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
OPEN STUDIO
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

IMG_1027
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,

Siem

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…
 

2015 Winter Newsletter

My Plan for 2015 (besides shoveling snow)

First name, last name, I don’t remember: his students just called him “Gunner,” and he was one of my favorite education professors at Saint Lawrence.  He had all sorts of good things to say, but thirty-three years later what I remember is, “If you’re not on the edge, you’re taking up too much room.”

In January I focused on Bellven pots — the pieces Mark Bell and I make collaboratively.  Because it was a new year, I started taking the design a bit further.  The top image shows what happened as I was pushing the limits of carved porcelain.  Oddly, this was okay with me. It felt right.  Therefore, I’ve decided to consider this the perfect way to inaugurate the coming year.

The important lessons keep coming around and around.

While working, I reflected on 2014.  It was a full and rich year — full of shows and making work for those shows.  It was a year of getting it out there.  It was a year for meeting new people and sharing my work.  My list of collectors and fans grew significantly, and I’m very pleased with that.  I am less pleased with what happened inside the studio. Don’t misunderstand me, I made good work — indeed, some of the most refined pieces I’ve ever made.  Overall, though, the work didn’t advance the way I would like.  My main focus for the year, especially the second half, was on having enough of the right work for shows and events.  I kept my skills sharp.  I worked long, efficient hours, managed production by reducing loss rate, and balanced studio time with computer time.  I had fairly clear, prescribed outcomes in mind and I worked toward them.

It’s time for the pendulum to swing away from product and toward process.  I look forward to a refined return to what is best about my work, to spending my energy on projects that open and expand my studio practice, and getting back to that edge.


Here are the major projects planned for 2015:

  • The collaboration with Mark Bell will continue. In fact, it’s been so inspiring that I intend to set up two more collaborative projects. Possible confederates include architect John Gillespieand multi-media artist Mark Kelly.
  • Ever since painter Alan Bray introduced me to it, Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space has been a significant source of inspiration. I intend to continue a series combining clay and wood based on the Nest chapter from that book.
  • I want to go much larger with egg forms. And I mean much larger.
  • In 2005, I spotted a particularly intriguing pattern on the perimeter of a 16th century shoji screen at the Art Institute of Chicago.  I drew it into my journal. I redrew it, again and again, for a few years, before carving it into the surface of a porcelain vase. Two years ago, I began my most ambitious iteration of this motif. I plan to finish it this year.

That should be more than enough. I suspect this list will take me well into 2016 and even beyond.


A few important nuts and bolts:

Come visit me!
My work is on display in our home gallery.  Visitors are always welcome. In fact, conversation and interactions with visitors are an increasingly vital part of my practice.

What can I do for you?
In lieu of shows, I would like to do more commission work. The trick here is timing. Have something particular you want me to make for you or as a gift? Attending any weddings this summer? Important birthday or anniversary coming up? Want some cups, bowls or plates for holiday giving? If so, let’s talk.

Shop on Line!
The website portfolio is all up to date. My current inventory is now available for sale on line. Click on the “Shop Now — Order On Line” buttons on the home page or contact page of vandervenstudios.com.

That’s the year as I see it.  I look forward to hearing from you.

With love and gratitude,

Siem

Snow Poem

Someone sent Kate this poem for Valentine’s Day.  We don’t know who. I really like it.

 

Listen, Valentine

In the check out line
When a stranger warns of a blizzard
Do not say,
“Yippee, more snow!”
Leave the store before you imagine
Violet shadows on a clean white field
The way the edges soften
The way you glide a foot above the ground.
On your sleeve snowflakes are delicate as breath.
In numbers
They stop trucks.
They erode our determination
As the edges of the world draw in,
The biggest house becomes an igloo.
Every human thing is swallowed up.
Roads vanish,
Deadlines come and go,
Signs of progress are softly erased.
Rain and wind have other things to teach
We love snow because it reminds us
That everything can change
That nothing lasts.
That we can’t fight
But we can wait
The world under the snow,
The shrubs and fire hydrants,
Will rise again
This transient beauty stops us in our tracks
And fills them again and again.
— anonymous