While I was at Ghost Ranch two weeks ago (see my post “Escaping to an Artful Landscape”) I took a 5-day long pit firing workshop. Long before we had electric and gas kilns to fire clay, indigenous people including Native Americans, extracted their clay from local deposits and fired their ceramic ware in pits they dug into the earth. Wood, droppings and other combustible materials were placed around the pots and then
covered with shards, moist clay or more wood. The pit was then lit on fire and tended for hours. This is the oldest known method of firing pottery.
Though pit fired ware is generally not as sturdy as those fired at higher temperatures in modern kilns, they can be quite beautiful- especially if the surface is burnished beforehand. Depending on where the pot is in the pit can affect how the surface responds to flame, smoke, and oxygen. The addition of other salts around the pots can also create colorful patterns. Ceramic artists today are modifying the basic techniques and achieving
stunning results. I’ve been attracted to this method since it is so primitive & close to natural processes. Beautiful useful and decorative items can be created using only the four elements (there is water in the clay).
Due to time constraints and high fire danger at the time, we had to modify our firing methods. Instead of digging pits we had to fire in galvanized tubs and had to fire for shorter amounts of time. Our pieces did not achieve the range of colors that can be possible. Still, I understood the process, had fun, and plan to try this behind my home clay studio.
Below are are some of the pieces I made during the workshop.
The 3 sheep were inspired by the black sheep running loose on the ranch. I identify with black sheep!
Our lives are frittered away by detail…simplifly, simplify. Henry David Thoreau
Transitioning from my art retreat at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico back to my home base has not been an easy one (see my last post). For one blessed week, I did not have to drive, deal with purchasing or preparing my food or tending house in my basic camp style lodgings. My life was structured with making art, eating communal meals, hiking and other activities that were provided. Cell phone service was non-existent and Wi-Fi sketchy. The news of the world was kept at bay. I did not miss any of it.
So I am back. I do enjoy my own bed, my partner, my dogs, but dealing with the complexity of daily life again is daunting. Not only are there the domestic chores that my house and yard present, but then there is the pile of mail, email, computer tasks for my art and other business that needs tending. It is easy for my creative pursuits to get put on the back burner. This modern world we live in is rife with distraction. I miss the simplicity of life at Ghost Ranch.
But, this is my reality. For the last week, I put my head down and got into bull-dozer mode catching up on everything from laundry to weeding the garden. Now I am back to finding more balance. I have to schedule my art time and keep it sacred less it gets eaten away. This is a constant challenge. If I don’t write or create something every day I get moody. It’s a spiritual food. After being away, I realize that my life needs to be simplified so I can concentrate on those things most important to me. Next year the garden will be smaller, we will get more help around the yard. I will be purging the house of lots of stuff that is no longer needed and take myself off mailing lists.
Everyone should have a special place that brings a sense of belonging and rejuvenation, where you can leave the cares of the world behind and just focus on nature, relaxation and creative pursuits. I just returned from one of my special places, Ghost Ranch Education & Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico where I attended a pit firing workshop. Being there is like stepping into a Georgia O’keefe painting. She lived and worked on this very property.
Here I am with a tribe of other creative and like-minded people. We are hikers, writers,
singers, welders, quilters painters, printmakers, and ceramic artists. The ideas and energy we share in our individual workshops and at communal mealtimes is infectious. This is important to me as an artist for I work alone and need an inflow of new inspiration to keep my own creative fires burning. There is a camaraderie that is quickly built in a brief week here.
For several summers I have returned to Ghost Ranch Retreat Center to take art welding under the tutelage of Tom Nichols and Connie Burkhardt. It’s a glorious week of fire, camaraderie & creativity. I’m always amazed at what the glow of the oxyacetylene torch can create.
I traveled to the small village of Ballycastle, Ireland in early June to take a week-long printmaking workshop at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation. The instructor, Ron Pokrasso is from Santa Fe, New Mexico. It would have been a cheaper option to take the class in “Beyond Monotype” at his home studio but I have been to Santa Fe numerous times and was looking forward to exploring new territory. Since I love Irish music & culture and loathe hot weather, Ireland seemed like an ideal location.
Travel for the sake of travel is not my thing (see my post “The Reluctant Traveler”). Wandering around looking at tourist attractions is tedious for me. If I have no other purpose to be there other than being just an observer, I am bored. Give me a sense of purpose and I am engaged. In the past, Spanish language immersions with homestays gave me the opportunity to experience Mexico & Central America on an intimate level.
Then about eight years ago, I realized if I was going to get serious about my art without domestic distractions, I was going to travel away from home and immerse myself in creativity for a good week. I was fortunate to discover Ghost Ranch Retreat Center in N. New Mexico where I have returned most summers to get a creative & spiritual boost. Even though I plan to return there in the future, I am widening my options now to other locations.
It’s been my experience that when I travel with a purpose, not only do I learn more skills, I develop deeper social & cultural connections. There are so many options to chose from in this regard. During this trip, we ran into an enthusiastic group traveling with a knitting and spinning focus. There are trips and classes that are focused on gardening, photography, history, you name it. Next year I hope to go to an Irish music camp in North Carolina.
If you are a reluctant traveler, as I am, or an experienced traveler, consider traveling to creativity in the future. It will definitely add new dimensions to your skill set and give your travel more depth.