Sunday, December 20, 2009

Josh is in the House

A few days after my son Josh’s UNC BFA Thesis show, the culmination of 4 months of intensive labor of making pots and bricks for a massive wall installation, his car was stolen. His car being stolen was the event that caused me to realize (and mention in an earlier post) that when someone lives large, they also cast a large shadow. The above is a shot of the front seat of my husband Joe's truck, evidence that Josh was home for Christmas and borrowing Joe's truck. The Cheez-its are the biggest clue – everyone who knows Josh knows he love Cheez-its – but the hat, pottery mug, CDs, fortune cookies, Yuengling beer (unopened), and Floyd phone book are also signs that Josh was in the house, in operating mode.

Josh’s car was found on the same day that it was stolen, but it no longer worked and some valuable items had been stolen from it. Because his mechanic was on Christmas break and could not work on the car, Josh arranged for a ride with a friend so that he could be home for Christmas. After getting new brakes put in and cleaning out a few old mouse nests, we presented Josh with our old farm truck, probably the largest Christmas present he’s ever gotten. It’s not the most reliable transportation, but it got him home and a truck will come in handy for building a kiln and a house, next up on Josh’s agenda.

Before: This is Josh at about 4 years old in our home in Tomball, Texas, showing off his building construction. The blocks were wood remnants from a house site Josh’s father was working at that I collected and sanded for Josh to play with.

After: The focal point of Josh’s BFA Thesis Show, “Building Community” was a brick wall installation (pictured behind the jumbled construction). The bricks were hand made by Josh with wild dug clay and each was stamped with the word INDIVIDUAL, symbolizing the strength that each has when bonded together as a whole. The picture is of Josh beside the interactive compliment to the wall, a cube of bricks stamped with the word COMMUNITY on them. The COMMUNITY bricks were available for people to move around and take home (the photo is of the final shape the cube of bricks took). When Josh was in Floyd for Christmas, he presented a slide show for the Floyd community at the Jacksonville Center on his adventures with wild clay, the BFA Thesis Show, and how growing up in Floyd has affected his art. An account of this exciting and unusual evening is coming up later in the program...

Note: Originally posted on on December 29, 2006.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Price of Art

Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone. ~ Picasso

Watching my son’s push to pull-off his BFA graduation show reminded me of his years as a high school wrestler. Seeing him compete and place in state wrestling competitions, I witnessed how much heart and discipline he could muster. I respected his efforts and was amazed by what he was able to call up from within.

But Josh’s wrestling years also came with a price. His trainings were rigorous, and he starved and dehydrated himself to make weight, to the point that I sometimes feared he was killing himself. As a mother, what I saw Josh sacrifice for the love of a sport, horrified me at the time. Looking back, I now realize that the drive boys have to create a rite of passage into manhood sometimes takes a little boot camp of some kind or another. Males in particular seem to need to see what they’re made of by testing their limits.

A couple of weeks before we made the trip to Asheville for Josh’s show, I called my younger son Dylan, who got married this past summer, to see if he and his wife would be making the trip as well. I encouraged him to go by saying, “you know, this is like Josh’s version of a wedding,” and I began to view it that way. It was a life milestone that needed to be marked, one that involved intense planning and the stress that often comes with that.

Josh’s graduation from the University of North Carolina with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is the culmination of over 7 years of school and life education. His formal art education (ceramics in particular) began with a 2 year enrollment at Warren Wilson College, was followed by graduation from Haywood Tech Community College, included a few stints at Penland School of Arts (both as student and teacher’s assistant), and a trip to England to meet studio potters that Josh wanted to learn from. Besides his emotional investment and commitment to making art, to put his Thesis Show together catering had to be arranged, invitations sent out, events and performances planned. Josh hosted family and friends in town for the weekend. He hired a band (or got someone to) for the after show party, and even helped clean up the party mess the next day.

Just a week before the show he was working so hard – still firing bricks and last minute show pots, working on his massive 12 x 20 foot wall installation – that he ended a phone conversation I had with him by saying, “my hands are being held together with super glue.” I knew from that comment that he was probably living on coffee and little sleep in order to accomplish the monumental undertaking, of which he refused not to give his all to.

As an adult in the Asheville art world, the perseverance Josh learned in those formative years while wrestling has served him well, and I couldn’t be more proud of him. The result of his recent efforts were impressive, inspiring, and innovative. But although his show was a wonderful success and we all had fun being in Asheville, it was obvious to me that he was stretched thin. To accomplish what he had, his life not related to his art was put on hold. Even his own basic needs were compromised for his one-pointed goal. There were a few Van Gogh-like mania moments during the show, as well as some signs of burn-out after it was over.

On the last day that Joe and I were in Asheville, we had breakfast with Josh at a local cafĂ©. His brothers, his father, and the Floyd hometown contingency had left the afternoon before. It was the morning after the first night in weeks that Josh had gotten a reasonable amount of sleep, but he was still distracted after functioning at full throttle for days and asking himself from minute to minute ‘what needs to be done next?’

“Do you have to read the newspaper right now?” I asked. He was on his first of six cups of coffee. He laughed as he answered, “no.” Putting the paper aside, he shifted in his chair a few times, let his eyes dart around the patio to take everything in, before stopping … to take a deep breath.

Our eyes met, and after a few seconds of looking and really seeing each other, we both welled up with tears. Nothing needed to be said.

Note: Originally posted on on December 12, 2006.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Building Community

The scene at my son Josh’s BFC Thesis show at UNC Asheville this past weekend was a photographer’s dream, with various shaped ceramic pots casting shadows in the warm reflective glow of Josh’s 12 foot tall and 20 foot wide brick wall installation. There was a steady flow of people milling about throughout the 6-10 p.m. exhibit show, titled Building Community.

The bricks were made by Josh and then fired at varying temperatures, creating a rainbow-colored effect. The ones in the wall installation were stamped with the word “individual,” representing the strength and potential they have when joined together as a whole. Bricks with the word “community” stamped on them were signed by Josh and available for people to take home. Still others stamped with the names of those who have had an influence in Josh’s art were stacked in arrangements that held exhibit pieces.

A vacuum cleaner (on shag setting) stood high on a brick stand, looking whimsical and just slightly out of place if you didn’t read the words that accompanied it: “Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum.” Two square plots of clay were displayed. One was growing lush kelly green grass on it and had a ceramic piece shaped like a house off to the side. “Can you mow it with scissors?” I asked my friend Amy.

Eventually Josh’s collage journals displayed on a shelf got spread out on the floor. People leafed through them while munching on cilantro shrimp salad, feta roll-ups, guacamole dip, and more.

I got to shake Neil Woody’s hand and meet his wife Peggy. Neil is the tobacco farmer whose field Josh excavated wild clay from. He seemed to enjoy being a part of the process and seeing what Josh created from that “old dirt” he couldn’t grow anything on.

There was a contingency from Floyd who also attended. Family friend, Karl, sold pieces out of what we called “Karl’s Cabinet.” The idea was to counter the “no touch” art gallery policy and to have some pieces available that could be handled, purchased and taken home without waiting for the week long show to be over.

There were even tricks involving fire for the performance part of the evening. Using a long two-pronged pole (the machine), Josh pulled out a total of 8 pinch bowls from the fired-up kiln that was just outside the gallery door. The bowls came out red hot and translucent and when placed on a board they burst into flames. As one bowl cooled down another arrived, making for a colorful and lively display. The finished piece was purchased by a collector who told my husband that he valued it particularly because he witnessed Josh create it.

After the bowls cooled down, the crowd, who were bundled up in winter coats, hats, and scarves, watched as Josh and another potter poured hot liquid glass into one of the bowls. They expressed their enthusiasm with oohs and ahhs and sometimes applause. The name Josh Circus, coined by Josh’s friend’s little boy who couldn’t pronounce his real name, Josh Copus, never seemed more appropriate. Don’t they need a permit to do this, I was thinking?

Then it was off to the after show dance party at the Flood Warehouse Gallery (across from Josh’s Clay Space studio) to unwind and to celebrate Josh’s hard work and the successful evening. (That’s Josh in the forefront swing dancing.)

Note: Originally posted on December 10, 2006

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Josh Circus

I really like to drink coffee beverages, wear sunglasses, eat sandwitches, stay up late, wake up early, and pray that the Red Sox win the World Series. Some of the things I collect are waterfalls, interesting looking bricks, and pieces of trash that can be transformed into art. I make pottery for a living and try to make time everyday to cook food, practice yoga, and work in my journals. I have a motorcycle that doesn't run and sometimes I write dumb poetry about it. I also have a car that I don't like driving much, except if it is through a huge puddle. ~ Josh’s “About Me” online bio.

My son Josh is a serious artist, but he has an unserious side to his nature. Or maybe I should say “he’s seriously unserious when it comes to play.” Since he was a little boy, he hasn’t met a costume he doesn’t like, to the point where I have referred to him as “a closet super hero.” He hasn’t let being an adult dampen his dramatic fun-making.

His latest nickname, Josh Circus, coined by a friend’s little boy who couldn’t pronounce Josh’s real name (Josh Copus), actually fits him to a tee. He likes to host events (which back in my day would have been called “happenings”). One such event revolved around elaborate robot costumes, another, the Drury Fest, marked a friend’s departure into the Peace Corp and involved over 90 people tubing on a river and a costume on Josh’s part. In this case, the costume was a gorilla suit, which worked well for posing for photo-ops while carrying a girl in a bikini.

Although Josh is a potter by trade, he also hasn’t met an art medium he doesn’t like. While he appreciates the masters, he’s just as inspired by Maxfield Parrish or Dr. Seuss. He likes Graffiti and has 4 desks in his warehouse apartment to facilitate his three ring circus of art. Besides clay, his primary art outlet is making collage journals, some pages of which were exhibited in an art show this past summer.

Apparently, my son’s name has been verbified. Some of his friends have taken to using the term “josh copus” interchangeably with the word “collage.” One, who recently saved a scrap of something and then pasted it down in her journal, announced to another friend, “I josh copused it.”

I wonder, if “josh copusing” something means to collage it, or to collect scraps of garbage that other people wouldn’t even notice, what might “josh circus” mean? And what would your name mean if it became a verb?

Note: Originally posted on on December 6, 2006.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Potter and a Farmer Find Common Ground

“Why didn’t you tell us that Josh was being interviewed for US Airways Magazine?” my sister-in-law’s message on our answering machine said. Her husband was flying from Missouri to the east coast when he picked up the magazine in the seat pocket in front of him, I learned when I called her back. Flipping through the pages, he found himself reading an article about Asheville, North Carolina, written by Stephen Poole. He was stunned to come across this about my son: “During one of the biannual Studio Strolls you might meet Josh Copus (Wedge Building), an aspiring potter who, after seeing a farmer excavating a field, wound up with tons of free clay and a new friend.”

Josh, a twenty-seven-year-old BFA student at University of North Carolina in Asheville, has been getting a lot of attention for his work with local clay. In 2005 he and his fellow potter, Matt Jacobs, won an Undergraduate Research Grant titled “Recreating Tradition: Observing the Effects of Local, Non-industrially Processed Ceramic Material on the Work of Contemporary Ceramists.” The grant led to a presentation of their findings at last year’s National Conference on Undergraduate Research and a show, organized by Josh and Matt, at Asheville’s American Folk Gallery. The show featured pottery made with local materials by North Carolinian studio potters and those from as far away as Japan and England. More recently, Josh was awarded a $15,000 Windgate Fellowship Award to fund the construction of a wood-fired kiln and to further his exploration into using local materials in contemporary ceramics.

The US Airways mention of Josh was the least of the press he’s recently received for his work. He was also cited in the current issue of “Ceramics Monthly,” a local potter who subscribes to the magazine informed me. Another magazine, “Studio Potter” recently published “Neil Woody’s Turkey Creek Field,” a story penned by Josh that describes his unlikely friendship with the farmer whose land he had excavated clay from.

“Neil Woody is a sixty-year-old tobacco farmer in Leicester County of western North Carolina with a drainage problem in one of his fields. Last year, Neil farmed over a hundred acres of burly tobacco but didn’t harvest a stick out of the bottom field that runs along Turkey Creek,” Josh’s story begins.

Working on a tip from a local rock hound, Josh and Matt drove out to Turkey Creek in search of “wild” clay. What they found was a ditch with huge chunks of dark blue clay lining the bank by the road. Apparently, the farmer who owned the adjacent fields had dug into the sedimentary clay in an effort to divert heavy rains from flooding his crops. They left with a truck load of the roadside clay and the name of farmer, which they learned from a neighbor passing by who pulled over to lend a hand.

According to Josh, using the wild clay was an enlightening experience that inspired the creation of new pots. He and Matt stretched their prized stash of it for as long as they could, but eventually it ran out. “It took a long time to get up the nerve to call Neil … The Woody’s have been living in Leicester County for six generations, so there are a lot of them in the phone book,” Josh wrote in the Studio Potter article.

Making the call, Josh arranged to meet Neil Woody to ask about harvesting clay from his field. He was encouraged to discover that not only was Neil receptive to the idea, but that Neil had a reference for handmade pottery, as he had inherited a small collection of folk pots from his grandmother and had fond memories of her using them.

“When I showed Neil a pot made out of the clay from his tobacco field, I caught a glimpse of the potential that pots have to impact people’s lives. He held it as a potter would, turning it over in his hands and touching it like someone with an insider’s appreciation for how it was made. He didn’t just look at it, either; he really saw it and he knew where it came from,” Josh explained.

After a couple of small shovel digs that were beginning to feel invasive to the land, Josh approached Neil to ask about a full scale excavation. He describes Neil’s response this way: “Now Josh, you know you’re going to pay those boys to pull that stuff out of there. You don’t need to pay me nothing; you leave my field in better shape than you found it and we’ll be all right.” He liked what we were doing and didn’t feel the need to exploit the situation. I also think he knew his eventual payment would come. He really liked our pots and we had every intention of giving him anything that caught his eye,” Josh wrote.

The Studio Potter article goes on to outline the three day excavation of eleven dump-truckfuls of clay at a cost of $3,800, but the main theme of the story is the one Josh tells about the bond that was forged between him and Neil, based on their mutual appreciation of the land and what it provides, as this excerpt illustrates: “What is truly unique is the experience: my friendship with the Woody family and the feel of the clay through my hands. Neil offered me an education in clay beyond the classroom. He told me stories about the land and the people who lived on it. Instead of just talking about the physical properties of clay, Neil taught me about its history.”

Neil and Josh’s friendship is ongoing. Josh says he looks forward to Neil’s visits to his pottery studio. “He never calls; he just stops by whenever he is in the neighborhood, which happens frequently, especially during auction time at the tobacco warehouse just down the street. He just walks in and says, “Show me something you made out of that old dirt,” the story concludes.

Currently Josh is busy putting together his BFA Thesis Show, which is entitled “Building Community” and involves a wall installation of homemade bricks. The bricks are fired by Josh at varying temperatures creating a rainbow of clay color. Each one is stamped with the word “individual,” symbolizing the formidable strength that each separate individual has when joined together as a whole. There will be other bricks stamped with the word “community” available for visitors to take home, as well as a display of Josh’s pottery.

My husband and I are making plans to attend the show, scheduled for December 8th at UNC in Asheville. “Will Neil Woody be there?” I asked Josh the last time we spoke on the phone.

“Yes, of course,” he answered.

“Good,” I said enthusiastically. “I’m looking forward to shaking his hand.”
~ Colleen Redman

Note: This post originally appeared on on November 10, 2006 and appeared in The Floyd Press around that same time.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Be All You Can Be

“Sports are important,” my Asheville potter son, Josh, in town for his brother’s bachelor party, said to me as I was trying to get a non-sports word in edgewise. “It has stopped wars ... and has started some too.” He continued.

He, Floyd County Soccer MVP in the year 1997, went on to tell me about a group of Senegalese in Asheville who rejoiced to the point of crying when their soccer team claimed victory over France, their country’s former colonial power, in a World Cup series match.

I was thinking about how when the Red Sox won the World Series after an 80 year slump; it was more than a game to everyone in my family, including Josh who has rooted for them as the underdog since he was a little boy. “How do you know these people from Senegal?” I asked him.

“They all worked at the gas station near my house then,” he answered without looking at me because his eyes were on the TV.

This year Angola rose from the ruins of civil war and poverty to play in the World Cup, bringing a boost of hope and confidence to their entire country, I learned from Josh.

“Yes, sports can be a good way to express nationalism without violence,” I said, and we both agreed.

It also brings men together, I thought as I snapped a picture of Josh and my husband, Joe, watching the game together.

Note: Originally posted on on June 26, 2006.