In 2012 I had my first child. I was thrilled to welcome this new person into our home and life. The summer months with her gave me small snippets of time to work in the studio. Nursing a tiny baby gave me countless hours of quiet, solitary, thinking and dreaming.
When my daughter was 5 months old my husband had a nasty bike accident that left him with a broken collarbone. Suddenly I found myself feeling more like a mother of two than the parent of an only child. There were now two helpless people in my house that were unable to put on their socks and feed themselves. The time I did have for my studio completely dissolved into the hours I cared for my family members and the days spent being employed by a college.
Simultaneously, I become aware of new emotions and shifting priorities that many women encounter. In relation to new roles, work, and yes, that pesky monster the feeling of guilt when one earns the title of mom. Guilt when we are not with our children and in a studio. Guilt when we are with our babies and know that there are mugs that might not get their handles.
And what about maternity leave? We talk about it in relation to our employer but how does this type of leave work with our studio? Who approves that leave? What will happen if I don’t make artwork for a month, 6 weeks, 12 weeks, or more? Will my studio practice still be valid?
Sure I could go attend a new mom’s meeting, but the women in that group knew nothing about the demands of a clay studio practice. Likewise, I could go to a clay group (if I found child care) but that didn’t seem like the appropriate space to bring up issues of maternity.
I wondered how women develop a successful sense of balance and place as both artists and mothers. I realized that I was completely ill-prepared for this subject. Until this juncture in my life I had never taken stock of my own gender. Sure I knew I was a female but that had never mattered to me. I was raised by a strong Scotch-German Iowa farmwoman whose parents were survivors of the great depression. Gender played no role in my mom’s thinking or her aptitude at tackling any facet of life. It was now clear to me that I too was carrying some of the same beliefs. I had never considered my feminine identity.
Throughout the years I have made many wonderful clay friends. I encountered teachers and mentors whose relationships I continue to cherish in both my formal and informal training. However, the majority of these individuals were men, and both of the prominent professors that guided my education were childless men.
No. I didn’t think my circumstance or story is all that unique. I understand that women find themselves in unfamiliar places as they enter motherhood. Babies, children, and their circumstances can up heave the practices and timing once mastered. That small being is often much more important than the studio. However, the sense of isolation I was feeling made me want to build a community that ought to exist and be more visible.
It was at this juncture that I had an epiphany and wanted to answer the question, how does a female artist navigate this uncharted territory? The desire for maternal artist camaraderie and the elimination of negative stereotypes associated with such a topic were the ultimate driving forces behind the development of this dialogue and community of artist/mothers.
In 2013 I began surveying, interviewing and documenting a cross section of ceramic artists who are also mothers. Taking a multiple month break from the project to overcome the morning sickness accompanied by my second pregnancy and later the arrival of my son in 2014. I sought to examine how children, or the circumstances of their lives as they include them, change and impact the work these artists choose to make and/or how they make it. My questions have covered studio practice, time management, life balance, home, relationships, child care, and aesthetics. I also asked interviewees whom they view as a role model artist/mother in the ceramic field. Ultimately, I found myself intrigued by the common threads that ran through the conversations and how each of the women found their way in balancing life and studio practice.
In our contemporary ceramic community many women have gracefully and successfully tackled the lively experiment that is being both artist and mother. Mothering is a complex subject that touches many aspects of an artist’s life and practice. These dual roles simultaneously impact each other both practically and conceptually. As many women have discovered, to experience maternity is to epitomize the vessel. This along with clay’s often-recognized metaphoric relationship to the stages of life itself, provides artists who utilize clay in their work a unique perspective on the dynamic art/motherhood experiment.
The goal of www.bothartistandmother.com is to present an ongoing digital record of interviews and stories from women artist/mothers. Additionally, the project has presented the women involved with an exhibition opportunity at the annual NCECA conference in Providence, RI and a forthcoming show at Red Lodge Clay Center in 2017.
My hope is that this project will provide insight and encouragement to talented female artists, which in turn impacts the field’s future. Initially the site includes profiles of 11 artist/mothers. The website’s completion and audio editing was made possible through an Academic Innovation Fund Grant from my employer, St. Olaf College. I hope to repeat the original interview format and audio editing with an additional selection of artist/mothers in the future, pending a funding source or opportunity. Currently, site visitors are able to listen to or download interviews with the artists, read transcriptions of the dialogues and view links to related information, events, and exhibits. The website’s flexible format will accommodate an ever-expanding narrative and exchange of stories designed to offer a sense of community and awareness for artist/mothers.
To learn more about this project I invite you to visit the website www.bothartistandmother.com. If you have questions, an idea you want to share, or would like more information please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.