in clay and glazes. They did not realize the dangers (or have OSHA regulations!) back in the day, and breathed in things that we mask well now (or should). Basically you suffocate slowly from the silica partials that attach to your lung walls. A famous potter, Warren Mackenzie, is suffering from this now.

4. Potters often have arthritis in their hands, wrists, or elbows.

5. I often have hands and nails stained from the materials with which I work and have to struggle to clean them or some how cover them for my serving job which does NOT allow for hands like that!

What are some of the interesting plights in YOUR job?!

[Lucie Rie's hands shown in picture above]

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Extra, Extra!! Plates hot off the press...

Here they are, as promised! Recent lunch/side plates, fresh from the kiln. Black clay, black glaze, carved with my own interpretation of Norwegian designs, and done in wax resist to let the raw clay show through.

Monday, March 1, 2010


I have also been throwing plates. Of all forms, plates present the easiest looking shape with the hardest actual construction. Plates are difficult to get flat enough without a collapse, are difficult to dry, take up a lot of space, and cannot be stacked in the glaze firing. A graceful, well made plate, I think, is the sure sign of a seasoned, confident potter. It is a form that exhibits elegance only with practice. There is a crucial moment in a plate's creation that only an innate sense of the clay and the form can attain the subtle yet confident changes of direction.I made a number of small side plates and included carving around the band. That way, the food can sit in the middle with a beautiful hemming in of the contents. I've glazed these and we just opened the kiln last night so completed pictures are on their way!

New shapes

I am throwing with my black clay these days. It is always a challenge because of the mess. Normally I could throw, wash my hands, and be ready to walk out the door. But with my black clay, my hands are stained and it looks as though I forgot to wash my hands after applying self tanner with the edges of my palms (where my hands rub on the wheel head)! Aside from that, I love the black clay. It is a fine particled clay and runs smoothly between my hands. The rich chocolate color of the wet clay encourages my creativity and the deep black color showing through on the finished product is my reward.

Lately I have been trying to make shapes that will allow the user to see my carving or wax resist patterns. I don't do either of those decorating techniques on the insides of my pots because cleaning rough clay or tiny carved portions where food sits would be a pain. Functional pots with straight sides to show off the decorations are easy to come by in a pitcher, a vase, or a cup. But to make a bowl with straight sides that is simultaneously open and inviting to use has been a challenge.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


In a few weekends I am going back to my college as a guest artist. Their annual art show, Project Eve, is a celebration of women in the arts. Excited by the mother/daughter lineage, they invited Jennie to come as well. There will be a number of other events including some demos and talks to the ceramics classes, a "Career Services" event, and an article in the newspaper. I am excited to head back to my Alma Mater and share what little bit I've learned from being out of the "fold" and a part of this great big world of ours.

In the flurry of activity before we go (glazing, firing, profiles, questions, event details, etc.), I had the opportunity to answer some questions regarding the upcoming event. One question was obvious, given the focus of Project Eve: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the arts? Now this got me thinking quite a bit about labels and led to a great discussion at the dinner table last night. What does it mean?

When I first sat down to answer that question, I started in on vague ideas - women communicate differently, women have a different perspective, etc. But the more I wrote, the more unclear I became. The truth is, I don't think about it. My artwork stems from my being which is made up of various parts: my personality, my experiences, my race, my place in time, my economic status, my religion, my 'female-ness', my age, etc. I am a woman and in that reality, I am an artist. It is not a platform for some sort of ideology.

I see many who pick up on one aspect of reality and bring it to the forefront of all they do. Suddenly all of the "various parts" are flattened for that ONE aspect. It becomes a driving force for them, it becomes an ideology. Their artwork becomes one dimensional, ignoring the facets of life that make appealing artwork.

I believe that artwork can speak volumes because it has a being of its own, made up of various parts, like a human. My religion is a part of me that informs my purpose and worldview; I don't need to plaster crosses on my pots. My place in time informs much of how I work and my understanding of the world. Yet great art is timeless, transcending the time period to speak truths about human nature and the world. My gender is a part of me that has given me certain experiences and it may subtly show itself in my work; I don't need to plaster female symbols on my drawings. I think it is partly a lack of self confidence that leads to these ideologies. People do not seek to know themselves, to know what they think and why they think it, leading to a blurry self image. Harping on one facet of life gives a clear path, though limited and ultimately mundane.

So, yes, I am a female in the arts but I am also a runner in the arts, a Christian in the arts, a hiker in the arts, a young adult in the arts ... and eager to see the unique work that comes of this ever changing combination.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Crossing the Line

WIRE! No, I am not taking up the high wire! I found a great medium for my love of line. I'm drawing with wire! I have been working with wire to capture the essence of the lines that make up a human face. I wrote about line in a previous post and have really gotten into working with wire, thick and thin, to achieve those essential lines I described. My wire sculptures are one continuous piece of wire. This really challenges me to make proper connections (seeing where things can connect even if there isn't a visible connection in reality) and keep it simple enough to envelope a definite character. I don't use any tools, only my fingers, so that there are no inorganic crimps in the wire. One of my favorite elements of the final product is the shadow that each sculpture casts on the paper behind it.

I sold my wire sculptures for the first time at our annual show of Fall 2008. I was absolutely delighted at the response and have had a small selection (as they are quite time consuming!) at each show since then. Last week I "premiered" some on my Etsy page and have already made a sale. It is a proud moment when other people recognize and appreciate elements that I see in what I create ... very similar to the feeling I got when I was a teacher and my students finally grasped a concept or when they proudly showed off their hard work to their parents. I think it bolsters my sense of purpose, knowing that I have successfully communicated, through any means, to another human being. This is what creates fellowship, community, society; it is what brings us out of the isolation of ideas in our own minds and connects those ideas to the reality that is our fellow man.

Enjoy the slide show of amateur photos of my wire sculptures below!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gretchen and Edie

I often tell people that I chose not to go to art school because I've spent my life as an Art major. My family, on both sides, has art running through the genes. So, really, I can't help myself.

I grew up with original works of art on our walls, my attention drawn to their styles, their differences. Often the youngest at family gatherings, I listened as my family noted colors, shapes, details, and compositions. From a simple walk around the neighborhood to a historic home tour to a camping trip, I naturally gravitated towards trying to see what drew my eye, seeing beauty in a seed pod, a painting, a wrought iron gate, a pattern in the sidewalk, the way the wind caused a tree to bend...

Trips to "Grandma's house" always encouraged this appreciation of beauty. Both of my Grandmother's, Edie Coffin and Gretchen Quie, were professional artists, visibly producing, growing, and challenging themselves in their work. Paintings hung on the walls and sat on easels. Handmade paper, woodblocks, illustrations, hand thrown pots, and designs for murals made my head spin in all of the creativity.

I can remember Grandma Coffin, with her easel set up on the dinning room table at the beach house. I watched her, with her watercolors and brushes, sweeping the paper with washes that suddenly became the stormy sky outside. She sat with me and showed pictures from her painting trips to other countires, the paintings in the pictures now completed and hanging on the wall or in a gallery. I sat with Grandma Coffin and her painting "buddies" listening to them discuss the effects of this color or that stroke, watching them draw the world around them. (Self-portrait Squares by Edie Coffin)

I can remember going to Minnesota to visit the Quie side of the family. Grandma Quie always had projects for us. Once we were driving home from an event and we passed a dock full of fisherman. Grandma Quie made a u-turn, drove down to the dock, and got out to ask the fishermen for a small fish. We took it home, rolled it with blue paint, and pressed it onto a piece of paper. I still have my fish print, numbered, signed and matted. (Two Men by Gretchen Quie)

These women were not weekend painters, they were artists because they were created to create. Each of them drew people's attention to a different way of seeing, to the details in a world full of interest.

The following are merely photographs, a poor attempt to capture the qulaity of the paintings themselves. Still Life by Gretchen Quie

Four Bathers by Gretchen Quie

Sketch of a woman by Gretchen Quie

Vase by Edie Coffin (a study of a pot!)

Woman by Edie Coffin

Baltimore Harbor by Edie Coffin