School, Life and NCECA
Like many, I stumbled upon clay rather by accident. Freshmen year electives were all filled up and I was given a choice: ceramics or auto shop. I can honestly say I wasn’t very interested in ceramics but it seemed like the least messy of the two (little did I know). My teacher was Ken Knowles, a former production potter who was both patient and knowledgeable. I remember throwing on an old, metal sand up treadle wheel rather than the lovely Brents that were available. I loved throwing but it wasn’t until my senior year that I fully realized my love for ceramics. Up till that point, I had my heart set on becoming a scientist. With college fast approaching, I decided to dedicate myself to getting a degree in ceramics, much to my parents dismay.
Fast forward 18 years later. Yes, that’s how long it took for me to receive my bachelors. Three years at community college, three universities and more than 10 years off in between, I finally found myself receiving my long awaited degree in ceramics (and another in anthropology).
When I transferred to Cal State Long Beach at the age of 21 in 1997, I had already been studying ceramics for seven years. I was finally on my own, incharge of my life and ceramics took center stage. This was the definitive year of my education and life. Tony Marsh challenged me to question my notions of why I make and for the first time concept was introduced and judged equal, alongside technical ability. It was an inspiring studio, to be surrounded by such masters Tony, Jean Pierre Larocque, Cindy Kolodziejski, Kim Dickey, and the amazingly sweet Jae Won Lee, who helped a shy young girl feel less alone. That year I also met my husband while on a trip with the ceramics department to New York City. I went into his store looking for the latest issue of Ceramics Monthly and the rest as they say, is history.
Unfortunately, I didn’t continue at CSULB. I moved to Oakland, got married, had my son and didn’t touch clay for 6 ½ years. I managed to attended a local university for a year and then took another 4 year hiatus.
In 2009, I found myself at San Jose State University determined to finish. SJSU turned out to be a great fit, except for the four hour round trip commute. The studio was large, well equipped, gave me the freedom to experiment, and both Monica Van Den Dool and Stan Welsh were great. It was however, a very different experience this time around. I no longer had the freedom life gives you as a young twenty-something. Now, I was a wife, mother, and student, who was juggling work, home, and school. But, what I lacked in time, I made up for in determination. I lived two hours from the studio so, I found myself making a lot of work at home and transporting it green. It wasn’t perfect but I found my voice in clay during the few years there.
During my last year of school, I attended my first NCECA in Seattle. I went with a large group from SJSU and literally was bombarded with information. As an NECEA noob, I tried to soak it up and enjoy every second. The panel lecture Distillations and Eruptions: Installation and in particular, the curatorial work of Beth Sellars at Suyama Space, left such an impression that I felt compelled to visit this gallery. That lecture and the subsequent gallery visit profoundly changed my views of my work, it’s self imposed limitations, and the direction it would take from then on.
The more galleries and shows I visited, the more I became acutely aware of the level of exposure NCECA offered. For the past few years, I had participated with SJSU at the California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art. It’s a great conference and always the highlight of the year for students. I expected NCECA to be similar. It did not compare, in size, attendance, scope, or depth. It was like a college football game compared to the superbowl. It’s just on a whole other level. As a student, there are so many opportunities, to gain experience, receive feedback, and most importantly show work. I realized then and there I was determined to be an exhibitor at the next NCECA.
Being in the National Student Juried Exhibition (NSJE) at NCECA 2012, Houston was the highlight of my ceramic career and a real learning experience. I entered two pieces one only a few feet long the other ten feet long. I assumed they wouldn’t choose something that large. I assumed wrong! Because of the delicate nature of my work and the fact that it’s kinetic, I had to come up with a way to ship it. Needless to say, I didn’t but I didn’t let that deter me. I was committed to being in this show so me and my dad drove it 2000 miles from Oakland, Ca to Houston, Tx with all six panels constantly rattling in the backseat. It was totally worth it. Opening night at the Glassell School of Art was amazing. I talked and shook hands with so many people from all over the country and the world. It was great to see that many people experience my work. The level of exposure was tremendous and being selected for the show was a huge honor.
Aside from being in the NSJE, the second most valuable experience for me was the student critique room. I signed up for a critique from Brian Kluge and I was so pleased and impressed with his insight, advice, and feedback. Although your teachers have seen the evolution of your work and know where you’re coming from, having a set of new, experienced eyes is priceless. The 30 minutes offered flew by and it was one of the best critiques, in terms of quality, in my life. I’m so glad that NCECA is offering this. I can’t stress enough how valuable it is and highly recommend it. For me, it came at the perfect time. Giving me fresh perspective with ample time for preparing my portfolio for grad school admission.
It’s only been a year since I graduated and left the title “undergrad” behind. In that time, I’ve been featured in Ceramics Monthly twice, been in my first museum show at the de Saisset Museum, and shown at NCECA, Houston in the NSJE. I achieved more than I expected possible. Clay has already given me so much and looking back on my journey only reaffirms the future I want to create. Continuing to participate in NCECA in all the varied ways possible will be part of that future. I’m really excited about how NCECA continues to grow and adapt in response to the changes within ceramics. So here’s to the 2014 NCECA, Milwaukee and I hope to see you there.
For more on the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of a fledgling artist navigating the waters of ceramicsdom check out my blog at springmontes.blogspot.com