Saturday, March 26, 2011

hooray--it's "mud" CraftBoston

Ah mud season--for those who follow my blog you already  know how much I dislike mud season in western Massachusetts. As the frost leaves the ground, the mud grows deeper and deeper. My ties wear deep ruts that I hope I can get out of. Rain washes the mud into vast gullies. Roads become almost impassable.  There is nothing you can do--shoveling it only makes the gullies deeper, the clay more gooey. Finally the last of the frost leaves and once again water can seep into the underground.  I can only hope that the worst of mud season ends before I head home from CraftBoston.

But now before the show ends I must celebrate some of the best of the mud at the show. First stop for me is the booth of Heather Allen-Swarttouw from Asheville, NC.  Heather Allen you may say--isn't she a quilt maker known for her wonderful use of spiraling stairways as metaphors for life? Well she used to be but now she has returned to her first love of ceramics to create absolutely compelling mixed media art.

Again the work is deep--about her life and journeys--recording the events of her life using complex symbolism of archetypal boats and anchors. The vessel as the symbol for the person. Interaction between the vessel and the relationship between people. Such fascinating work--deep and universal. The type of work you want to study and return to again and again. So many different pieces--all asking similar questions but from just slightly different angles. So that the sum of her booth is so much greater than the individual pieces within it.

How hard I found to capture the effect of her work as an image. Here is one small piece. It is I believe in fabric--manipulated quilted pieced with the wonderful shimmer of metal. I love the lines outlining the boats. Are these waves? The progression. Why is one boat larger--metallic with the hull cut out as entryways. What is inside. While the other boat has what remains. The center. Is one more ominous and funereal? Or is the smaller boat almost a ghost--a memory. On the smaller boat note how the wake is visible--as though there is movement and speed. So many questions. I want to study it and absorb it like a poem made with care and precision conveying a knowledge that is not verbal. Don't you love it? And guess what--it is ceramics that just looks like fabric. Wow.

She asks similar questions in these two vessels also.  See I told you she uses ceramics. One the hull hollowed out with the beams showing. The other with almost a skeleton remaining inside. Are these vessels also boats? She also works with the symbolism of  tatting needles and pods--similar shapes and beings. Where is the self? Why these two vessels? So many questions so thoughtfully asked.

She is teaching a workshop in Asheville on using journals to create change.  For her the journal becomes a record of her journey. Her life. So thought out and examined. I asked Heather about the personal process of creating the change from her quilts to mixed media--she said that her marriage allowed her the personal space to make the jump--but even then the process was long--even longer than she had anticipated. Customers who owned one of her quilts did not always recognize her as the same person. I wonder where this will lead.  If I lived closer I would love to take her workshop.  To learn more about her thought process and evolution. For now do check out her web site-- her artist statements and make a mental note that this is a serious artist--one who should be followed.

My next stop is the booth of Rick Epstein of Longmeadow, MA. I have known Rick's work for a number of years--indeed I was across from him at a Paradise City Show a couple years ago. What a great opportunity to study an artist and get to absorb what he does. How much his work has changed in the last year or two. He used to be known for his wonderful landscapes--trees, rivers, lakes. Very pictorial. All made of sculpted clay. Isn't this piece so lovely and serene?

 Yes, those are slabs of clay that he manipulates and paints. Now he is branching out even further. I just loved this large views of the sky through the forest. What a magical vista.

And this more abstract ocean. Very cool. It looks like a great new direction.

But my absolute favorite was this ocean view. The waves are sculpted a couple of inches tall. Careful examination shows layers and layers of paint colors appearing as the colors of the water the more you carefully examine the art. When I asked him about the inspiration, he said he was intrigued by the contradiction between clay and water--two such dissimilar materials. But I do think he has used the one to create the feeling of the other. Wow.

To learn more about his work check out his web site

My final stop was to the booth of Maya Machin a potter whose work I had never seen before. But when a friend of mine told me that she lived near me, I had to check it out. Wonderful wood fired pottery in great essential shapes that made me want to feel it and hold it.

 Simple and honest. But also strong and complex. So essential. She said she loved the communal aspect of the wood firing. One person cannot do it themselves and so groups get together and fire their pots. A process where you never know if the pot will succeed until after the firing. What a level of risk. Just look at the wonderful shape of this teapot--so cozy and snug.

And of course the master piece--this huge urn--maybe three feet tall. What does it hold? What stories does it tell? Can you imagine the relationship between this pot and the people it encounters?

Maya's work can be found at

And then it was time--well actually past time to return to my booth. But what fun I had. What do you think? Seen any great "mud" recently? Had any good mud season stories?

1 comment:

  1. Lovely post -- thanks for introducing us to some great artists! (I wish all mud could be so beautiful.)