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You know it's time to give up when even the silk plants drop leaves.

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Workshop Thoughts

This year has been a bit crazy with lots of stuff going on, some path changes new focus on applying to gallery shows, etc, etc.  I had already planned to go to Penland School of Crafts in March when I was selected to be a Studio Assistant for Linda and Charlie Riggs (that was such a great class).  Because of that I didn't plan to go back to the mountain this summer except to be a volunteer for the auction.  Then, a few days ago I saw a post on Facebook that they had a few scholarships available.  It's rare that they have any open for clay this late into the summer but I thought I'd check it out anyway.  They did have one for session 6 which is right after the auction.  Yes!  I applied for it right away and was awarded the scholarship.  I'm so happy.

Recently I read the introduction to "The Art of the Future" by Paul Mathieu.  He pissed me off.  I believe that is his intent but it also means that I'm less likely to finish reading his essays (I have more important reading to do right now) so I hope he said everything really important in that introduction.  One of the things I keep thinking about, especially now is:

A rampant symptom of this amateurism within the ceramics community itself, is the bizarre phenomenon of the “workshop” where the making of ceramics is experienced as entertainment, as if it was a cooking show, with recipes, tricks, tools and a “chef”, a “master” who demonstrates how it is done, despite the fact that this experience is not possibly transferable. When the field takes its cultural role seriously, such futile activity will hopefully cease or cease to be at the center of its activities. I am not holding my breath.” Paul Mathieu

As someone that has learned a lot from workshops and have met some really talented artists at workshops I think Mathieu is full of it.  Or maybe nobody will hire him to teach a workshop.  Since he's also professor he has to admit that students can learn pottery from an instructor.  I am here to tell you that I have met some very talented and dedicated instructors at workshops and I have seen the results of attending workshops.  Not just in my own work but in the work of Mudfire members who have carried away some knowledge from a workshop and have used it and practiced and morphed some techniques into their own style.

I've also made some really good friends at workshops and that is valuable to who I am and therefore, my craft.

Penland School of Crafts Meadow and Weave House
Penland Weave House

In his defence Mathieu also states that he takes "polemical positions, on purpose, to challenge you to make your own mind." This type of statement sounds like a cop-out to me but his writing has made me think about these things differently.

What do you think about workshops?

Check out the gallery page - Future Relics Gallery by Lori Buff


  1. I love workshops it opens the mind to other possibilities and directions and exploration and there is always a tip or two that is learned from the instructors that one would never know if it weren't for the workshop and meeting other potters in person is so valuable.

    congrats on the scholorship; I was just looking at the clay workshops at Penland in August and drooling.

    1. You're right Linda, it's a good way to step out of our comfort zone and it's a good way to learn some techniques.

  2. I feel a rant coming on....which I may, or may not, post.

    In the meantime.....Many congratulations on the scholarship.

    1. Thanks Suzy.

      The strong language of his wording seems to make people want to rant, whether they agree with him or not I suppose (I've not found much agreement to his sentiments).

  3. I enjoy workshops. I just wish they weren't so expensive. I recently purchased a couple ceramic technique DVDs. They are very good, but watching a DVD cannot compare with a week long total immersion workshop.

    Congrats on your scholarship.. Well deserved I'm sure.
    As for Paul Mathieu. He has some points, but all in all, it's just one man's opinion.

    1. I'm often surprised at how often people take workshops when they have the DVD from the artist. The thing is, you can't ask a DVD questions or get feedback from it. Plus you miss the other connections and gems that a workshop gives. They are, however, very useful for studying and learning a technique.

      It's true, it's just his opinion, it's not fact.


  4. Congrats on Penland scholarship...great place! I missed last year's auction, so maybe I'll drag up there this's all of 50 miles over hill and dale. Workshops are great...whether for a half day or a week...definitely the hands on/face to face information and feed-back method of learning...mainly for those with some knowledge already.

  5. I'll be at the auction and also got a scholarship for session 6! Look forward to seeing you again!

  6. You know,it's this elitist attitude that I have encountered over the years that has sort of turned me against clay. There are so many wonderful people that love clay,love workshops,and they will never be accepted by these self proclaimed elite potters and it all just makes me sick. In fact the more into the clay world I get,the more irritated I get by it all,haha! Good for you for getting the Penland class, nothing like that place for some good hard work,clean air,and great people, have soooo much fun!

    1. Tracy,

      The clay doesn't have the elitist attitude, many potters don't even have this elitist attitude. It's something that I have not found in people who make their living by selling pottery. it's also not an attitude that seems to be held by many of the people that buy pottery. So try not to let it discourage you, you're very talented, you deserve to be very happy.

      I do expect we will have fun and learn a lot. I'm so excited.

  7. Lori, you are right, most potters I know are not like that, but I live in NC, it's a weird pottery culture here...... It's always the way isn't it, a few bad apples spoil the pie.....

    1. Hi Tracy, it's true, NC has a lot of potters per square mile and that probably creates it's own culture or cultures.


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