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memoirs of a kiln priestess - continuation of undergraduate years

updated sat 12 aug 06


Martie (a.k.a. the Kiln Priestess) on fri 11 aug 06

"Memoirs of a Kiln Priestess" installment three, "Continuation of My
Undergraduate Years"
By Dr. Martie Geiger-Ho

How and why people become inspired by different experiences is one of
life=92s great mysteries. For example, I cannot explain why I chose to
fixate on kiln gods while my colleagues all decided to follow in the
footsteps of great ceramists like Wayne Higby, Peter Volkous, Vern Funk,
Karen Karnes or John and Andrea Gill to name just a few. I guess that
maybe it was because I had always counted on my fearless kiln gods to get
me through my late night kiln yard escapades, that I began to think of
them as more than just popular symbols of the potters=92 craft. Vigilant,
noble, and never critical of my work, my kiln gods really did at times
seem to be my allies and mediators between the inhospitable world of fire
and the often frustrating world of real time art making.

My romance with kiln gods began when I was still an impressionable young
student. Back then our professors ran things with precision order.
Everyone was expected to follow the usual rules like no cooking in the
kilns (unless of course the meal was clay wrapped chicken and there was
enough to go around); no cremations of any kind in the saggar kiln; and no
nudity unless your name was Paul Soldner. As budding ceramists we were
told that in order to make it in the rough and tumble world of art that we
would have to do a lot of soul searching, eschew material wealth and learn
to subsist on Smack Ramin, and above all, graduate. I think that this last
bit of advice was a hint aimed at a small colorful band of students who
had been exhibiting their ceramic handi-work work at the local head-shop
since the founding of the art department. We were also told that in order
to make it as ceramists that we would need to learn how to write an
artist=92s statement filled with passionate words and educated sounding
phrases like, =93paradigm shift,=94 =93pushing the envelope,=94 and my favor=
ite, =93
point of departure.=94 The ultimate test of our worthiness as future potters=

would of course lie in our ability to be consummate =93mark makers.=94 I lik=
this last requirement best because I believed that I was very qualified
and up to challenge of mark making. In the era of =93let-it-all-hang-out=94
mark-making meant that the artist should feel free and uninhibited about
expressing their inner creative desires on the surface of their pots and
sculptures. Although, I must confess that I was more uptight than most of
my laid-back art-school friends about most things in general, I was no
shrinking violet when it came to mark-making and I was able to get into
the groove of distressfully denting and archaically scratching my work
with the best of them.

Life seemed simpler back when I was an undergraduate student. There were
only a couple of ceramic publications to keep up with and we got most of
our information from Ceramics Monthly or from other people who were
fortunate enough to go to NCECA. Although it is difficult to believe, we
also didn=92t have Clayart either!!! It was a pretty primitive time. No
wonder everyone was making kiln gods and swapping stories related to kiln

The university that I attended way back when was a hot-bed of ceramic
debate. Critiques were always emotionally charged events where students
argued a lot about the =93intent=94 of their work. A typical undergraduate
critique discussion usually went something like this:

Prof: =93Hmmm=85 I see that you are still intent on making three-holed vase=
Could you please tell me a little more about the content behind your
current body of work?

Student: Uh, well, um, you-know, um, its like cosmic radiation. I just get
these explosions of ideas and then, I um, make them =96 man.

Prof: I really don=92t see any evidence of an explosive direction in your
work. I=92ll tell you what I think =96 I think that you are making articles
that are designed to function as=85

Student cutting off professor: No man! No way! I don=92t do that functional
stuff =96 I am an artist seeking . . .

Usually, just about the time that our critiques were heating up they would
be interrupted by shrieking sirens and flashing lights, which usually
meant one of two things: we had to evacuate the building because of a bomb
threat; or someone forgot to notify the fire-department before starting
the saggar kiln.

All kidding aside, a lot of serious work and learning did take place in
the ceramics department, and the research that we undertook at the time
helped to prepare us for our respective ceramic careers. A lot has changed
in the ceramic field over the years, but a lot has also remained the same.
I am now the person responsible for guiding students along their
individual paths of ceramic exploration and for providing them with the
tools and skills necessary to debate and answer the age old question -
just what exactly does one do with a three-holed vase?