Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Building Community in Floyd

The following originally appeared in the Floyd Press on January 11, 2007.

A group of 40 Floyd Countians gathered together on a recent Wednesday night to view Josh Copus’s “Building Community” slide show presentation, which aptly took place in the Community Hall room of the Jacksonville Center for the Arts. After two different laptops were unable to handle the file size of Josh’s power point presentation those in attendance pooled their problem-solving skills in a display of community spirit to get the show up and running. During the 20 minute delay, impromptu humorous stories about Josh’s years growing up in Floyd were volunteered by audience members. Some wandered over to the Hayloft Gallery to see the home-schooler’s art show on display. Others lent a hand in transporting a desk top PC from a downstairs office, which proved to have enough processing power to run the show. The slides were chosen by Josh to highlight his research grant findings into using local materials in ceramics and his recent Bachelor of Fine Arts Thesis Show at the University of North Carolina in Asheville, where the Floyd High School graduate now lives.

Considering the standing ovation given at the end of Josh’s 90 minute presentation, it was obvious that the initial wait was well worth what followed. Josh’s high school drama background and comedic timing, his enthusiasm, and his insights into art made for an entertaining evening. Not only was it informative in outlining the creation of pots from the ground to the gallery, but the human and historic aspects of Josh’s education, his appreciation of natural resources, and his respect for the ceramic tradition made his story especially worth hearing.

The slide show began with a recounting of Josh’s initial research, funded by an undergraduate research grant and conducted with a fellow potter. The research led to the excavation of clay from tobacco farmer Neil Woody’s field in North Carolina, which Josh described in depth in a recent Studio Potter magazine article. It also involved the collection and use of other local natural resources, non-industrial processed materials, and trips to local mines for feldspar, limestone, and granite dust, all of which were used in making pottery glazes.

His Thesis Show was the culmination of four months of intensive labor, which started with the digging of wild clay and continued “up until the moment the show opened,” Josh joked. Although his finished pots were exhibited, the focal point of the Thesis Show was a 15 x 18 foot brick wall installation constructed out of handmade wild clay bricks. The wall tied into the theme of “Building Community” because the bricks, fired at varying temperatures to create a rainbow effect, were stamped with the word INDIVIDUAL, symbolizing the strength that each one has when joined together as a whole. “A single brick has relatively no power or usability. Bonded together they create a community. The wall visually shows that force of strength,” Josh told us.

A cube shaped arrangement of bricks stamped with the word COMMUNITY provided an interactive compliment to the wall installation. Throughout the course of the BFA Show people rearranged the COMMUNITY bricks into interesting shapes, some of which were photographed and included in the slide show. The COMMUNITY bricks were also available for people to take home. Most had Josh sign them before they did.

“Building kilns initiated my interest in bricks,” Josh, who has built several kilns and has assisted in building half a dozen others, told the group of Floyd Countians. He prefers wood fired kilns over electric or gas ones because wood is a common local resource, but also because it’s necessary to do wood firing with others, which further builds community. “Some firings took three days of constant tending. You can’t do them alone,” Josh said as he introduced us to one of his kiln crews by way of a photo.

Another component of the BFA Show, Josh explained, was an installation of bricks, titled “With Respect to My Influences.” The bricks in that installation were stamped with the names of people who were influential in Josh’s development as artist, including those of some well known Floyd potters, such as Jayn Avery (who opened the Floyd slide show with a warm introduction), Tom Phelps, Ellen Shankin, Rick Hensley, Donna Polseno, and Silvie Granatelli. Tom Phelps received a round of applause when Josh spoke of the mentoring influence that Tom had on his life and the lives of other young people in our community.

As Josh’s mother, I thought I was well informed about what Josh was up to, but after viewing the slide show and hearing the presentation, I realized I had gaps in my understanding, which the slide show helped to fill. Josh opened my eyes more fully to the role clay has played in human survival when he stated that the conceptual basis for his BFA Show was a pipe, a vessel, and a brick and then explained the significance of early ceramics: a pipe moves water and sewer, a vessel stores and transports food, and brick is used to make shelter. I was amazed to learn how many times each of his homemade bricks had to be handled in the making, drying, rounding of the edges, stamping, stacking, firing, loading, unloading, sorting by color, and installing of them. It made me appreciate his efforts to recreate the COMMUNITY brick installation at the Jacksonville presentation, making those bricks available for the slide show attendees to take home, as he had for those at his BFA Show.

What impressed me most about the slide show was seeing Josh’s dedication to making most everything he needed. The photos he shared showed how the back of his Asheville Clay Space Studio looked like a clay processing factory, with a brick making machine that extruded clay out in long lengths, a hand built shed, clay screening and drying racks, and more. Even Josh’s living space has been a renovation of his own making. For the past few years he has lived in a loft in the back of the warehouse that houses his studio, the front portion of which is a cooperative space where Josh and other potters work. But he won’t be there for long. He recently purchased a few acres of creek front property outside of Asheville and will soon be building a pottery studio, a wood-fired kiln, and a home there. This past summer he won a $15,000 Windgate Fellowship Award through the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design to fund the construction of the kiln and to further his exploration into using local material in ceramics.

Josh concluded the slide show at the Jacksonville Center with a photo of him at his treadle wheel, a pottery wheel that is powered by a foot kicking motion. “I value my treadle wheel more because I made it myself and with the help of my friends. I think that value is translated into my finished work,” he said. ~ Colleen Redman

For more information about Josh’s work, he can be reached at copiousplus@hotmail.com

Photos: 1. Josh signs a Community brick at the Jacksonville Center slide show presentation. 2. Wall installation in the background at Josh’s UNC Thesis Show. 3. Fired bricks and pots stacked in the UNC kiln for the “Building Community” show.

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