Clay Meets Martha's Vineyard

When clay and travel are paired, amazing things happen.  Earlier this month Clay Art Center led a 3-day workshop excursion to Martha's Vineyard. Eleven lucky individuals were in the capable hands of master potter Jeff Shapiro, and were housed and fed (very well) by friends of Clay Art Center, David & Kitty Vickery. Being in a new (stunning) environment with other lovers of clay unlocked our creativity, rejuvenated our spirits and got us hungry for more - more time in the studio and more clay in new places.  I had the pleasure of joining this trip as Executive-Director-turned-workshop-tech, but left as fulfilled as my fellow students. I want to give special thanks to our hosts, the Vickery's, who hatched up this plan with Jeff and then proceeded to spoil us all weekend long with delicious food and glorious environs to live and work in. 

Jeff's workshop was all about an alternative approach to handbuilding with slabs.  But really it was about how to be loose and let things happen with clay.  First we wedged a bunch of coarse grog into the clay, then, using nothing but a wire tool and some sticks, we went to town cutting slabs and throwing them onto various surfaces around the studio to stretch and push the clay to its limits.  This controlled yet loose action revealed textures that only clay can make on its own - the trick was then not to touch it much once we got those luscious breaks and cracks in the surface of the clay.

The next step was to let the slabs harden up, so it was time to explore Martha's Vineyard.  While some of us took walks through the surrounding woods, others went to the beach to see the colorful cliffs of Aquinah (we were told we could not take the clay.  Darn). Then it was back to the main house for some Paella and cocktails. I told you they spoiled us!

The next day Jeff demonstrated how use our slabs to build vessels of all shapes and sizes, being careful to design pieces that best revealed the stretched surfaces. It was tricky to find the balance between handling and not handling too much, to keep things looking fresh.  The key is not to fuss too much, I think. It takes practice.

On Saturday afternoon we made our way into Vineyard Haven and had some time to explore a little bit before we met at The Black Dog for a quintessential Martha's Vineyard meal.  I figured we should get the opportunity to play tourist for a little bit.  

On the last morning, we gathered once again in the glass-surrounded studio to talk together about what we made. Jeff handled each piece and commented on what to think about going forward, should we bring this way of working back to our studios. 

It was truly a new experience for me, and I enjoyed every minute of it!  Please enjoy a few pictures from our time together.  I hope YOU can join us on our next workshop excursion.  I am sure there will be more!

- Leigh Taylor Mickelson, Executive Director