Michael Strand on Gail Kendall as his Mentor for Lineage: the Art of Mentorship

Lineage 9
Lineage 9

I met Gail Kendall on a trip to Lincoln, NE after being accepted into the graduate program at the University of Nebraska. We were having lunch at a Pho' joint in downtown Lincoln and it was Pete Pinnell's first year at UNL, they were ready to launch the first class in the new UNL era. The subject came up of where else I was applying. I let them know that I had been accepted at two other schools, one for painting and one for ceramics. Gail let me finish then exclaimed “Well, I can see why you would want to attend either of those schools, but if you do decide on that it will be a big mistake... and here is why. You want to go to a school that is on the rise and not living off prior success...In five years UNL will be one of the top ceramic programs in the country, and THAT is where you should be”. Gail was respectful of these two institutions, but she knew where the program was going. I was immediately inspired and knew where I was going. It was more than the words, or the directness it was the absolute confidence in what she said. As an unsure, wandering soul (with some talent) – it was clear that Gail would be an anchor. And she has been. For twenty years. Far, far more than I could have imagined that day over marginal Vietnamese cuisine.

Gail has scolded me for writing in a passive voice and at the same time nurtured my ability to think about the world through a poetic lens. We have cried over Paul Wellstone and celebrated Obama. We talked about pots, and feet, and undercuts and bevels and our shared love of Clive Bowen pots. And through these times over tea in her studio at Woods Hall or in South Lincoln, what grew is the unmistakable connection that only mentorship can provide. Mentorship is about the heart, about loving someone and being vulnerable enough to hear the things you may not want to hear, but trusting that person enough to listen.

For twenty years I have had the great fortune of having Gail Kendall either thirty feet away in her studio, or thirty seconds away via cell phone. And now as colleagues at the end of those phone calls I am moved to end our conversations in the same manner I will end this homage to a great mentor.

“I love you Gail”.  ~Michael Strand