Slonim Dreams, 19 in. (48 cm) in height, red earthenware, terra sigillata, and gold leaf, by Emmett Leader, 2006. Photo: John Polak.
Tipping Point: Auto Industry, 5 in. (13 cm) in height, by Joan Takayama Ogawa, 2008.
Two tall bottles, to 59 in. (1.5 m) in height, wood-fired stoneware,
The Secret Identity (Identitea) Under Red Pigtails, 40 in. (102 cm) in
Teapots, to 7 in. (18 cm) in height, wood-fired porcelain, by Michael McCarthy, 2007.
It has never been easy to make a living through handmade ceramics, whether you’re an artisan, a gallery owner, an arts center, or a school. Here is an example of how all four constituencies came together to promote the art and culture of their region. The trick? It would need to be economically feasible and advantageous for all parties, to expand the potential audience for everyone involved, and benefit those participating in a way otherwise not achievable. In short, it would require a lot of creativity and cooperation.
Ferrin Gallery, a for-profit gallery with a specialty in ceramics, routinely collaborates with nonprofit organizations to bring artists together with collectors. This type of partnership develops collectorship while also providing support for the institutions involved. This fall, gallery co-owner Leslie Ferrin has coordinated a series of events in the Berkshires that bring together artists and board members involved with Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine, and a nearby ceramics program at the IS183 Art School in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. “We support and involve ourselves with the institutions that provide the artists we represent with places to develop ideas, learn techniques, and inspire one another,” states Ferrin. “Teaching and residency opportunities further develop the network that makes up what is now becoming an international community of artists and collectors. In addition to a long-term relationship with Watershed, through our artists, we work with several artist residency programs in the U.S. and abroad, including Penland School of Crafts in Penland, North Carolina, the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana, and the LH Project in Joseph, Oregon.”
This article appeared in Ceramics Monthly magazine’s October 2009 issue. To get great content like this delivered right to your door, subscribe today!
Working closely with the directors of Watershed (Tyler Gulden) and IS183 Art School (Hope Sullivan), Ferrin designed a weekend full of events and programs for collectors, professionals, and students interested in ceramics. This type of collaboration builds on previous events, tours, and dinners, including those Ferrin has run for The Renwick Alliance and the Mint Museum of Craft + Design. This year’s event brings all of these ideas together on Columbus Day weekend, for a three-day series of events during the peak fall foliage season so visitors coming from throughout the country can enjoy exploring “The Best of the Berkshires.” Area residents and regional collectors can participate in any or all of the daily events.
The weekend begins with “Locally Thrown/Locally Grown,” a community fund-raising dinner, auction, and art sale to benefit IS183’s ceramics department, and will feature foods from nearby farms and centerpieces by the art school’s faculty. Chris Gustin-potter, sculptor, and founding board member of Watershed-will be the evening’s speaker. “This is a great opportunity to sup with the potters,” says Don Thomas, a New York City-based collector and Watershed board member. “I think all of this is a wonderful way for those of us who aren’t artists to honor the artists, and that’s something we need to do.”
The following day, Gustin will present a two-hour wheel-throwing demonstration that is open to the public. “Having Chris teach at IS183 is one example of cross-pollination between artists,” notes Ferrin. Hope Sullivan, the school’s executive director, reiterates the benefits of collaboration. “The complementary timing of IS183’s dinner, the hosting of Chris Gustin at the dinner, and his demo the following day . . . is a great example of creative industry-profit and non-profit collaborating to more richly serve our separate constituencies,” she says. “IS183 is about creating access for our community to the joy and process of art-making. However, to benefit our faculty-the resource that we represent-bringing gallerists, collectors, and appreciators into the studio community is critical.”
Ferrin centered the events of the weekend on the opening of a group show including new work from thirteen artists from across the country for whom she had arranged two-week residencies-funded by individual collectors, teaching institutions, and collector groups-at Watershed in 2005. “I started with the idea that there were artists that the Ferrin Gallery was associated with who had never worked together in the same space,” she says. “I thought time in the studio together would feed the creative process.” Four of the artists were from Western Massachusetts; the others came from the West Coast (Connie Kiener and Susan Thayer from Oregon, Kathryn McBride and Joan Takayama-Ogawa from California); the Southeast (Karen Marie Portaleo and Red Weldon Sandlin from Georgia, Michael Sherrill from North Carolina); and the Midwest (Paul Dresang from St. Louis). Their work ranges from functional stoneware to ornate porcelain sculpture. Joining the group was Melissa Post, from the Mint Museum of Craft + Design in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she served as curator. (She’s now curator of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington.) The group converged at SOFA New York, after which, recounts Ferrin, “We got in a van and drove to Maine.”
Gulden, a program director at Watershed at the time, distinctly recalls the residency period: “In a situation where they weren’t expected to be on display, the magic of that group was that they took on a structure of their own, sharing their techniques with each other.”
Ferrin saw the residency as a time for creative cross-pollination. “The whole point of Watershed is process, not product,” she says. “It was an interesting gestation period, a time of sharing ideas, sharing inspiration. They explored different kinds of materials, techniques, and concepts. All the artists came out of it having moved their thoughts further. The work that came out that fall was very impressive.” Several of the artists produced major new pieces, some of which were acquired by museums, and some of which went on view when Ferrin staged a reunion of sorts at SOFA 2006.
The Ferrin Gallery continues to show works by these artists as well as others affiliated with Watershed. Additionally, on the second day of events, Ferrin Gallery will preview its annual “Studio Pottery Invitational” exhibition.
On Sunday, the final day of events, all four local artists who participated in the 2005 Watershed residency- Emmett Leader, Michael McCarthy, Mark Shapiro, and Mara Superior-along with their peers Sergei Isupov and Sam Taylor, will participate in a hilltown studio tour, “The Kilns of Western Massachusetts.” According to Gulden, “The tour brings the residency experience full circle. This ties together the artists’ work and their time at Watershed in a direct way.”
Like most of the artists on the hilltown studio tour, Mark Shapiro’s life and work are grounded in the region’s heritage. “I’m an amateur historian of vernacular historical traditions in clay and other decorative arts,” he explains. “I live in a 200-year-old house. I’m making wood-fired functional stoneware pottery, which has been made in New England for 250 years. There’s a lot of continuity in that tradition-I’m actively aware of that.” Shapiro has a large collection of 18th and 19th century salt-glazed stoneware, with an emphasis on New England and New York, and frequently lectures on early American pottery. “My work doesn’t reproduce it,” he states, “It encompasses it.” He cites his location as an integral element of his work. “Where we live, here in the hilltowns, is a particular place. It has resisted the kinds of reproductive development that have happened in so many other places.” Adds Ferrin, “All the studio potters on this tour are collectors of historic pottery from the area and often use that type of salt, stoneware, or earthenware pottery as source material for forms and surfaces.”
While this weekend is tightly focused on pottery, the Berkshire region presents a unique opportunity to place ceramics in the context of the broader world of art. Many artists choose to live in this largely rural community because of its vast cultural assets-not just the inspiring, history-rich landscape, but also vital scholarly and exhibiting institutions such as The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), Williams College Museum of Art, Berkshire Museum, Hancock Shaker Village, Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio, and Norman Rockwell Museum. These cultural resources not only reflect the heritage of arts in the Berkshires, but also support it, as all have realized the mutual benefits of collaboration in growing and supporting the region’s creative economy.
“What we have in the Berkshire region is unique to us,” says Ferrin. “It is by no means the reason we can do this type of collaboration.” Whether you live in a rural or urban community, this type of co-programing should stand as an example of what is possible when institutions, organizations, and individual artists partner for the benefit of all, work as a team, and think long term.
the author Bess Hochstein is a freelance writer and editor living in Tyringham, Massachusetts. She has written for numerous national and regional print and online publications, including the Boston Globe, RuralIntelligence.com, Berkshire Living magazine, and Healing Lifestyles & Spas. Find out more at www.besshochstein.com.