Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good Dirt

Clay is a material accepting of impression. It is a record of every process, from its geological formation in the earth to its eventual transformation in the fire. My work with ceramics begins with the clay. By using local materials dug from the river bottom and mountainsides of North Carolina, my work gains a connection to place and establishes the materials as a valuable source of influence. ~ Excerpt from Josh's artist statement posted on the Gallery @ Good Earth Gallery website

Since early summer I’ve been documenting the progress on the woodfiring kiln that my Asheville Potter son, Josh Copus, has been building on his property in Marshall, North Carolina. In June I wrote about the raising of the kiln shed roof, which was built with parts from an old house that he tore down and salvaged. Last month, my husband and I traveled to visit Josh at the kiln site where we helped with last minute construction preparations and then took part in the first ceremonial firing. The intensity of that first firing was heightened by the fact that many of the pots stacked inside it were due in Athens, Georgia, for a show just days later. Josh and other area potters were set to have their pots featured at the Good Earth Gallery in a show titled “Pushing Traditions: Asheville’s New Voices.” Adding to the pressure of getting the kiln finished and fired in time was the fact that Josh was the show’s curator, the one responsible for organizing and putting it together. joshovalvase.jpg

The manifestation of the three chamber climbing wood-fired kiln started with the excavation of eleven dump truck loads of wild clay from a local farmer’s tobacco field, which Josh wrote about in an article for Studio Potter titled “Neil Woody’s Turkey Creek Field.” The Clay excavation got some good attention and led to a research grant, awarded to Josh and fellow potter, Matt Jacobs, to further their work using local materials in ceramics. The momentum continued when Josh won a Windgate Fellowship Award to build a kiln, not only for the purpose of furthering his exploration with wild clay, but to support the theme of his UNC Asheville BFA thesis show “Building Community,” which Josh described in a recent article for the Log Book, an international publication for woodfirers.

Land was purchased and plans were drawn up. With the help of others, Josh headed up the three month full-time building project. His enthusiasm and motivation for what he’s accomplished and continues to do can be best explained in his own words contained in the rest of his Good Dirt artist statement for his first showing of pots fired in the newly built kiln:

I dig my own clay from a tobacco field alongside Turkey Creek and everything I make contains an element of my response to that experience. Every pot is informed with the qualities and character of my clay; whether it is the subtlety of its dark iron body breaking through a white slip, or the drama of its diverse particle size exposed through a facet, the qualities of my clay effect what I make and my intention is to bring out the inherent beauty of the materials in every pot.

However, my interest in using local materials for my pots is not limited to the influence of their physical properties and extends to the intangible qualities that those materials can bring to the work. The physical properties of my materials are not as unique as my experience of using them and it is the increased participation in the creative process that I have come to value the most.
Digging my own clay has increased my connection to the area where I live and furthered my relationship with the surrounding community, creating an authentic context for my work to exist in. Most importantly I find a great amount of excitement in digging my own clay and my hope is that the enthusiasm I have for my materials will transferred to the finished product. I want each pot to carry with it the feeling I get each time I visit the Turkey Creek tobacco field.

The experience of working with local materials has contributed greatly to my growth as both an artist and a person. It has confirmed my belief that the more highly developed a potter is as a human being, the better their pottery will be. There is no real beauty without character and like the clay that I use to make them, my pots are a reflection of my character. As a human being, I am accepting of impression and each pot I make represents my personality, experience, and my dreams.

Post notes: A short video clip of Josh at the kiln first firing talking with a fellow potter about how the kiln works is HERE. All of the photos posted above are of pots made by Josh that were fired in the first firing of the new kiln. You can view more pots at the Gallery @ Good Earth.

~ Originally posted on loose leaf notes on October 16, 2007.

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