Remembering Doug Baldwin: 1939 – 2018

Remembering Doug Baldwin: 1939 – 2018

Doug Baldwin. Our Doug. Our Duck Man. How can it be that there will be no more red clay ducks in falling from his fingertips? Who will tell the stories of how artists and other peculiar humans behave in all kinds of situations through the metaphor of a few hundred ducks, or a few thousand ducks? Or maybe a million ducks? Doug, you left us too soon with the present stories of our time still needing your narrative. 

Doug’s warmth, humor and keen awareness of the human condition gave voice to so many of us again and again as ducks large, small and in multitudes acted out our experiences.  His Great Duck Pottery School Series speaks to students and makers who have had a life in ceramics, portraying our first sad attempts at throwing bowls and firing kilns. We are able to laugh at ourselves, our teachers and  our colleagues with him, a warm and gentle laugh, a knowing chuckle. We are able to enjoy sports and games not as static sculptural statements, but as immediately engaged participants, and enjoying the familiarity and foibles of ourselves and our fellow humans, even if we are created by Doug Baldwin as just ducks.

Doug was wholeheartedly committed to the studio, making art every day, making the ducks and their environments all the time. But the making was not a solitary pursuit for Doug; it was, like the finished pieces, a shared pursuit.  And sharing that joy of making infused Doug’s life and interactions with everyone he touched. Here in Baltimore, Doug cheerfully, readily, shared the resources, his professional networks and the students of Maryland Institute College of Art with Baltimore Clayworks and scores of other artists and organizations.  He connected institutions by sending  interns to work and learn in community settings. He held gatherings in his home for artists to show images and talk about their work.  Doug not only created communities of ducks, he created communities of artists and students. national and international, united by clay.

Volker Schoenfliess, a Baltimore Clayworks co-founder, sculptor, and head of ceramics at Baltimore School for the Arts remembers, ”He was a kind and quirky influence. I never had him as an instructor, but met him through the clay circuit. I remember the events he held at his Bolton Hill home, and once had the honor of being invited to give a slide presentation of my work there. Thank you Doug.”

A particularly significant collaboration took place in 1992  when three Baltimore institutions-Maryland Institute, Baltimore Clayworks and the Contemporary Museum- joined forces to site Jimmy Clark’s brilliantly curated “Contemporary East European Ceramics” in the former St. Stanislaus Convent.  Doug had travelled extensively in Eastern Europe, and took a special  interest in hosting artists Jindra Vikova (Czech Republic) and Czelaw Podlesny (Poland), involving them with Baltimore’s communities and Maryland Institute students.  This phenomenal exhibition and its programs with the artists were visited by more than 2,500 individuals over a six week period. One Saturday evening Doug called the organizers to let us know that Jindra was hosting a breakfast the next morning in her apartment, and that we must come. When we arrived, we found a beaming Doug seated with Jindra and her husband, Pavel Banka, at the kitchen table with only some paper plates and plastic cups, a  large Braunsweiger sausage, a knife  and a bottle of Jim Beam.  Jindra announced, “We are having a little Viskey Brunch.” Doug with a benevolent smile proudly said, “This was all her idea.” And we joined in!

Encouraging people to move forward with an individual vision, without judgement but with an inclusive spirit was a hallmark of Doug’s teaching and professional interactions. Whether preparing to attend NCECA, frequently in the company of Dennis Parks and Verne Funk, and finding ways to get students to the conference, collaborating on an exhibition with Baltimore Clayworks, or teaching a room full of undergraduate first- time clay students, Doug’s attitude and his stance was to give things a try and see what happens. He would say about most things – “don’t worry too much about technique”.  

Ron Lang, Doug’s colleague and co-conspirator in clay at Maryland Institute framed it this way,  “ He was an inspirational muse for four decades of devoted students at MICA. Doug’s teaching made space for the students to really be themselves and in doing so, he gave them permission to be more authentic and to take bigger risks.”

Kim Robledo, now a program director at Cooper-Hewitt, the Smithsonian’s design museum in New York, says of her undergraduate years (1991-95) as a ceramics major with Doug, “ Doug always encouraged the possible. I guess when a man spends his clay career making thousands of ducks, he has the power to make you believe there is no idea that clay cannot explore. I thank Doug for giving me this gift as an artist. I also thank him for showing me how to properly eat a Maryland crab.”

Anthony Stellachio, one of Doug’s students and the newly minted Director of Studio Potter and a member of  the  International Academy of Ceramics,  credits Doug with being a major career influence. He says, “Doug Baldwin is one of those people whom I think about and marvel at how my life might have been different without him. He connected me to Eastern Europe, a favorite haunt of his, and that has affected – even defined – my personal and professional life even today.” 

“Doug didn’t do that because he was a larger than life personality who singled me out for my potential and decided to change my life. No, Doug was a humble and quiet man with a generous spirit. He believed in the potential of all of his students, and he did anything he could for them.  Well, he did everything he could for them except give us assignments. In fact, the only instruction he ever gave us as sophomores was to “fill up the table” with work. Doug trusted us, and he thought of us as artists. God bless him, some of us still are. 

Regardless of the influence that Doug had on his students at Maryland Institute and artists here in Baltimore, Doug longed to be in his native Montana and always planned to retire there.  He did just that in 2004, moving close to his daughter Tracy and his grandchildren. That was where he felt grounded and alive. Doug was extremely productive in Montana and made numerous duck- populated pieces about “these Montana woodfiring potters”. He became involved with film and video, using this work as content. Once he called me to talk about The Clay Studio of Missoula, where he found a warm and welcoming community of like-minded makers who were down to earth and accepting. He was clearly at home in Missoula. 

Doug and his ducks will forever remain a singular artistic legacy in the field of ceramics. But more than the actual physical genius of the work he leaves in the world, for those of us who knew and loved him, he leaves behind a legacy of all that is authentic, good and cherished in clay: a lifelong commitment to the studio, inspired and intentional teaching, and a genuine, unselfish impulse to advance the ceramic well being of others. Doug Baldwin set the bar much higher in his time among us. 

December 15, 2018

Deborah Bedwell, ceramic artist

Founding Executive Director, Baltimore Clayworks

Past –President, NCECA (2012-2017)

Demonstrate at NCECA!

Demonstrate at NCECA!

You know you’ve got it, and we want you to show it! We need to see it! We want to hear it! And now we’re asking…Please consider applying to be the demonstrating artist for NCECA in Portland in 2017!

As we jump right into planning our 51st conference in Portland, Oregon, the NCECA board is encouraging accomplished ceramic artists to step onto the stage, make that stage their studio, and become the memorable makers of the conference. ALWAYS popular, anticipated with excitement, well-attended if not “packed”, the demonstrations and the demonstrators give our members something memorable, tangible and most of all inspiring to take back to their own studios.

If you have taught ceramics to almost anyone, you know how gratifying it is to be able to open up the world of clay to a student.  Think about those first encounters that you have provided for others: eyes widen, an expectant quiet descends, and for a brief period you are a rock star – you demonstrate your way of making. Then come the questions – “How do you…?” and a better one, “Why do you….?”, and you continually enlighten, clarify and unwrap the visual. You have just made possibility for students, and you’ve created an understanding of process and practice. You are TEACHING! And don’t you love how that feels?

Teaching to an audience who knows something of what you are doing as your life’s work, an audience who shares your love of the material, who values the dues you have paid, the kilns you have fired, the pounds – no tons – of clay you have wedged, reclaimed and transformed, would be gratification amplified. It will feel great. You will be able to tell your story, or the parts of it you want your audience to appreciate. You will be able to show some of who you are and why you have made critical life choices. You will be able to touch lives and make a difference – perhaps many times over.

So that is WHY you should apply to be a demonstrator for NCECA, and did we leave out making your work known to educators, curators and others who create workshop, lecture and exhibition programs for their institutions?  HOW to apply, including the compensation for being a demonstrating artist, is right here on the NCECA website.

The NCECA board will consider all of the submissions while seeking an overall balance of handbuilding, throwing, sculpture, functional work, male and female artists. It encourages international artists. At the end of the day, NCECA will choose based on the applications received that indicate artistic excellence and any comments that members have made on post-conference surveys.

Are you sold yet? Please give yourself, your career, and your colleagues the spark that you deserve. Click here and send NCECA your application to be a demonstrating artist for NCECA. You’ll be a rock star and the field of ceramics will thank you!

Bylaw revision vote ends this week!

Bylaw revision vote ends this week!

Dear NCECA Members,

As an institution, we have an important proposed amendment of our by-laws before our membership. We have a voting deadline of this Friday, July 30, and I am writing to encourage every member to log on to the website and vote your conscience with a full understanding of why the amendment was proposed.  If you are unsure of how to vote with the electronic system, take a look at the 45 second video below:

The amendment proposed and adopted by the board as a positive change to allow all officers (Treasurer in the coming year) to be appointed as the President-Elect is now.  The Directors at Large (3) and the Student Directors at Large (2) would continue to run for office, making an informational video about themselves, and acquaint all members to make an informed choice whether or not they attend the conference.  The membership in its entirety can vote electronically.

The by-law change would allow nominations from the full membership to be considered by the Nominations Committee, which is separate and distinct from the Executive Committee. The Nominations Committee consists of the immediate Past-President (chair), the President-Elect, one Director-at-Large, one Student Director-at-Large, one Honor or Fellow, and one member-at- large. It is a reflection of NCECA. This Nominations Committee will discuss with candidates the scope of the job, consider their experience and willingness to serve, and finally propose a candidate to the board. A 2/3 or greater majority of the board would be required for approval.

What is important to remember is that we are ALL members of NCECA, and that board members rotate off and on through support of the membership. Aside from being elected or appointed, we all have NCECA’s best interests at heart. No one is paid to be a board member, and in fact all board members are requested to make a “sacrificial” contributed financial gift in addition to being away from studios, families and classrooms to serve.

Recently there were shared viewpoints opposed to the proposed NCECA bylaws amendment; the implication was that a board appointed treasurer, rather than an elected one, would corrupt electoral process and be detrimental to our mission. Some of those viewpoints were based on inaccuracies.

First, the primary role of the Treasurer, whether appointed or elected, is oversight of the council’s finances and their appropriate use towards NCECA’s mission.  It is far more common for a Treasurer to be appointed through processes within the scope of any 501 c-3 nonprofit arts board than to stand for popular election, in part for this reason. Organizations want the best-qualified person for the role, which is not always the same as the one that gets the most votes in an election. Furthermore, almost all arts nonprofits use the nominating committee to identify and “vet” candidates, and put the most qualified of willing volunteers forward for board approval.

In today’s NCECA, there are systems for controlling the possible inappropriate use of council funds. Each year, the Board of Directors reviews and approves an annual budget. The Executive Director and Bookkeeper/Accountant are charged with managing this budget. In the event that necessary expenditures appear to diverge from the approved budget, the Executive Director brings these to the attention of the Executive Committee and the full board may be asked to vote on a budget variance.

In this model, NCECA’s Treasurer does not have direct access to a bank account, nor does NCECA conduct its business through cash transactions. The Bookkeeper/Accountant cuts checks based on the budget and verifiable invoices that must be approved by the Executive Director. The Executive Director is required to inform the President and the Treasurer when individual payments in excess of $6000 are made to any single vendor.

The Bookkeeper/Accountant is a hired position requiring very specific qualifications. She has far more responsibility for cash handling and transactions than the Treasurer, however she does not use the council’s funds without approval from senior staff, and when required. specific board members.  Additionally, NCECA undergoes an annual external audit that verifies its financial condition and procedures according to standards of best nonprofit fiscal practices.

NCECA’s Board Treasurer provides oversight of our organization’s financial position and advises about possible future risks, opportunities and strategies. The Treasurer actively participates in a periodic meeting of the NCECA Finance and Executive Committee to review the performance of investments and reconciled quarterly financial statements. Collectively, these systems of operations, review and advisement are not under the control of any lone member of NCECA’s Board of Directors. In summation, NCECA’s Board put forward this amendment because we believe it is in the best interests of our organization and its members. The screening/interview process is more likely to arrive at these qualifications than a popular vote. Please do vote, and vote before Friday. Thanks so much.  Once again, here’s that video on how to vote: