Monday, November 30, 2009

This is What Happens When Your Son is an Artist

“I’m always picking stuff up to use in my journals, scraps of garbage that other people don’t even notice.” ~ My son, Josh.

When my husband, Joe, and I were in Asheville this past April, visiting my potter son, Josh, Joe scribbled some phone numbers on a piece of mail that he found in my car and then left it by mistake in Josh’s studio. It was a Red Cross CPR card, reflecting my most recent training, something I need for respite foster care work I do, and something I wouldn’t look too kindly on doing over. I asked Josh to look for it and to please mail it back.

Getting mail from Josh can be memorable event. The last time he sent me something in the mail I wanted to savor his handmade envelope art and was hesitant to rip it open. “It’s like getting a greeting card that you don’t even have to open. You could just send out envelopes like that with nothing inside them,” I told him.

Not only does it appear that Josh’s collage art is spilling over into postcards, by the looks of his most recent mailing to me, he has taken my advice to keep making envelope art to heart.

Inside the decorated envelope, fashioned from a page of art history notes, was a photo of an egg in a frying pan. Next to it a notebook was opened to a message that read: Hey Josh, I was in your class this fall and I was wondering if you have any (pottery) seconds for sale. On the back of the collaged photo, in Josh’s handwriting, the note to me said: Just letting you know that breakfast is still my favorite meal.

The CPR card was also enclosed, but it seemed dwarfed and insignificant amongst the rest.

Is art a luxury or a necessity? The mother of invention?

“I don’t even have any regular envelopes,” Josh later told me.

Originally posted on on June 7, 2006

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fitting the Pieces into Place

In the spring of 2000 when my Asheville potter son, Josh was 20 years old, he came across an old journal he had kept when he was 16.

“Everything in it was silly. I hated it,” he said, in answer to the question I posed ‘when did you start journal collaging and why?’

“I wondered who was writing all this ridiculous stuff,” he continued, “but I also knew it was an important part of my history that I couldn’t just throw away.”

That first journal became Josh’s prototype to so many others. He explained how he covered up its contents with collage, in an attempt to disguise what was embarrassing, leaving only little snippets of the original text as hints into that time.

“At that point, I had a sketchpad, was keeping a photo album, and a journal. I combined them all into only one book to carry around,” he explained.

“What a relief to put everything in one place!” I responded.

Josh went on to describe other details that fostered his interest in collage journal art. One particularly striking experience was when he discovered Dan Eldon’s published collage journal (Dan was a young photo-journalist who was killed tragically in Africa). Josh was at a friend’s college graduation party when he spotted the book and immediately became was transfixed.

“I sat down with it. People wandered over to see what I was doing, looked at it some, and then went back to the party. I never got up. I looked at it for hours,” Josh said.

“But you know, mom,” he added, “the books that you made helped …”

“What books? The homemade ones we used to make?” I interrupted. I had forgotten for a moment that I kept scrapbooks and baby books that both my boys grew up looking at.

“I was fascinated looking at the baby books you made for me and Dylan. A lot of those pages were done in collage. You were definitely outside the box. And you told us more than once about the importance of keeping a journal.” Josh reminded me.

As he spoke, I began to remember. Indeed, when Josh was 11, he and a friend traveled around the country with alternative education pioneer Jerry Mintz, and the only academic practice I demanded of him was that he keep a journal of his experiences.

“Even a shopping list is interesting to me once it’s a year or two old." Who said that? You did, mom! And now I’m always picking stuff up to use in my journals, scraps of garbage that other people don’t even notice,” Josh said.

Like mother like son? It’s true, except for the fact that when it comes to making art, Josh surpasses me by miles.

Post Notes: Collaging runs in our family here. View pages from my collage journal here. That's Josh's brother Dylan in the forefront with him looking at Josh's art scrapbook sometime in the mid 80s. Some pages from Josh's collage journals were recently featured in an art show in Winston Salem, NC.

Note: Originally posted on on May 6, 2006.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

This is What Runs in Our Family

Warning: One house isn’t big enough for 3 collage artists.

All forms of record keeping interest me. Since receiving my first “Dear Diary” when I was 10 years old, I’ve gone on to keep photo albums, dream journals, baby books, and scrapbooks.

I’ve always enjoyed making collages, but when my Asheville potter son, Josh, began doing collage journals about 6 years ago, he inspired me to a new level.

Josh has been a mad artist since the time he could hold a crayon. His collage journals have gotten so extensive that he has had to hire someone to design books that expand with use, in order to hold all the pages of his prolific and multi-media art, which on any given day might include a fortune cookie fortune, paint, photographs of photographs, receipts, or pieces of mail.

I made my first collage journal when I turned 50 as a way to consolidate a visual review of my first 50 years. Not long after that my husband made one of his own as part of an assignment for his masters in counseling program.

Now were all hooked, but Josh more than the rest of us. In his studio warehouse apartment, he has 4 desks to accommodate his art. When visiting us in Virginia, he's been known to pick us his journal and start collaging whenever the muse strikes him. When he leaves, there are always traces of his art making left behind. Besides various scraps and interesting scraps of paper, fabric or cardboard on our floors, there are drops of frozen clear epoxy on our cellar floor, and a yellow outline on our back doorstep of something Josh spray painted last year.

Photos: Me, Joe, and Josh. Notice that I am the messiest of the group. I hope to post a few pages of each of our journals in a future entry. This was originally posted on on April 23, 2006.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Alchemy of Pottery

Like the alchemists of medieval times who sought to turn base metals into silver and gold, potters seek to transform clay into vessels of beauty and function. And they do. They dig raw material out of the ground, mix oxides into glazes, and forge their wares with fire.

There’s a fairytale quality to a potter’s life. Watching my son, Josh, work his treadle wheel, keeping it spinning with the beat of his foot while drawing-up beautiful forms from a wet lump of clay almost seems magical, as though he were spinning straw into gold like Rumplestiltskin, the Grimms’ fairytale elf.

When Josh talks about making pots his eyes light-up. He uses words like blunge, slip, and slurry, which conjure images of mystery in me. When he talks about the kiln firings and the crew mates who tend to them with him, I find myself thinking about characters from “The Lord of the Rings,” who forged weapons and rings with fire. The firings often go on all night with the potters taking alternating shifts, the thought of which makes me think of one of Josh’s favorite childhood books, “Where the Wild Things Are,” a tale of a boy’s adventurous ruckus with untamed creatures of the night.

I’ve seen a few of the kilns that Josh uses, some of which he has helped to build. They remind me of another fairytale, Hansel and Gretel, the story of a boy and girl captured by a witch who kept them in cages, fattened them up with food, and then tried to cook them in her oven. Recently, while my husband and I were in Asheville visiting Josh for some art events that he was involved in, he gave us a tour of a wood-fired kiln in progress. I especially thought about Hansel and Gretel and was cautious when one of the crew members, wearing a protective mask, opened the kiln door so I could peek inside, into what looked like a big oven.

The pots inside had shape-shifted into ghostly glowing figures that almost looked invisible against the furnace of fire. Once my eyes got adjusted to the sight, I could see the various sizes and shapes of the pots lined up on a rack, so hot that they were white and translucent!

Making pots is an ancient art that hasn’t changed all that much since prehistoric times. Every firing is a ritual that links the potter with potters from days long past. Every pot in the kiln will go through a transformative creative process. There is no guarantee of how it will turn out. When the kiln cools down and the alchemist potters enter the womb-like kiln, they do so wondering, did their efforts take shape? Did the pots survive their test? Did the magic work? Is it functional? Is it art?

Note: The above was originally published on April 22, 2006.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Little Pig! Little Pig!

Let us in!

My son Josh is in the back of his clay studio sleeping in his loft. His cell phone is turned off and my husband, Joe, is trying to break in. Here’s the story that led up to the scene:

Josh has a bigger-than-life personality. Although he’s a serious artist, he’s playful and theatrical in his pursuit and expression of it, so much so that when I learned he would be presenting the results of his wild clay grant research project in a power point presentation for the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at UNC in Asheville this past weekend, I asked, “Will there be a costume involved?”

And at the Wild Clay Exhibit when I said to one of his pottery mates who was remarking about Josh’s creativity and energy… “You should have seen him as a boy…” the potter injected before I could finish, referring to Josh’s playful nature, “OH, BUT I THINK WE HAVE!”

The culmination of months of intensive preparation for the wild clay exhibit and power point presentation were packed into two days this past weekend. In the weeks leading up to the events, Josh was going to school, writing an essay for the Studio Potter magazine about wild clay, producing two publications for the exhibits, and getting his car un-booted after receiving several parking tickets while loading and unloading pots to and from venues. In the days before the events he was functioning, admittedly, on too much coffee and too little sleep.

The conference presentation - given by Josh and his colleague Matt – was a huge success, eliciting rousing applause and even a few tears from some of us. I was particularly moved when Josh spoke of the bond that developed between himself and the farmer whose land the wild clay was excavated from because they both shared a deep appreciation for what the earth could produce.

After the last of the events, Josh was more than ready to relax and spend some time with me and Joe, who had traveled from Virginia for the occasion. He graciously gave us a daytime and nighttime tour of a kiln wood firing he was a crew member of; we attended a sunset picnic kite-flying birthday celebration for a friend of his, and dined on pasta at a downtown restaurant.

Later that night, we headed back to the Days Inn motel where Joe and I were staying to download some photographs and to bestow a promised massage on the hardworking potter son. It was then that it was revealed or discovered that Josh had a fever!

In high school, Josh’s wrestling skills took him to state championships. Through wrestling he learned the importance of focused discipline, which sometimes included ignoring the body’s messages of fatigue until the job got done. It seems that his enthusiasm and best efforts in pulling together a major art opening featuring local and international potters who use wild clay and then doing his research presentation the next morning had taken a toll. When he finally let his guard down, it became obvious that his resistance was down as well.

He never made it out of the motel that evening. Fell asleep where he hit the bed. The next morning, he was scheduled for a 4 hour stint tending the kiln. Joe drove over to the site with him. They lined up a replacement fire keeper, and then got Josh home for some needed bed rest.

Before Joe and I left Asheville, we stopped by to check in on Josh, which is when the first posted photo was taken. Luckily, he came out before anything actually broke. And happily, I can report that Josh is well on the way to recovery.

Photos: The second photo: Josh talking with an audience member at the NCUR research presentation and art exhibit at UNCA. The third photo: Samples of local pipe clay displayed at the Wild Clay Exhibit, excavated by Josh and Matt and presented in their various stages: raw and wet, dried, kiln dried, and finished.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wild Clay Art in Asheville

That’s me, a 5’ 1” mom standing on my toes to pose with my 6’2’ son, Josh, in front of a display of pots that were part of the show he was a co-curator of. The exhibit opened at Asheville’s American Folk Gallery and was the result of a grant that Josh and his colleague, Matt, received to research the influence of local materials in making pottery, a subject I recently wrote about in “A Life time Supply.” It was purposely scheduled to coincide with the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), held at Asheville’s University of North Carolina this weekend where Josh and Matt are scheduled to present their research findings tomorrow.

The night was a Who’s Who of Josh’s life and an opportunity for my husband and me to put names to faces. We met Josh’s peers and mentors, teachers from Penland and UNC, friends and other potters, some of whom rent space at Josh’s studio, Clay Space.

Some of the pieces displayed were ones made by a Japanese potter that Josh recently studied with. Others were from England from a potter Josh connected with during his trip to England last year. Most were made by North Carolinians like Josh and Matt, and all the pieces reflected the theme of the show, having been made with wild clay dug from the areas where the potters live.

A few pots held branches of cherry blossoms or dried grape vines. People mulled about drinking wine and eating cheese and crackers while appreciating the pottery. I talked “blogs” with the owner of the gallery, who has been thinking about starting one herself, and received compliments for and about my son. After the show we ate dinner with a potter from Josh's community who I discovered knew my cousin years ago in Massachusetts. It was warm enough to eat at an outside café. The noodles were hot and the beer cold.

This was originally posted on on April 8, 2006

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Continuing Story of "How Much is That Pot in the Window?"

AKA: What's Nina Simone got to do with it?

The Background: Last Friday I posted a follow-up to an original blog entry titled “How Much is that Pot in the Window?” It was related to a pottery piece that my Asheville potter son, Josh, had displayed in the window of his “Clay Space” pottery studio; 9 pots glued to piece of wood, which was set on the ledge of his studio, not necessarily for the purpose of selling, but more to draw attention to his studio. potwindow3.jpg

“How Much is that Pot in the Window?” Last week, Josh called with the answer; “$400.” It was purchased by a private collector.

The Plot Thickens: The art collector who bought Josh’s pots glued to wood has a blog! It’s called “The Eunice Waymon Birthplace” and chronicles his efforts to restore the original home of Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina. In the time it took to click on a google search, I discovered that Eunice Waymon is Nina Simone! Of course, I knew Nina Simone was a singer and a major talent, but I didn’t know anything about her history, or the fact that she was active in civil rights, recorded several Bob Dylan songs, and sang a rendition of (my all time favorite) Suzanne by Leonard Cohen. Her webpage describes her as: "Singer, Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Honorary Doctor in Music and Humanities, High Priestess of Soul, Queen of African Rooted Classical Music. " She died in April, 2003 at the age of 70.

But the best part of this connect-the-dots saga, is that the private collector who purchased Josh’s Clay Space window pots sent me a photo of them in their new home. Don’t they look great?!

My son, Josh, doesn’t have a webpage yet. I’m thinking maybe he needs his own category on the sidebar of my blog.

Note: The above was originally posted on on March 3, 2006.

Friday, November 20, 2009

This Won’t Fly

AKA: Have Art Will Travel

My eldest son, Josh, and I share a love of art, and we especially like creating it from unlikely everyday things. When it comes to art, I’m a late bloomer. The extent of my childhood exposure to it was flour and water paste, crayons, and homemade paper dolls. In school it was drawing lollypop trees and coloring within the lines.

As an adult I worked as day care teacher whose job it was to set up art projects for children. When my sons came along they benefited from my background and, unlike me, were exposed early to a variety of art mediums. Josh especially took to art like he was born to make it, experimenting with different mediums since he was old enough to hold a…paintbrush, crayon, bottle of glue, or scissors. Today, as an adult, he’s primarily a potter, but he continues to explore his artistic expression through a wide range of mediums, such as photography, printmaking, journal collage, and street theatre. Recently, he found a new medium, and he phoned to tell me about it.

He began the conversation by saying how cool the IPOD he got with his Christmas money was before moving on to the real reason he called…to tell me about his favorite new artist's toy given to him by a friend. “A label maker! You would love this, mom!” he exclaimed.

On the same day he got the label maker, he had an art show to set up at his school. “I found the room but it was locked, so I printed out a label that said “art show” and stuck it on the door,” he said.

The story went on… When the janitor came with keys to open the room, he saw the sign and became disgruntled. “This won’t fly,” he said. “It’s going to rip the paint off the door,” he suggested as he tore the label off.

“THIS WON’T FLY,” Josh emphasized as he set up the scene for me.

After the janitor unlocked the room and left, Josh printed up a label that said THIS WON’T FLY and stuck it on the door. “And guess what? The name of the art show is now THIS WON’T FLY,” he said.

Note: The above was originally posted on Looseleafnotes on January 23, 2007.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

For the Love of Pottery

The challenge is to do the thing you have to do because you're in love with it and can't do anything else. Not because you want to become famous or rich, but because you will be unhappy if you can't do it. - Warren MacKenzie

The following conversation took place over the phone as my son, Josh, was on his way from his home in Asheville, North Carolina, to Athens, Georgia, to visit a friend. It was inspired by the pots he had gifted us with over the holidays and was a continuation of an ongoing dialogue we’re in the midst of.

Me: Do you remember the first pot you ever made?

Josh: It was at Jayn’s studio (Jayn is a family friend and neighbor who lives on a farm community with 4 other families). Her studio was more accessible to kids than other studios in Floyd. I was 7 or 8, and it was a simple coil pot with a mug handle. I remember it wasn’t coming out the way I wanted it to, and I don’t think it ever got fired.

Me: What was your next pottery making experience?

Josh: Coach Pratt’s ceramic’s class in 11th and 12th grade. I threw more clay at the wall than at the wheel. It was a goof-off, mostly because the school didn’t have much to offer in the way of materials, but it was an introduction.

Me: What happened next?

Josh: Working with Tom Phelps was a big eye opener. I, and another friend, hung out with his son because it was the best place in town to party, and we would go into the pottery studio after hours and make stuff. Tom gave us a real opportunity. He said, “It’s cool that you guys want to make stuff, but it could be better.” His son was already making face pots, and Tom told us, “If you make more of these, I could sell them.” We didn’t expect him to sell much of the face pots we made, but when he did, it changed everything. We got serious. Soon after that, word got around and about 8 of us started working in the studio. Tom was a real mentor.

Me: When did you fall in love with pottery?

Josh: It wasn’t until Warren Wilson College. I was studying Environmental Science, and because I worked with Tom already, I got on the work study crew as an assistant in the pottery studio. I took my first ceramics course, learned to throw pots, and eventually became a teacher’s assistant. By my second year, I was waking up in the morning; I’d get my coffee and bagel and be on my way to class but find myself in the pottery studio instead. When I got an F and a D in my academic classes and 3 A’s in my art classes, I knew I had fallen in love with pottery.

Me: What keeps you faithful to it?

Josh: It’s all about the material. That’s where the interest started and that’s where it remains. I love the medium. The way it moves and feels. Clay is amazing and it always surprises me. I continue to do new stuff with the pots I make, and I can’t wait for the next clay making cycle.

Post Notes: Josh’s pottery, pictured above, is available at his Clay Space Studio in Asheville. He can be reached at or 1-828-242-2368. This entry was originally posted on on January 9, 2006.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Lifetime Supply

When my Asheville potter son, Josh, comes to visit and we’re catching up, I take notes. That’s how I know that he and two other potters recently excavated 430,000 pounds of blue clay from Turkey Creek in Leicester, North Carolina. It took 3 days, 11 dump trucks and a trac-hoe, and cost $3,500 to do it. A $3,000 research grant to explore the use of local clay and a friend of Josh’s who reported seeing big chunks of it on the side of the road when a drainage ditch was being dug, all played into the discovery and acquisition of the once-in-a-lifetime lifetime supply.

"You know, ya gonna hafta pay those boys to pull that stuff out of there… You don’t pay me nothing… If you leave my field in better shape than how you find it, we’ll be alright,” the farmer who agreed to the excavation on his land said to Josh. And when they gifted him with the end result, a collection of finished ceramic pots, he understood the significance. His eyes widened and his face lit up with appreciation. “It don’t grow much good of nothing down that end of the field. I never would have thought it would make something as beautiful as this,” he said.

Before Photo:
Josh with the excavated clay from Turkey Creek.
After Photo: Finished pots. Christmas morning. Gifts for everyone.
Post Note: A website is in the works to feature Josh's pottery, which is available at his studio "Clay Space" in Asheville, North Carolina. One can also google his name "Josh Copus" for more pottery viewing or reach him directly at or 1-828-242-2368. This post was originally published on on December 28, 2005.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Pot of Gold

“Sometimes, at art openings, the people that come to them are more interesting to look at than the actual art,” Josh Copus whispered to me at Emily Kasinecz’s September 16th opening reception at Harvest Records. “Interesting art brings out interesting people. Hopefully the people at the New American Arts Collective show will be just as fun to look at as the art too.” ~ The Asheville Disclaimer

My eldest son, Josh – the Asheville potter who loves the Red Sox – is a mad artist and has been experimenting with art mediums since he could first hold a crayon…or scissors…or paintbrush…or a hole-puncher. Fortunately, because I was a day-care teacher, whose job it was to set up art projects, before having my own kids, I knew what to expose him to.

Today, he’s primarily a ceramic artist, but he also does collage journaling, drawing, print-making and super-hero costume making. Not only that, but he can write. Back in the early 80s, when MTV was good and Josh was only about 3 years old, I had some writing published in “Mothering Magazine” and was a regular contributor to another “attachment parenting” publication called “Nurturing.” During that time, I also submitted Josh’s art, poems, recipes, stories, and quotes, many of which were also published.

Recently, on our way home from Colorado, my husband and I stopped off in Asheville to surprise Josh at an art opening. The photo above shows some of his pottery that was featured at the opening, which was the result of a grant he received to explore the use of locally harvested clay. After some visiting and hobnobbing, after some after-show sushi, and decaf at a wireless café, we picked up a copy of “The Asheville Disclaimer,” and who did we find on the front cover side-bar…Josh.

The paper is mostly a spoof on the news, but their entertainment columns are for real, as was the one Josh appeared in… Visual Arts Rummage Sale: Caravanning around Asheville with the New American Arts Collective... “I got shivers,” said Copus as we headed to Emily Kasinecz’s show at Harvest Records, where we were greeted with frozen pizza, wine and a series of deceptively minimalist black and white photos. ~ The Asheville Disclaimer

Josh is a member of the newly formed New American Arts Collective. ...Josh Copus, predominately a ceramic artist, made his screen-printing debut at the show, which seemed to be well received. “Josh is really spontaneous with his printing style and I think that gives them more impact,” said Lisa Nance. ~ The Asheville Disclaimer

Last week, when we first met up with him, he had just come from a kiln building under the direction of a renowned potter visiting from Japan. This week he’s hosting a studio potter from England who he met this past summer while visiting master potters in that country.

The boy came in with a mission. It’s fun to see how richly he’s manifesting it.

Post note: To read more about Josh's work click HERE and scroll down. This entry was originally posted on on October 14, 2005

Monday, November 16, 2009

Potter Son Who Loves The Red Sox

My eldest son, Josh, loves the Red Sox, which is unusual for a Virginian living in North Carolina and has something to do with the fact that his parents come from Boston. My son has a lot of heart, which makes him a good candidate for being a Red Sox fan. It takes someone with heart to have unconditionally loved the Red Sox throughout their long and cursed losing streak.

When Josh was a little boy, I told how I had once met Carl Yastrzemski, the all-time great Red Sox player (1961 - 1983). The Yaz, as he was sometimes called back then, had come into the boutique on Tremont Street in Boston where I was working. It didn't mean that much to me, not being a sports fan myself. I was only nineteen and probably wasn't even that sure of who he was. But my son could hardly believe it was true, that I met Carl Yastrzemski. "Mum! Why didn't you get his autograph for me?!" he shouted excitedly.

"But Josh," I answered, trying to explain, "I didn't know I was going to grow up to have a boy like you!"

Note: This entry was originally posted on on April 24, 2005.