photo 1Everything you think you know about Tuscany is pretty much true.  It’s beautiful and old and there are olives and cheese and wine.  And sheep and cows and pigs.  And stone walls.  And twisty, narrow roads.  It’s beautiful and odd.  The buildings, from stables and pig wallows to castles and churches are “protected” from any external alteration.  Evidently, one can do anything on the inside but not on the outside, other than maintenance and upkeep.  This means that there is a frozen-in-time quality which, while beautiful, is not exactly dynamic.  It’s dreamlike, wonderful for a vacation but I wonder what it is like to live in a place where the 16th century is still the prevailing architectural influence.  What happens when a culture looks back for its sense of value instead of to the future?  It’s the same question that Maine and other places of historic importance or natural beauty have to ask and answer.  I never really thought about it before but as there is more and more to preserve (buildings, cars, books, art…), how do we choose what to keep and what to let go to make way for the future?

We stayed for four days just south of Siena at a place called Spannocchia, an organic farm and agritourismo in a sixteenth photo 2century castle.  When we arrived around 5 in the afternoon, we were told that there was an art exhibition in the small building, which was probably a stable at some point, right next to the building in which we were staying.  We stopped by to see what was going on and began talking to an American woman who, as it turned out, was the instructor for a week-long watercolor class that was ending with this exhibition.  In chatting, we discovered that she lived on the same road in West Bath, Maine that is home to my best friend from the age of three years old.  We were in Italy, in a 16th century building, talking to a woman who lives a quarter mile from someone I have known for more than 65 years.  Time and space collapsed at that moment.  www.spannocchia.com

photo 1Leaving home is a good thing.  It allows us to see the most common of aspects of life…eating, landscape, architecture, weather, foliage, driving, music, art…in a new way.  But returning home is a good thing, too.  Not everything has to be considered.  In our own homes, we know where the glasses are.  We know how to flush the toilets and the roadsigns are recognizable and legible.  It’s just easier.  But I wouldn’t give up those interludes of strangeness for anything.  Time in another space is invaluable.

photo 1 The internet, like fresh air, is wonderful when you have it and noticeably frustrating when you don’t.  If you stay in one place, you figure it out but when on the move, it is difficult to anticipate when you might be able to find wifi for writing anything more than a text or short email.  But in a way, that’s just fine.  It allows for a more seamless experience of being there without having to stop the real life experience for the literary experience.

We left France on Saturday, flying on EasyJet to Rome.  Rented a car and drove to Orvieto, about an photo 1hour and a half out of the city.  We chose Orvieto as our goal for the night because Diego, the young Italian man who rented us the car, said that it was a nice place to spend some time.  Obviously we didn’t do a lot of research for this part of the trip.  Orvieto is a lovely old, walled city, full of history and tourists.  As we were struggling to figure out how to pay for parking in a town lot, a woman approached, asking if she could help.  Alicia, a Spaniard by birth and a resident of the area, showed us the ropes and then suggested two agriturismos when we asked about lodging for the night.

photo 2Agriturismos are small farms with accommodations including food and are very popular in Italy, as we were to learn.  Using our iPhones, we contacted the two she had suggested and found that they were full but on our third try, we made reservations.  Driving into the hills in the dark, using the GPS in the car, we found this beautiful place, Agriturismo il Poggio di Orvieto, and joined an extended Italian family of thirty to forty folks in a birthday party for a ten-year old boy.  Quite an event!  Delicious food and after, a really good night’s sleep.  This was the view from our bedroom when we awoke in the morning.  What a surprise!  www.poggiodiorvieto.it

photo 3Everywhere you see craftsmanship in daily life.  One of the scenic lookouts was being renovated and, since it was photo 4Sunday, no one was working.  But the tools and processes were apparent, just as they must have been thousands of years ago.  On Sunday we drove to Spannocchia, where we are meeting friends for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  More on that later.  For now, a few pictures and a lot of encouragement to come to Umbria and Tuscany.  It is Art History 101 come alive!

photo 3Let me see…how do I sum up the past few days?  Food, food, wonderful friends, food, wine, food, jet lag, food.  That pretty well covers it.  They say that Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France.  I’m not arguing.  When you can have a memorable meal at noon in what we might call a diner or a greasy spoon, then you know that you are someplace special.  The Comptoir du Vin is someplace special.

Part of what makes it special is the since of neighborhood that it enhances.  The people who eat their, for the photo 4most part, know the owners and probably each other.  This fellow is the cook and he is charming and talented and fell in love with New York.  Or he fell in love in New York.  I’m not sure which but whatever it was, it made this American tourist a long-lost friend.  He is standing in the kitchen of the restaurant which is about a big as a toll booth.  Amazing.

photo 1And of course we stopped at one of the many fish shops and farmers’ markets to order sea bass for tomorrow and to buy olives for tapenade for tonight.  Everything is about food and wine.  Well, there is some art and education and music and theater and opera and high tech business and local fashion and shoes thrown in as well.  It is a vibrant city with two rivers, an ancient city includingphoto 2 Roman ruins, universities and motor scooters, all in a humanscale.  I like it.  Can you tell?  Did I mention the olives?  There are so many kinds, some different cultivars, some spiced in different ways, all delicious.  When you experience this with a friend who happens to be a patient and smart and funny French woman, c’est super!  And I have the luck of being with Françoise LeRoux, my former French teacher and friend of longstanding.  Doesn’t get much better!

 

photo 2Je suis arrivée à Lyon hier matin…oh, wait, I need to speak English!  Thank goodness.  I know just enough French to get into trouble and not enough to get out.  Once again, I am reminded of the foreignness that one feels in a different place.  It’s not just the language, though that is powerful.  They say that the most isolating malady that one can have is deafness and not understanding the language around you is a close second.  But everyone with whom I have spoken French has been wonderful.  At least I speak well enough not to offend.

In talking with Françoise who is French and Richard, her husband, who is English, it is apparent that one is pretty much the person of the first five years of life.  Everything after that is in comparison or contrast to a view of life that is developed during those early years.  Therapists understand it…you don’t change a person, you just help him or her to deal with the reality of not being able to change the essentials.  Françoise is French. Richard is English, though he has lived in France longer than he lived in England.  And I am American, through and through, even though I’m not quite sure what that is.

Actually I take heart in the fact that we can look around us and choose what we might like to change.  When you see people eating in a bouchon, a particular type of French restaurant that we might call a bistro, you know that it is a good idea to have wine at lunch and to eat really good food in leisure in the middle of the day.  It might be a good idea to give up the sweat suits and t-shirts and think of clothing as an expression of who we are and who we want to be.  On the other hand, maybe the French, at least the ones I have encountered in the last 24 hours, could smile more and smoke less.  All of this is totally surface, of course, but the brain goes to strange places when one is in strange places.

photoStopped in a couple of pottery shops today.  Both were showcases for resident potters and had lovely work, obviously made for sales.  Laurence Girard (www.laurencegirardceramique.com) has a very earthy palate and uses oxides and engobes.  The work was singular and strong and commercial.  She was very nice to explain what she does and how she works.  Beate Rönnefarth (no website but her work can be seen at http://www.lecoindesceramistes.fr/les-ceramistes/parnom/ronnefarth_beate/index.htm) makes the most delicate tableware in porcelain with simple glazes, as well as more sculptural work. It was the tableware that grabbed me.  I had seen her work on another visit here and Françoise remembered that I had liked it.  I bought two bowls and could have bought much more.  If ever in Lyon, stop by.

photo 1But it was the lunch that made me know that I am in France and that I am very very lucky.  Le Bouchon de Musée.  Incroyable!  The ambience, the lovely man who owns the place and the excellent food that is essentially Lyonais.  No website but you can google it.  I would weigh a thousand pounds if I lived here.  Here is Françoise and the lovely man and me after the meal.  Notice the Rolling Stones t-shirt!

photo 4I am writing at 30,000 feet, on a flight to Atlanta.  The past two days at Half Moon Bay are a bit of a blur, mainly because I didn’t do very much, not much of note, to be sure.  The promise to say nothing if I had nothing to say outweighed the promise to write everyday.

The Pacific shore is probably one of the most picturesque places on Earth.  At some point you just stop taking pictures, which is a good thing because you look at your surroundings with a different “lens”, not the one on your camera (or, more likely, your smartphone) but the one in your brain.  Your response becomes, “Oh, that’s a beautiful sunset, all coral and caramel!”, instead of, “If I move to my left a few feet, I can get the pelicans in the shot.”

But the instinct to grab that landscape is strong.  It’s as if I may not remember it if I don’t “take” it.  Wouldn’t it be cool to go around the entire country taking pictures of the shoreline in a continual line?  (Oh dear, this sounds like a late night, jet lag-induced idea to me.  I don’t think I’ll start the project just yet.)

These two guys were visitors on the last day at Half Moon Bay.  I walked out of the hotel room to see what I think is a hawk and then the pelican posed in profile on the beach walk above.  Wildness made tame, just for us

.photo 1photo 3

photo 3Leaving San Francisco this morning was a fairly simple affair.  Pack, pick up the rental car and drive about an hour south of the city to Half Moon Bay.  San Francisco is one of those places in which you can feel at home without having spent a lot of time in residence.  While you are there, the cable cars are your cable cars.  The many coffee shops welcome you, personally.   The sense of community in each area…North Beach, Chinatown, Hayes Valley and, yes, even Haight Ashbury…seems familiar, more from movies and having lived through the 60s than from real experience, but it all makes sense and is not jarring.  It is a city one can return to again and again and discover old and new pleasures.

On the drive to Half Moon Bay, we stopped at a beach along Route 1, the coastal route.  The beaches are photo 1big and powerful here.  Big sweeps of sand between huge points of rock, backed by sand dunes and rushed by waves populated by dozens of surfers.  Definitely not like Maine.  Sitting in the warm sand with cups of coffee in hand and the morning sun on our backs, my husband asked me about what I was thinking about in terms of work for a show scheduled at Telluride Gallery of Fine Art in June of next year.  He is used to the rhythms of my working:  long stretches of thinking and research, punctuated more and more frequently with sketches and defining and beginning the actual making.

photo 2“Transitions,” I said, and we spent the following 40 minutes talking about what that might mean, what words begin to put pins in the map to tell me in what direction I need to go.  Transitions as change or growth.  Or seasons.  Or movement.  I won’t go on about it now because the ideas aren’t developed yet and I don’t want to “spend” them or to dissipate them through familiarity.  But it was the process that we followed that might be of interest.  There are two important elements.  1.  Getting away so that there are no interruptions, either real or imagined.  And 2.  Having a trusted partner who is as invested in success as you are but has no ownership in the outcome.  I don’t give this as a surefire prescription for success in developing one’s work, but as I look back, so often my best work has come about following a period of time that puts me outside of my normal life and involves the sounding of ideas with another person, usually Kirby.  I hadn’t really thought of it before, but now I see it…in transition from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay.

 

photo 1On the road…or more precisely, in the air…again.  Over the next three weeks, I will be in San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, California, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, France and Italy.  None of these trips is at my instigation, all are because of invitations tendered by others.   The fact that they line up, cheek by jowl, is not so great but the rest is pretty swell.

Yesterday, my husband and I left Portland, Maine for an easy, two-leg flight to San Francisco.  He has a business conference in Half Moon Bay, an hour and a half south of San Francisco that begins Sunday evening.  We decided to add a couple of days in the city to see a performance of Norma at the San Francisco Opera.  We don’t often have the chance to see live, world-class opera and wanted to take advantage of being here.  This also allows for a little normalization to the three-hour time difference.

The wedding is that of the son of dear friends from Pennsylvania.  We have known this kid since he was born and so we wanted to be there for such an important day in his life.  Then we will fly out of Philadelphia to Paris, where Kirby will go on to some business meetings and I will take the TGV to Lyon to visit my French teacher and friend, Françoise.  A few days there and then Kirby and I join up again and drive to Tuscany to join other friends for their 5oth wedding anniversary.

My plan is to treat this as a trip that will give me something to say and so I plan to write every day or so.  You know that I have made such commitments before with not always the best follow-up but surely California, France and Italy can generate something of interest to chronicle.  More to come…

photo 2I did it.  I bit the bullet, took the bull by the horns, hitched up my big girl pants,  and did it.  (Not a pretty image there, is it?)  I ordered a smaller kiln.  This is a big deal.  It’s not as if a kiln half as large as another of the same brand costs half as much.  Nope.  But it had become apparent to me that I needed to be able to turn work around more quickly.  The time it took to make enough work to fill my Big Boy kiln was draining the energy of the process of make, discover and make some more.  When I am working larger, making four larger pieces instead of sixty smaller ones to fill it, the big kiln will make more sense.

Much research and internal dialogue went along with the decision.  Skutt kilns are reasonable, easy to use and available from my local ceramic supplier, Portland Pottery.  I like the one I have but wondered if it made sense to look at another brand.  I did but decided to stay with Skutt, a known quantity.  Then I spent time on their website, looking at the seemingly endless sizes and configurations that they have.  Staying with the smallest sizes, I debated between two.

Now here is where the Universe, once again, came to my aid.  A week or so ago, I had emailed Bill Griffith, the education photo 3director at Arrowmont School of Crafts and a darn good potter, to ask about a small kiln that I had seen in his studio, to see if he liked it and could give some guidance.  As it happened, I ended up in his SPAM folder and he didn’t see my note until yesterday.  He responded and said that he liked his small kiln very much and would put me in contact with David Gamble, a representative for Skutt, to see what he could add.  David wrote within an hour or so to tell me of his experience with his KM-818 and how much he liked it and that, indeed, Bill’s small kiln was a KM-818.  Decision made.

I had decided to order the kiln today, Monday, and so was fretting a bit about which to choose.  Then, out of the SPAM folder, came a voice and then two voices to tell me what to do.  You’ve got to love it when that happens.

My dear husband encouraged me in this purchase (to be honest, he’ll be financing the purchase for awhile) because, as he said, “You’re getting to this clay thing pretty late, so you had better get going.  If you need this, let’s do it.”  While I don’t always appreciate the reference to age, he’s absolutely right.  But more than that, he understands the importance of process.  I realized that clay is a part of what I do in my artistic and professional life now.  The process of working with a new material has been a wonderful learning experience, but it is not a pastime or a hobby.  It is a part of my repertoire, if you will.  I need to honor it and feed it and work it for all it’s worth.

photo 2Game Changers.  Nifty name for an exhibition at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts.  www.FullerCraft.org  The original premise, as I understand it, was to catalogue, with one piece each, the artists working in fibers in the US since the 60s, who helped to shape the contemporary textiles field, those who “changed the game”.  For the most part, that is what the show accomplishes.  There are, of course, people left out and people who have not exactly changed the game yet.

I am pleased to be included.  Not only am I included but I share a corner with John Garrett and John photo 3McQueen!  Pretty cool.  There is work by Ed Rossbach, Jane Sauer, Kay Sekimachi, Olga DeAmaral, Dorothy Gill Barnes, Cynthia Schira, Diane Itter, Lia Cook, Randall Darwall, Gyongy Laky, and Warren Seelig…all names from the pantheon of the contemporary textile field.  Not all were represented by the best of their oeuvre, but that is to be expected.  This is a celebration of contemporary textile history, after all, not a historic reckoning.  The guest curators, Pat Warner and Katherine Glover, did a masterful job with little time and a modest budget.

photo 5At the reception on Sunday, I was speaking with Jonathan Fairbanks, the director of the Museum, and said something about how terrific it was that they were having a textiles show.  An elegant woman nearby said, in a gently corrective tone, “Don’t you mean a fiber show?”  I had to laugh (internally).  Forty years ago, having recently graduated with an MFA in Textile Design, as it was called, I was teaching at a small college in Pennsylvania.  The Art Department had one person to teach each of the material disciplines…clay, metals, painting, textiles, etc.  I was textiles.  But it was the early 70s and the word, fiber, was coming into vogue.  I met with the college curriculum committee to defend a change of name from textiles to fiber.  The basis for the argument was the parallel alignment of the materials of craft.  Clay, metals, wood were all materials.  Textiles referred to structure, really.  OK, they said, from now on we have a Fiber Department.

Forty years later, imagine my surprise when talking to…ahem…younger artists that they had taken the word, textiles, to be the preferred designation.  I’m photo 4not sure on what basis they made that choice but I have a feeling that it is the generational change thing at work.  We want to claim what we are doing as something new and different. We look to words to stake a claim.  Craftsman.  Craftsperson.  Artist.  Fiber artist.  Textile artist.  None of them really expresses the breadth of what has been done and continues to be done in the field but we continually struggle with sounding new and different.  Maybe the show should have been called Name Changers.

Photos were taken with an iPhone by my husband.  The work is by John Garrett, John McQueen, Lissa Hunter, Carol Eckert and Jane Sauer.

b-bannerJust a quick note to let you know that there is an interview posted on Angela Adams’ website about her take on what I do.  My studio is in the same building as her design offices and shop and is a respite for tired eyes and the crankiness that comes from working alone.  You’ll enjoy the rest of her website, too.  It’s full of articles about lifestyle, design, food, nature and Portland, Maine.  Take a look!  www.angelaadams.com/blog/interview-lissa-hunter/