Wednesday, January 11, 2012

17 Weeks and Counting

The Year is 1989 and both the OPA and Ceramic Showcase were at a crossroads.  The success of Ceramic Showcase became overwhelming and the vision that the OPA had built itself around was being blurred.  No one realized at the time that success would come at a price.  How could the OPA maintain its vision and dedication to its members while being all consumed of time and energy to hosting a successful show?  It was decided that a separate committee would be formed that would take on the challenges of hosting Ceramic Showcase so that the OPA Board could dedicate itself to building the organization and the membership.  Thus, the Ceramic Showcase Steering Committee was born.  Today that committee has grown to sixty-two members, all volunteering countless hours.  It is truly a labor of love and one in which I am proud to say I volunteer wholeheartedly in.  But enough about the organization for now - onto our award winner.

Best in Show 1989 award winner Marianna Crawford writes about her wonderful journey in clay and where is has taken her -

"Even though I have not been working in clay for almost 12 years, people still introduce me as a potter, regardless of what else I've been doing with my life.  I can't say that I mind this.

In 1989, Ceramic Showcase was held at Montgomery Park.  It was the first or second year that I participated in the show.  I was a newcomer.

Before that, I had attended PNCA for a couple of years.  My teacher, Frank Irby - who still teaches there - was tremendously supportive and influential to me.  When it became clear that all I wanted to do was ceramics, he allowed me to use the studio at PNCA to my heart's content.  When this gig reached the end of its feasibility, I rented my first little studio space at Thurman Street Pottery.

Frank helped me see that my work was about the inner space contained by a vessel.  This simple understanding was like a compass that guided my career as a ceramic artist.

While I was at PNCA, a visiting potter from China came to work in the ceramics studio for an extended period.  Apparently he was accustomed to having assistants do his production work.  This, on top of the fact that he did not speak English, and a translator had not been provided, made him a sullen, unapproachable presence in the studio.  However, I became fascinated with the way that he constructed his pieces.  I could see how it was possible to build complex shapes, and my ideas about what I could do with clay suddenly expanded.  Even though my work had little in common with his traditional Chinese vessels, the techniques that I gleaned from him catapulted me forward.

Best in Show 1989
Marianna Crawford
The piece that won the award in 1989 was one of the early pieces that evolved out of this new found inspiration.  Needless to say, winning the award provided yet more wind under my wings.

One of the things that I love about clay as a medium is how it adapts itself to an almost infinite myriad of artistic expression.  We make an impression on the clay, physically and metaphorically, every time we touch it, every time we make contact with it.  My particular personality is inclined towards obsessive perfectionism - I fuss, experiment, try and err and try again, work a piece to the brink of disaster, get exhausted, give up, and eventually have a breakthrough, or come to accept what is there.  As much as I admire and, at times, yearn to be someone whose work is loose, spontaneous and immediate, that is not who I will ever be.  I like to think that everything that goes into my process becomes part of the beauty of the final piece.  Inherent in each of my pieces is how it has been carefully shaped, handled, worked, considered, and loved, really.  Clay has its rules, but it also seems to make room for all the unique and particular ways that we are.

Oregon Potters Association is a little that way too.  It is a generous, democratic, inclusive organization whose members do not withhold their support for one another's success.  Over the years, I have seen the Best in Show award given to newcomers, as well as old-timers.  No particular style or technique is favored.  There are no weird politics about who receives it.  It is given by an honest group of potters to one of their own, out of pure and exuberant love of clay.  For these reasons and more, it remains one of the greatest honors that I have been given in my life, and I am proud to be counted as a potter, still."

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