This is the first installment in a new series featuring fellow studio craft artists who, through their studio practice, are engaging life in the early 21st century in a variety of inspiring ways. This series is also borne of a desire to illuminate craft as a sublime and appropriate undertaking in a time of social, political and economic complexity. At its core though, this series is about the life and work of grounded artists sharing a passion for craft in all its nuanced glory.
I’d like to open this series with a little sketch of my long-time friend, Ana Vizurraga. Ana is among the first of my friends to inspire me to pursue my own lines of craft work and inquiry. She is a quiet but passionate ceramic artist, a committed educator, and “creative expeditionary” (to paraphrase Bob Dylan). You probably won’t find much about her on the web – AV doesn’t have a “web presence,” per se. That does not prevent her from being highly regarded by her creative colleagues and collectors, and much-loved by her students, who range in age from c. 5 to 65+. She approaches her work with open heart and mind and I have always admired her deep spiritual connection to the medium, married with a practical and direct engagement with its essential qualities. Symbols of earth, nature, and fecundity are fundamental to Ana’s work. References to nature’s diversity abound, each piece representing a soulful reverence for all of life, often peppered with joy-affirming humor or ironic detail. She dedicates most of her efforts to “non-functional” work, although her functional work, to the extent she makes any, often possesses similar qualities (I should note that in this instance I am defining functional as e.g., something you can serve food or beverages on/in, etc.). In short, AV is a high-level artisan working in a very traditional craft medium. I consider her first a fine-craft artist. She finds her place along the continuum occupied by myriad artists of radically diverse perspectives who also work in broad range of traditional craft media.
I feel Ana’s work finds its source in a sort of elemental nature-mysticism. Indeed this is what attracts me most to it. We drink from the same well. With clay, though, there is a direct, primordial suchness which is unmatched by other craft media (although perhaps traditional wet-felting runs a close second). It is earth, and a little water. One shapes this material with one’s hands. It can be shaped into a dwelling, vessel or ritual implement, with few additional inputs. It is transformed by air, heat, fire. How much more elemental can it get than that? Even though my primary media don’t “dance with fire” (in the literal sense anyway), I am particularly interested in fire as a transformative element in craft. As long as I have known Ana I have usually only ever seen the hand-building process or her finished work. The firing process is largely concealed in most kiln technologies. Not so with raku. Late last year, the stars aligned and I was invited to observe and “assist” in a raku firing. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see this process first-hand, and honored to have this creative flame burning so brightly in my life!
I am a child of marine environments who ironically lives inland (it happens). From Hawaii to Cumberland Island, I have been nourished by the big oceans and the ecotones associated with them. The shoreline is a magical transition zone wherever it is encountered – an abundant strand, rich with life as well as decay. On a recent visit to the Pacific Northwest, I returned to an oft-visited, ever-changing rocky beach which perennially holds amazing treasures for the texturally-inclined…
It may surprise you to know that the Kudzu plant has a vibrant history of use for various applications – from medicinal to textile. Until the modern era, most of this history took place in East Asia. At present, in Southeastern U.S. there are numerous paths to Kudzu fiber harvest and use, and those who work with (and on behalf of) Kudzu are passionate about it. One such individual is Junco Sato Pollack, who has been devoting a portion of her busy schedule as academician and studio artist to ponder the story of Kudzu in greater detail. In my quest to gain a deeper understanding this much-maligned plant, I joined Junco for a weekend “workshop” to learn about her process. Please visit the Dancing with Kudzu** blog for an account of my visit, as well as for more information, links and amazing examples of fine weaving with Kudzu. (**This blog has been deactivated; however, you can read my account here.)
I am just beginning to grasp the scope of Kudzu’s use, as well as its many proponents and artisans here in the Southeast. When we look out on the landscape, we may only see Kudzu’s insatiable hunger for more surface area over which to scramble. Scratch a bit below the surface and we discover its ability to nourish and clothe us in myriad ways. I think we can all benefit from a shift in attitude toward Kudzu. Certainly, anyone who is interested in slow and sustainable textiles will want to learn more about, and work with, this truly amazing plant.
Here is the lead-in to my account of my work with Junco and kudzu:
Lessons in Sustainability
Summer 2011 Guest Blogger, Dancing With Kudzu: Kudzu Weaving in North Georgia
I recently joined Junco Sato Pollack in Lakemont, Georgia, not far from Lake Rabun and the Tallulah River, to learn more about the Kudzu plant and its many fiber applications. To have been able to observe and participate in this process was a great honor. As an initiate, my understanding of Kudzu is incomplete, although I learned much during my brief time with Junco. Many individuals are exploring this plant and its uses, particularly as it relates to textile process. . . . **This blog has been deactivated but you can view the entire article (absent photos) here.
This recently abandoned, temporary dwelling (which we hope kept eggs and baby birds safe while learning about their new life on planet Earth) was in the trees and spotted by someone else while I was busy combing the ground for mushrooms (see my last Post).
The entire structure was attached to a perfectly appointed V-branch with what look like blades of grass, apparently serving as a sort of “warp” or framework for the rest of the construction. Interwoven were oak catkins, bits of decomposing bark, twigs, leaves and pine needles, now all dessicated, soon to slough off and rejoin the soil. A simple but sturdy sanctuary, all made without hands. Think about it.
We have had a good deal of rain in North Georgia – a welcome respite from the dry heat of late Spring. With all of that moisture in the mix, many a latent mushroom has pushed its way through soil, moss and leaf litter to play out its short, above-ground life cycle. A recent trip to the mountains revealed just how variously mushrooms have responded to these conditions – in one particular spot, condensed in an area of roughly a few thousand square feet, everything from Chanterelle and Boletus spp. to Amanita muscaria (and many more) were called forth.
As a student of native herbaceous perennials, I have typically focused on the ground with its rich layers of tone, color, pattern and texture. In addition to providing creative inspiration, attentiveness to the details of the ground layer cultivates a broader appreciation of the smallest creatures of the visible world, including all manner of insects and, of course, mushrooms. Fungi are our great allies (even the poisonous ones). They play an essential role in soil building and nutrient conversion. We could not live without them as they have, among other things, co-created the forests which shelter us and the earth on which we walk. Year-round, but especially in the Summer, mushrooms bring to mind the essence of both exuberant abundance and creative destruction. Here are some photographic observations: