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The only child in an Italian patriarchal family, my destiny was supposedly already set for me. I was to study nursing in college. Or education. Or go to business school. I did none of those things. I applied to the State University of New York at Potsdam and was accepted into the studio art program. No switching around of majors for me. In as an artist, out as an artist. My father was not happy.
So, how to make my father happier? I supposed by doing well in college and by having gainful employment upon graduation. No backpacking trips around Europe for me. I went to work right after graduation as a photo lab assistant for the U.S. Department of the Army at the Pentagon. That only lasted a few years (it was really boring), but it did two things. It cemented my already burgeoning love of photography into place for life and it gave me the incentive to figure out how better to make a living. Sadly, it wasn’t going to be art or even photography. The kind of salary artists, especially women artists, made in those days wouldn’t help support a family.
It took a while, but I dusted off my pretty good communication skills and found my way forward as a writer, but always with an eye out for the opportunity to take on creative tasks as they popped up. By the time I put away my working shoes, I had established myself as a not-too-bad graphic artist at the Congressional Budget Office, where I spent almost 14 years designing and publishing reports and creating infographics.
So how does ceramics figure in, you ask. Well, here’s the thing. There was a good pottery program at Potsdam that looked like a lot of fun, but for some reason I stayed away from it like the plague. It may have had something to do with my father’s apoplexy at my decision to study art. I may have worried that an interest in pottery might add fuel to that fire. I stuck to the classic courses like printmaking and photography. Somehow, I thought they would be more job friendly. Yeah? Not so much.
Strangely enough, after I graduated from college, one of my first extracurricular activities was a nighttime pottery class. It was a bit of a disaster. The wheel was a one-piece affair that placed the stool a fixed distance from the wheel. Not a good fit for a small person. My thrown pots were all wobbly and the instructor despaired. I was relegated to handbuilding. My next class was weaving. But I did miss pottery.
Fast forward to three months after retirement in 2017. I was taking a yoga class at the Reston Community Center and what do you suppose was right across the hall from the yoga room? You guessed it—the pottery studio. It pulled me like a magnet. Before long I was back to fighting the wheel. Throwing on the wheel didn’t come any more easily to me with a movable stool.
One of my sons saved the day by getting in touch with a good pal of his in Ojai, CA who is a professional potter—Scott. Scott was willing to provide me with free one-on-one instruction at his place for a week. I was on the next plane and before I knew it, driving up the CA coast from Los Angeles to Ojai. What a spectacular visit that was. Not only is Ojai beautiful in October (if you don’t count the fires, which were indeed present while I was there), but Scott’s place was a wonderfully bohemian getaway for spending 8+ hours a day throwing while the chickens in the small coop just yonder serenaded me. Scott got me straightened out.
Back at the Reston Community Center, people wondered who this new person was who could actually throw a round, straight pot. But it wasn’t long before I again became frustrated with having only 8 hours per week of open studio throwing time. How can anyone improve in so few practice hours?
My next big opportunity came when one of the Reston instructors I had befriended invited me to his summer studio on an island in the St. Lawrence River in NY the summer of 2018. So, in August of that year, my husband and I drove north and spent an idyllic week with Guy. Again, I threw 8+ hours per day while looking out over the St. Lawrence at passing rivercraft, large and small, through the open-air front of the studio. Guy provided some instruction, but mainly I was there to practice on my own. I made progress.
Back to the Reston studio and the 8 hours per week. Sigh. I determined that I needed to set up my own studio at home. I set about making a plan. In the meantime, I began looking around for where to obtain more instruction and, in particular, more studio time until I could set up my own studio. That’s when Hood College came to my attention. They had a graduate-level ceramic arts degree program that catered to the working artist. True, it was an hour away in Frederick, MD, but my brother-in-law and sister-in-law had lived in Frederick for years and their daughter had lived with us for 6 months at one point. Surely they wouldn’t mind an occasional houseguest. Hm.
I made a decision, applied, and was accepted to the program so fast it made my head spin. I started taking classes in the summer of 2019. Not having very much experience in throwing put me, I felt, at a disadvantage that I would have to overcome. Once a registered student, I had unfettered access to the Hood studios. I moved in for the summer and had the place pretty much to myself. Wow!
Shortly thereafter, I was able to carve out a space for a decent studio in the underused sunroom at the back of our house. I had it set up just in time before covid shutdowns hit and I have been able to keep working all this past year. I sometimes drive up to Hood to fire work in the kilns there, but mainly I make do with a small test kiln I bought for making and testing glazes. This year, a room to hold a full-sized kiln will be added to our sunroom. My studio soon will be complete.
Two years after I started the degree program at Hood, I have eight credits left to earn before I will be awarded an M.A. in ceramic arts. While I still have a long way to go, I can throw a decent pot (definitely still small). I’m still learning about and absorbing the myriad techniques available to ceramicists, so I can’t say I’ve grabbed the illusive gold ring of having established a personal style yet, but I’m diligently working on it. Mainly, I’m having a great time. What do you say? The poster child for retirement?