ceramic

Shelley Weaver created all of the art featured on this page, and took the photos of her pieces. You can follow her on Instagram @sheleweav or look for the hashtag #bayavenuestudio to find more of her work.

com-mu-ni-tynoun: a group of people who have the same interests

Have you ever wondered if you should (or could) pursue an artistic interest? Yesterday I invited you to consider all the ways that people express themselves artistically. Today and tomorrow I’ll share an interview with a friend who has taken the plunge and rediscovered and nurtured an artistic talent that lay dormant for years.

I first got to know Shelley Curtis Weaver about 16 years ago when I taught at a small school in Montana and her first child enrolled as a freshman. We had attended the same college at around the same time, but hadn’t known each other well. I had no idea she harbored artistic talent in ceramic arts until we had both moved away. For the next two days, I’ll share her story as we explore art, community, and worship.

When did you develop an interest in ceramic arts?

I grew up in the same town as my paternal grandma, Dorothy Curtis.  She mostly did china painting, but she had either porcelain or china clay. She did a fair bit of decorating on her boxes in 3-D.ceramic

I remember rolling tiny clay balls and pinching them into petals for her when I was very small.  She taught me to build flowers, and to pierce thick pieces with pinholes to let air bubbles escape.  She had molds and slip, and a small kiln that was always firing.  So, clay was always familiar.

As a child I also drew incessantly, mostly horses.  When school got more challenging at the junior high and high school level, I didn’t draw as much, and my high school had no art classes, so I had no training until college.  It’s sad, really, to think of how little opportunity there was in the visual arts. I think that’s still the case in most rural areas. Art classes would have done much more for me than piano lessons.

The sudden burst of creativity, sprang from having that empty nest and time to spend on what is admittedly a complex medium.  Clay art involves many steps and firing, and that process takes time.  More importantly, one must have access to kilns and materials.

It’s easy to pick up pencils, paints and paper in most stores, but especially in the days before Amazon, it wasn’t easy to locate clay and have access to a wheel and kiln. For this reason, potters have always been the most community-oriented of the different disciplines.

It took a village to build and sustain the huge wood-fired kilns before electricity or good gas systems.  Communities built and fired their work together.  They dug clay and shared glaze recipes.  It really wasn’t until I moved to an area with a lot of potters and clay artists that I had access and motivation, and that helped with the creative burst.

Have you always considered yourself as ‘artistic’?

I definitely thought of myself as artistic, but I also thought everyone was.  My father draws very well, as does my brother.  My grandmother did ceramic art.  My mother sewed and had an eye for color and design.  She ruthlessly matched all our outfits.  My maternal grandmother was such a talented seamstress that she sewed wedding dresses, and even men’s suits.

ceramicMy maternal grandfather built rifles, carving the stocks, and building the elements, he also tinkered and invented things.  I don’t think my paternal grandfather did anything specifically artistic, but he had been a teacher, and was the first to go through formal training and earn a degree as a doctor of optometry.  He was the one who talked about color theory and refraction in our family, and I actually think about those lessons more than I would have expected when I’m picking glazes.

Glaze is a form of glass, and so there are subtle nuances in how the refraction works and how the color meets the eye.  In other words, I think the concept of being “artistic” was painted with a fairly wide brush in our family. That having been said, I got a good deal of praise and encouragement from my father and grandmother, who were the most involved in traditional visual arts.  I was specifically told I was artistic, and it had very positive associations for me.  I was also a day-dreamer as a kid.  I didn’t find creativity to always be acceptable in school.  In school, creativity was supposed to fit into forty minute slots.

Creativity has a lot of overlap.  My mother was a reader, who read to us nightly.  When I started kindergarten, and began to learn to make letters, I suddenly realized that the books I loved were created, and so it followed that other books could also be created.

Writing and visual arts are very connected in children’s books.  That was a natural route to take.  I wrote and illustrated all my stories in grade school, literally from stories I dictated in kindergarten, on into high school assignments.  Of course, writing received more nurturing in school, although I tended towards fiction, which was occasionally problematic.

Do you have any advice for other people who want to try something new and artistic that they have never tried before?

Usually, we say that if people really want to do something, they’ll find a way to do it.  I’m not sure that’s true with creative expression.  Art is risky, and to do it well, or to really stretch one’s muscles requires a lot of failing and uncertainty.  I guess the best recommendation I can make is to find community.

Much of the creative process is solitary, especially in writing, but we aren’t really created for isolation, and ultimately the art can really suffer without the jostle of other artists and ideas and forms.  There are classes and opportunities all around.  Especially recently, I’ve seen several community studios offer painting nights, or drawing classes.ceramic

The clay studio where I work two days a week has both individual and group classes, and even very simple events where if you don’t want to build in clay just yet, you can come in and just glaze a piece that a local artist has already built and bisque fired (the first firing to make the piece hard enough to take the liquid glaze without crumbling).  A good starting point is to do an online search for local studios.

You can also ask around and find a way to meet artists in your community who may be able to guide you into the beginning steps towards your goal.  Artists at a craft fair, for instance, may know someone who opens their studio to beginners in their medium.  They may even have open studio classes themselves.

Not only do these conversations launch a person on their way, but it also really encourages artists to have people express interest in their work and ask good questions.  As I said, art can be solitary, and having a chance to explain the work, and describe the process can help renew the artist’s energy as well.

Community and Art

Another type of community is to literally find someone willing to take that first step with you.  We often keep appointments for other people that we wouldn’t pursue for ourselves.  Even if the type of art or medium isn’t something we find we enjoy, we’ve built community and relationship with that other friend and with the new artists we’ve met.

I think that definition of community also means listening to the people who encourage you.  I was tremendously hesitant to start clay work again.  Pottery, sculpture and hand-building require a good number of tools, expensive kilns and clays and glazes.

It isn’t something I’d been able to continue in the years after college when I was a young teacher and my husband was in medical school.  I drew a bit, and did a lot of crafts, but did no clay work for almost thirty years.ceramic

When we moved to the Washington coast, my husband moved ahead of us to start his job there, and he happened to attend the Peninsula Clay Artists’ annual show and sale.  He went over and looked through the displays and told all the artists that his wife was also an artist and potter, and they urged him to have me make contact.

When he told me this, I panicked at first. I would have sought out the artists and the studio eventually, because the prospect of having kilns and great mentors and teachers again was very intriguing. But since he’d opened the door with this impromptu promotional campaign, it was harder to procrastinate.  We can use the encouragement and praise of those who know and love us best to move us forward.

We can use the encouragement and praise of those who know and love us best to move us… Click To Tweet

Come Back Tomorrow!

Come back tomorrow for the rest of the interview and to see how an artist looks at art as a form of worship.