I have been a full time working Potter making ceramics, selling and teaching for over 30 years. I had just moved to Portland Maine and I knew no one. My wonderful landlady, Lisa Bonarrigo, asked if I would like to help her out by taking a wheel throwing class she was teaching. I was her first student. Lisa eventually went on to buy what is now Portland Pottery. During this time in my life, it never occurred to me at that time that I would be a working artist. Art had no presence in my life up to that point. Rural Maine in the 1970’s, where I had spent my teen age years, had a very different atmosphere. So off I went with no expectation in mind. The moment I opened that first box of clay, took in the wonderful earthy smell and squished it between my fingers, I knew this was something special! I went home that day and for the very first time in my life I declared that I wanted to be a potter. For me, it was that simple. I continued taking classes with Lisa until I moved to Nashua NH in 1986. I found the Nashua Center for the Arts and I took more classes. I found ways to learn even when I had no money for classes. I pestered people and worked hard to learn how to become a better potter. I never wavered in knowing this was the right path for me. I had an unquenchable passion for making work, being with the community of fellow dirt lovers, and finding homes for these precious, hard won pots. I loved the shared struggle to get that cylinder to raise up thin and even. In this, I discovered I also had a gift for teaching those around me. I worked, learned and taught how to make pottery, how to put on shows, how to promote myself, and how to help others do the same. It gave me great pleasure to be of service to my fellow potters, artists and musicians. I created Mudworks Pottery Studio and furthered my career, never really thinking of myself as doing so. I was looking to teach and work in my own studio. My journey as an artist has been more of discovery, curiosity and unfolded opportunities then a formal education. Most of all, I was helped by a very generous community.
I live my life with a deep love and respect for this world we live in. I realized early on I wanted to create work that was both useful and beautiful, giving beauty to the everyday living of our lives. To do that, I had to learn to know myself as an artist in order to access fully what I had to offer. In doing so, it has mapped my creative world. It takes great courage to face one’s self, to peel off the layers of what I thought was worthy based on what everyone told me was “true “. I learned that nurturing and growing who I really am brings me a sense of authenticity both in my personal life and my professional career. For me, this is not about perfection. I see perfection as an unreachable goal always just beyond my touch. This idea of perfection hinders my work. I was always left unsatisfied with what I had made.
In learning to be authentic, I discovered joy in the beauty of the moment of creation, surrender to the nature of the elements as well as accessing the co-creating qualities of a firing. I made better work and was a happy well-adjusted person. I learned being authentic in my work was what I had to bring to that table of creation. The elements have their own nature and co-creating with the elements takes presence and respect. Authenticity has brought me to loving where I am in each moment. My work reflects those qualities. Pots that work are moved onto those who are drawn to them and pots that do not work are gifts to be learned from. Each time I work in this way, I connect to a deep well of joy. In order to develop these skills of being an authentic potter, I needed an awful lot of mentoring. I have been incredibly fortunate to have had magnificent mentors in my life. Rev. Dr. Stephanie Rutt, Rev. Jan Grossman, Kevin Dadoly, John Baymore and so many more. They helped me access the inner and outer tools necessary in the process of becoming an authentic person, a better potter and a successful business woman. They are the wise ones who have gone before me, who have done the work both physically, emotionally and spiritually. Now I am able to give that back to the world.
In 2000 I decided it was time to develop and integrate what I had learned by an apprenticeship program. This program is designed to support, teach and develop the personal and professional skills it takes to be a centered, successful working potter. Mentoring is both a personal and career choice. I trained as a spiritual mentor after being ordained as an Interfaith Minister in 2011. This has allowed me to become a very effective listener. I often found students coming fresh out of college wanting to “Be an Artist” yet they would flounder and give up because they had not developed the understanding, stamina, personal ethics or business savvy to be an effective working artist. They needed to learn how to work in the world the way it is. Sometimes they were folks looking to become a potter after being long time students. Some were looking for advice or direction. In the end I settled on developing a 2 year apprenticeship program.
During the first year we looked at what it takes to be in business, what time management can look like, how to self-critique in a healthy way, and how to work and refine their skills. They learn how to run a studio from start to finish and all the behind the scenes work that goes into running a studio such as Loading and unloading work, making glazes, and the how and why of safe Studio practices. We look at what a target market is and so much more. Like my own life, this is all an organic process. We set the agreed goals and we work on them all year. Some pieces take longer than others. I work with the idea of leaving the apprentice ready to take on what they need to do and the self-motivation to do so. I tend to leave a bit of time in between one year to the next, as it is important for the apprentice to integrate what they have learned. When we start the next year, we build on what they have integrated and rework what was not fully understood. I also like to have a community project in mind for the second year. It helps both a transition into competency, and also allows them to have a useful accomplishment that they have done in a community atmosphere. We talk about the importance of giving back. These projects have included, building two wood kilns from repurposed and reclaimed materials, breaking down and moving a studio, setting up a new studio including floor instillation, rebuilding electric kilns and more.
This year we are working on building a wood kiln from the ground up and then firing it to completion, along with Becky’s second year apprenticeship goals, which I have outlined in the proposal. I chose this project because in 2017 I moved from Amherst, NH to Temple, NH. My husband and I built a new home with a south facing studio and gallery on the ground floor. In the moving of the wood kiln from Amherst to Temple, the wood kiln sustained extensive damage. I found myself needing to rebuild the kiln. As opportunity has it, Becky my apprentice also had substantial life changes during that time. She has started her business RG Dolan Art and moved into her first off site studio. She did this after completing her first year of apprenticeship. She has also gotten married and has moved into her first apartment. As you can imagine all of these “firsts” have brought with it quite a few new fiscal responsibilities. She is now ready to finish her second year of the apprenticeship. Both of us are concerned with how she can get here and finish the program. Becky is a wonderfully motivated, creative and hard working person. I have known her throughout her life. Since she was very young, Becky has not wavered from the desire to make a living through her art. She came to me right after college to become immersed in a working pottery so she could learn not only how to apply her artistic skills in a business setting, but also how to create balance in her personal life while being a working artist.
Becky and I are very excited about this opportunity to both financially support her efforts so she can learn to do this work and create a small community kiln in order to continue to give back to this supportive community of potters.