Spring 2018 Studio Newsletter

Bursting Forth

My word, the winter was long and dark, but the peepers have finally begun peeping. The very earth is rumbling with promise, and I can’t recall ever before feeling more in sync with the changing season.

The studio is buzzing with energy. No day is long enough.
I can’t wait for you to see and hold in your hands* what’s been happening.

And a lot has been happening!

Throughout the summer and into the fall, I’ll have work at Harbor Square Gallery in Rockland, Dow Studio Gallery on Deer Isle, and Mainely Pottery in Belfast. And you can always find an assortment of cups at Zoot Coffee in Camden.

But first, come to my Open Studio May 5 and 6. Yes, there will be cookies.

If you can’t visit then, here is a calendar of other events involving van der Ven Studios (click on the underlined links for more information):

Upcoming Events in April
28 – 5/1
, Salt Firing with Mark Bell, at  Watershed in Newcastle – we will be firing both individual and collaborative work

5 & 6
Open Studio as part of  the 7th Annual Maine Pottery Tour,  at the studio in Lincolnville
16 to 28, Anagama Firing w/ Jody Johnstone and crew, at Jody’s kiln in Swanville

Unloading Anagama**
23 & 24, Workshop: Pattern and Piercing in Clay,  at Waterfall Arts in Belfast
29, Group Show, The Teapot: Real and Imagined, at Craft Gallery in Rockland

, First Friday Opening at Harbor Square Gallery, in Rockland  – I will be afeatured artist for the monthalong with John Bisbee
6, Group Show, Gray Scale, at Betts Gallery in Belfast
15 to 27, Hanako NakazatoWorkshop, at Haystack on Deer Isle – I will be a technical assistant

25 & 26
, Open Studio, Twelve Hands Pottery Tour, Lincolnville – other ‘hands’ include Jody Johnstone, Betsy Levine, Megan Flynn, Cory Upton-Cosulich, and Jean Hardy

6 to 11/11
Maine Dutch Masters, George Marshall Store Gallery, York – I am proud to be showing with Jaap Helder and Jan ter Weele

* Friend, artist, long-time mentor, and owner of Harbor Square Gallery taught me the word ‘haptic’ while he held one of my cups. The word can be paired with ‘quality’ to describe an object’s tactile characteristics – the way something feels in the hand. Paired with ‘perception’. it describes the active exploration of an object with our hands. Lately, this has become an increasingly vital part of my studio practice. Visual and functional aspects remain part of the balance, but this increased emphasis on the feel of what I make, works better to satisfy and communicate my inner rumblings.
** I am way too excited about this firing. I will do my best to have the work cleaned up and ready for viewing by June 12. Collectors particularly interested in my wood-fire work, please call or write to make an appointment following that date.

November Pecha Kucha Presentation Text

Influence pushes. Inspiration pulls

My high school photography teacher was a guy named Mr. Parker. He taught through precise demonstration. We could ask questions, but mostly we stood silently, watching him work, and then were let go to try it ourselves. Back then, we were working with manual cameras, black and white film, and chemicals. I loved every bit of it.

My bus stop was a half mile from my house. One day, well into the semester, on my way home, I noticed a section of roof had blown off an abandoned barn. The image stopped me in my tracks. Something inside of me had changed: I didn’t see the hole, or the underlying rafters and purlins. I saw pattern. I saw abrupt changes of value creating a particular strength of contrast. I didn’t have my camera on me, but I WAS seeing through it. My body, for the moment, had become the camera, and the camera had become a tool for me to reach outside of myself. That day was the beginning of a life of seeing and understanding the world through tools, process, and material and of seeing the potential to find meaning in objects.

When I was done getting my undergraduate degree in printmaking, I moved to Maine to work on boats. When I was nearly done with boats, I apprenticed to and began working for artist Tom O’Donovan. As part of his instruction Tom told me, “True beauty expresses itself throughout its growth and  its decay.” That concept crystalized something for me and inspired a keen fascination with the patterns and marks of growth and decay that I continue to explore to this day. That notion and the tools of jewelry and metal smithing are integral to my studio practice. I’ve also been a house builder and so I bring those tools and materials too. The stuff of boats and printmaking have likewise found their ways into my studio and into my work. And if I can’t see my way through with any of those tools, I make new ones to get me there.

So, if someone asks about a specific piece,  “How long did that take?”, my only answer can be “57 busy years.”

I’ll mention one more clarifying moment. I was building, with my friend, Tim Marchetti, an intricate, architect-designed fence. I don’t recall exactly what we were struggling with, but I remember Tim throwing up his hands saying, “Why does this have to be so difficult? All we have to do is be smarter than the wood!”Though we aim to use materials for our own purposes, they, nevertheless, continue to speak in their own special, insistent language. I work to bring my understanding of one material to my work with others, especially clay — a material which always tells me I’m part of something larger.

Much of the time I work alone in my studio. While throwing, piercing, or carving, I have ample time to reflect on my 20 years as an art teacher. It was definitely some of the best and most important work of my life.The work with my students made me a far more conscious artist, one who thinks in terms of collaboration and intent. My mother once told me, “You teach best what you need to learn the most.” My students taught me. I am grateful, and there are parts of my life with them that I miss. But former students have become colleagues. Now I get to go to their openings, fire kilns with them, exchange technical and material questions, and accept their critiques. My favorite part of my website is a sidebar containing a long and growing list of LINKS    to former students making a life through creative work  — from custom motorcycle maker,  to professional creative clothes recycler, to installation artist.

The roots of my studio practice dig deep and spread wide into rich soil. The deeper I dig the taller and wider my practice can grow. Cups and bowls are the steadfast core. Projects – the Nest sculptures, Wrack Line Paintings, and Big Eggs – are branches, reaching up and out. Many branches bear fruit, some don’t and are lopped off or just wither and die. And I make a lot of leaves.

And: Eggs. What a humble, ubiquitous, iconic form, these ideals of fertility, these fragile houses of potential. There are so many reasons they recur in my work, but two in particular are worth sharing:  Because of its extreme simplicity, the form itself is endlessly variable. The slightest change in proportion can change the character of each iteration profoundly. The second reason is that the egg is an embodied paradox. Paradox is central to what I find most interesting in art –– both the art that I make and the art I enjoy most. The egg is designed to encase and protect. It’s shaped to repel. It’s also designed to be broken open from the inside and only fulfills its purpose when that occurs. A good metaphor, a perfect canvas.

And: Cups  A beautiful, handmade cup is a three line poem about consideration.

The foot speaks about a relationship to its ground, about stability and how it will lift.

The body of the cup talks about a relationship to your hand, about separation and containment, about the definition of inside and outside.

And the rim offers its wisdom in its relationship to your lips, offering and delivering warmth, refreshment, stimulation and redemption to your body.

Making cups allows me to make hundreds of little useful sculptures, to wrestle with the intricacies of proportion, weight, and balance, to explore texture and color, to try new techniques and perfect and evolve established ones.

And making cups offers me a chance to be part of your everyday.

Summer Newsletter

Announcing a very special
July 8 and 9
10 am to 4 pm each day
10% of weekend profits will go to the Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts building fund

In conjunction with Watershed’s Salad Days event, the New England Craft Tour, and my continued campaign to keep things fresh and lively, I’ll be hosting three marvelous guest artists at my next Open Studio.

Mark Bell is a master potter extraordinaire, known for his refined forms and amazing glazes. His work is collected around the world. He and I have been working on a collaborative project for nearly four years.
Tim Christensen’s black and white pots display Tim’s remarkable skill and his deep commitment to the natural world. He writes, “Above all, I draw to illustrate the wonder and mystery of living in the world we share.” Tim and Mark work together to fire our work in Watershed’s salt kiln.
Ben Breda combines elegant, highly considered handles and blade forms with the utmost attention to the intricate demands of this traditional craft. It is clear why this young knife maker is rapidly gaining the attention of both makers and collectors around the country.  Also, Ben was a former student of mine. He makes me so proud.

Regarding the struggle to keep my work vital and dynamic, I once wrote, “Inspiration pulls, influence pushes.” These three outstanding artists certainly keep me moving. Call or write for an appointment to visit the studio, or join me July 8 and 9 for conversation, cookies, and a chance to see our work work together.

Last thing: the spring wood-fire at Jody Johnstone’s kiln went spectacularly well. I just added many of my new pieces to the website and e-store. Take a look!

Spring Studio News

As spring follows winter…
During the cold and quiet of winter, I moved steadily through projects, making molds, testing new glazes, refining utilitarian forms, improving press-molding techniques, casting wax and then bronze, carving wood, and combining materials to finish several new sculptures.
The gallery is full.
I also reflected on my teaching career. I loved teaching. Two things keep me from missing it more than I do. The first, is the multitude of opportunities to witness my former students grow into their lives. Social media, encounters around town, meeting partners and children, and studio visits (mine and theirs) feed my hope, polish my pride, and deepen my gratitude that I once was, and may still be, a part of their creative lives.
Two shining, pertinent examples are Megan Flynn who will also be hosting a sale at her own beautiful Lincolnville studio next Saturday and  Margaret Rizzio who is currently showing at Dowling Walsh in Rockland.
The second thing that keeps me from missing the classroom is the work before me –– particularly because there are meaningful parallels between the two. Both require dedicated practice and loads of preparation. Setting goals and objectives is key to creating an environment open to success. However, the fullness of human nature is paradoxical and our lives occur as an accumulation of moments. I know that many of the best moments of my teaching came when I forgot intention, ignored technique, dashed hope, and simply got out of the way of the learning. So it is with much of my best art work. It comes in moments – moments when I simply pay attention, stop pushing the river, and allow it to flow through me. I am grateful for those moments.

I have lots of new work to show you. In order to make room for work currently in progress (we begin loading Jody Johnstone’s wood-fired kiln May 16th), many items will be marked down for the weekend. And of course, there will be cookies. If you can’t make here this weekend, I hope to hear from you soon or see you this summer.

Next Open Studio is scheduled for July 8 and 9. I’ll be hosting two amazing guest artists: Mark Bell and Tim Christensen. We will be a designated stop on the New England Crafts Tour and 10% of our weekend sales will be donated to the building fund at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts.

One last thing: if you happen to be in Southern France this summer, Aix-en-Provence will be hosting a city-wide, multi-venue exhibition honoring the work of Atelier Buffile. The Buffiles, a multi-generational family of ceramic artists and teachers, generously made room for me in their vibrant, light-filled studio during a 1996 sabbatical. They are a significant influence on the artist I am today. Many facets of my life are inspired by their example. I am honored to have examples of my work in the exhibit.

It’s Working Out

A couple years ago, I pulled my work out of galleries and pretty much stopped accepting invitations to show. I wanted to bring as much focus back into the studio as I could. I wanted to bring some percolating themes to a full boil, work with more challenging scale, and a broader array of materials — basically move my studio practice forward.  Yes, all great intentions, but, of course, without the follow-through of making the time and space to work and actually doing the work, these wants would have gone the way of most intentions. There’s more to it than that, though. I don’t think I would have focused my intentions without having been shook up.  That happened, initially, over four years ago during my residency at Anderson Ranch. Thank you Doug, Sam, Ralph, and Steve for rattling my cage(s) and to Yuri and Dave for picking me up off the floor.  I recall thinking, “What’s begun here, is going to take years.” I sometimes joke (wonder) that I’m a quick study and a wicked slow learner, but as I look at the work I’m doing now, I see the changes I needed were profound and take practice to bring forth.

At the beginning of the summer, I did a two week residency at Haystack Mountain School of Craft. The Ranch was ten. This was a very different but no less marvelous experience. Haystack is a place of soul-feeding beauty with a staff I can’t speak highly enough of.  And the other residents were awesome (I mean that in the grown-up sense of the word). Still, as I reflect on those two weeks, I’m not done being shook up.

Just Three Years

I started this piece over three years ago. I’ve done others like it, but not to this level of detail. Initially, I threw a number of vases in this form, but chose this one to carve.  It took days and days to draw the pattern. When I finally started carving, it took about three days to rough carve one vertical row. I got a bit faster as time went on. There are forty rows. I would work on it for a length of time and either lose patience, focus, or be called to another task before setting it aside. After the first month of working on it, I seldom worked on it for more than a week at time.  At one point, I thought that I couldn’t finish it, but a supportive and enthusiastic collector encouraged me to push through. Once I finished carving, I bisque fired it and found myself at another hurdle. Glaze. I was nearly paralyzed by the possibility of getting the glaze wrong. There are potters who live to glaze. I don’t fall in that category. My solution was to make smaller ‘test’ pieces. You may be able to recognize a few on the website. After several attempts I found the right glaze combination and application. Et voila!  I’m curious to see where in the world it goes.

This piece is not listed on my web store. Please call if you are interested in purchasing it for your collection (207)975-3456.

Featured Artist: Jessica Ives

Name: Jessica Ives
Year of HS graduation: 1999, when my last name was Stammen
Current Location: Damariscotta, Maine
What fills your days?

Learning. Whether I’m painting, swimming, stretching, reading, dancing, cutting a carrot, or driving in the car with my husband, I think it’s good to remember that it’s all learning, that I’m learning to see, and that I’m learning to see more more beautifully every day. I have a sneaking suspicion that how I see and why I see determines what I see. And by learning to see I mean cultivating a capacity that includes, but goes far beyond the visual. Yes, I believe this kind of learning can happen even, and especially, when cutting carrots.

Also, I keep these words by Baba Haridass pinned to my studio wall, as a reminder of the simple things worth filling a day with:
Work honestly,
meditate everyday,
meet people without fear
and play.
What’s most important to you about what you do?

That I love what I do is, to me, the most important thing about what I do. Any other reason I would or could give — as honest, as impressive, or as articulate as it could be — must be secondary to this. We live in a time and place where reason and wordy whys burden everything. Especially art. Love, beauty, enjoyment — as experiences, in and of themselves — are not so much valued. But I agree with Joseph Campbell who has said, “People say that what we are seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think this is what we’re really seeking. I think what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive.”

What impossible dreams or goals do you keep reaching toward?

Tim Keller has said, “You should never go to God because he’s useful. Go to God because he’s beautiful. And yet there’s nothing more useful than finding God beautiful.” I love the paradox in this! I love the mystery and the adventure that it implies. I love that it turns me on my head and puts the world upside down. I think learning to see beauty, without a need for utility, is a goal worth living, and something that will take a lifetime.

Also, I’d like to read all the books I own. This, too, might take a lifetime. I need to stop buying books!
What do you need to keep going?

Beauty, lots of time spent outside playing, and a healthy capacity to say no.

Further comments?

I prefer to paint on the floor! I squat in front of my panels in the manner that most the world’s population sits and rests, butt to heels. Chairs sort of bum me out.

Summer Newsletter (late posting)

Expanding Focus

I’ve been sticking pretty close to home, concentrating my energy, allowing myself to wander in the studio. Things are opening up.

My friend, Garrett, once told me, “The only real power we have is where we place our focus.”
I’m looking more carefully at the sculptural aspects of my work, mixing materials and ideas that have long held my attention. Admittedly, I’m lost some of the time, but I don’t lose my sense of direction. I’m pretty sure this is the set-up for discovery.  Focus and wander, focus and wander.  It’s a lot like breathing in and breathing out.

The only shows in which I plan to participate this year are going on right now.  One is up at Cynthia Wynings Gallery in Blue Hill. It’s a group show called Nature of Materials. I tell you, that woman can hang a show. Please, if you’re up in the area, do yourself a favor and check it out. While you’re up there, stop by Mark Bell’s studio. Our collaborative project continues. He has several prime examples.
The other show is Art to Collect Now currently open at CMCA Bicknell in Rockland.

It figures, then, that I’m mostly counting on you to visit me. I’m working, exploring new forms, refining others, completing commissions, but the show isn’t going on the road to a town near you. It’s staying here, Give a call and come to the studio/gallery. Come Do the LoopAugust 8 and 9.  It’s a terrific tour. I’m thrilled to be part of this stellar group. You really don’t want to miss this.  But, of course, not everyone can make it to Maine this summer.  Come see me online.  Keep an eye out for new work added to the website and to my Square store.

I am truly enjoying this summer. I hope you are too.

See you soon,


Featured Artist: Jesse Gillespie

 PortraitName:  Jesse Gillespie
Year of HS graduation: 1999
Current location:  Rockland, Maine
What fills your days?
My wife and I recently returned to Maine from D.C., where we lived for three years. We’ve been settling in to our new home in Rockland, swimming and checking with friends. A good deal of time has been dedicated to working out details for an upcoming show (see link above to Dowling Walsh). Also, I’ve been experimenting with some new drawings inspired by Max Ernst.
In three sentences, how did you get to where you are now?  
May parents let me develop into myself.
Ed Roth and Brother Thomas taught my teachers.
I grew up on the edge of a state park.
What’s most important to you about what you do?  
Art, for me, is an antidote to the swarm of practicalities and trivialities that consume so much time. My work is nonlinear and improvisational and the act of going into the studio to empty out, be irrational and stop making sense is therapeutic unlike anything else.
What impossible dreams or goals do you keep reaching toward?  
To make something that I can’t identify. I’m not sure what that means…
What do you need to keep going?
Edges. To keep going, I need to know that things end.
What are your best and worst memories from high school?  
Like most people, my worst memory was bullying, which sticks with a person.  I am not homosexual but I experienced homophobia. I didn’t have it bad but it doesn’t take much.
My best memories involve the friends I still have from that time.  The embarrassing times, usually involving girls, are fun to think about too – I should have gone out on more limbs…

Not Matching Up

It’s 2015 and something needs changing.

I need a new pair o’ dimes.

Stay tuned.