Making in clay at the Jackson Memorial Library

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Summer Office Assistant Laura Williams shares her experience teaching clay techniques to a group of youth in St. George, Maine.

Before coming to Watershed, I taught and made in Chicago, Illinois at Magical Minds Studio, an after school program providing students with a space to learn about and make art. I knew when I accepted the job in Watershed’s office that I’d miss my home studio, but felt the opportunity to work for Watershed and live in Midcoast Maine was worth the time away.  So, when the Jackson Memorial Library invited Watershed to lead a two day workshop with the youth of St. George, I was thrilled. Brian McNamara, another summer staff member also volunteered. Together we put together our two day lesson; the first day focused on mask-making and the second day was devoted to using coils to create vessels.

Attaching coils to the base

We worked in the Watershed claybody, a terracotta earthenware that was deposited outside the Watershed studio back when Watershed served as a brick factory. Before diving into the first clay project with the students, we discussed the clay mining process and the kids excitedly pulled apart their material in search of rocks and other matter typically found in ground clay. The children’s work, when fired, will form a lovely brick color.  

During the first day of instruction, Brian demonstrated how to throw a slab by picking up a piece of clay and throwing it at an angle onto the table. This process manipulates the shape of the material, forming a clay sheet. While many students enjoyed throwing the clay to create a flat surface, others chose to roll out the slab with a baker’s pin. Next, we laid our slabs over a ball of newspaper to form the desired facial shape. Participants then formed eyes, mouths, ears, cat whiskers and other details to bring the pieces to life.

Slipped finished form

The second day, we developed our abilities in coiling. After building a base, we slipped and scored each coil, laying them atop one another to gain height. Slipping and scoring refers to a ceramic process by which makers create texture on either side of the two pieces which are being attached. The maker then applies “slip” or soft, wet clay atop the texture as a sort of ceramic glue. This technique ensures the two pieces dry together and allow for a proper connection. Once we’d achieved the desired shape and size we painted our works with slips to be fired.

The workshop took place over two weekday mornings; and despite the time of day, the library was bustling. During the ceramics lesson, a tai chi class met outside, book seekers came and went, and workshop participants happily conversed with spectators about making in clay.  A group of local teachers met next door to prepare for the upcoming school year, and they stopped in to say hello, recognizing most of our participants. It quickly became clear that the library serves as a gathering hub for the St. George Community.

As the children’s pieces fire in our kiln, I feel lucky to have taught  this hard working and receptive group in such a beautiful and welcoming space. The children will soon have their work returned to them and will hopefully continue to make in clay.

Masks dry in the sun on the path to the library

A Summer Celebration of Food & Ceramics

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As the last days of July fly by and we welcome the start of August next week, we wanted to share a few photos from a Watershed mid-season celebration. During the final evening of our third 2017 residency session, our talented chefs, Adam Redd and Stephen Aleckna, treated residents and staff to a decadent five-course meal. Artists set a banquet table overlooking the meadow and neighboring farms, and decorated it with wildflowers arranged in handmade vases. Throughout the meal, the cooks plated each course on dinnerware sets created by the artists-in-residence; and following dessert, the group traded pieces from the sets to take home. It was a true celebration of creativity, local food, and summer with our wonderful ceramics community!  

Session leader Didem Mert smiles among friends as the delicious appetizers are served.

Summer staff member, Catherine Velasquez, enjoys the warm summer evening with the group.

Our location on the coast of Maine allows us to indulge in the best oysters around!

We raised our handmade ceramic cups to toast the chefs’ amazing work.

Ronan Peterson, Bebe Federmann, and Lisa Buck smile for a photo.

The beautifully plated main course on a plate made by Rachel Donner.

The meal was topped off with a delicious dessert made by Executive Director Fran Rudoff!

 

Thanks to the chefs, summer staff, and artists who made this event such a lovely celebration!

2017 Salad Days

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Thank you to everyone who helped make 2017 Salad Days such a smashing success! On July 8, we welcomed nearly 600 guests to the Watershed campus to celebrate local food and handcrafted ceramics.  The event is truly a collaborative effort and we are grateful to the artists, community restaurants and farms, business sponsors, board members, friends, staff, and volunteers who give their time and talents to make Salad Days special. We hope to see you all again for Salad Days 2018.  In the meantime, enjoy a few photos from the day. 

The Object’s Not the Point

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Guest blogger Namita Gupta-Wiggers shares her plans and reasons joining summer residency Session II: The Object’s Not the Point, with The Brick Factory collective this summer.  A few spots are still available for those interested in participating in this early summer residency from June 18-30.  Additional session artists include Erik Scollon, Summer Zickefoose, Thomas Myers, Carrie Marboe, and Nicole Burish. Learn more and register.
 
IMG_2936When Erik Scollon called and invited me to join The Brick Factory for a two-week residency at Watershed, I may have said “Yes!!” before we finished discussing what a residency can be. I could give a list of reasons why I am excited to spend time at Watershed that tie into my academic work, critical writing, and especially the three years of teaching a class on the Theory of Objects. While these are unquestionably a part of what I bring to the time together, I have very personal reasons for joining the group.
 
This is an opportunity to read, think, write, and talk. To do this away from daily life, dishes, the internet, cars that need tending . . . . and this will be a first for me. Curators don’t get such opportunities; independent curators even less. For this invitation to come from a group of artists I admire for their careful considerations, thoughtful writing and inspiring teaching. . . . my temptation is to gush, so I will be understated and say that I am excited to learn from everyone who will be there.
 
The invitation couldn’t have come at a better time for my own work as well. When I am not traveling or teaching, my work takes place at my kitchen table. It’s a beautiful spot, complete with a fluffy dog and occasional sunshine (I live in Portland, OR). I am often alone with my thoughts and the internet – but with intent. What I am doing in that space and at that spot has to go somewhere — into an article to be published, posts on Critical Craft Forum, a lecture for class. To have two weeks to read for the pleasure of thinking with the bonus of dialogue is a gift. I cannot wait to read what people share and am working on a short list of readings I have been meaning to get to or need to dive into as well.
 
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Gupta Wiggers’ maternal grandparents, Bapu Anant Khare and Sarojini Khare, c.1930s

I have a story in me that has been working its way out for decades. It cannot be told through words alone. When Erik and The Brick Factory extended this invitation, they did not know that I was trying to figure out how to work some of these ideas out through clay. In fact, Erik’s call was one of the first moments in which I articulated this outside of journal notes and thoughts in my head. The story circles around my grandparents.  Their lives were charmed and disastrous, linked to massive shifts in global power, span three continents, textile histories from home to factory, loves and losses. I worked as a studio jeweler for a number of years after leaving a PhD program in Art History; I stopped making jewelry because I no longer relished a production process involving the fabrication of objects that I could not make in ways that conveyed what was in my head. Curating at Museum of Contemporary Craft and the exhibition making and writing that offered opened a different form of creative expression. Now, I am ready to bring this all together. I cannot wait to work through clay and conversation at Watershed this June.
 

The History of Watershed’s Clay

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Ever wonder about how we go about making our clay at Watershed? Studio Manager Wm. Reeder Fahnestock shares the process we use, along with historical background and geologic context for Maine’s rich history of clay-processing and brick production.

Maine’s Geological and Brick-Making History

Maine’s mountains are considered some of the oldest on Earth. Comprising the northern part of the Appalachian chain, the Longfellow Mountains were formed during the Ordovician Period some 485 million years ago. Extended periods of vast glaciation acted on the mountains. The sheer weight of the ice caused the Earth’s crust to push downward and the abrasive action of glacial movement and the scouring action of melting ice eroded the bedrock below. As the ice sheets retreated, the sea level rose, flooding the depressed plains, while glacial streams deposited vast amounts of sediments at their mouths where they emptied into the ocean. Finer particles like sand, silt and clay were deposited in discrete layers away from the coarser materials. With the weight of the ice gone, the land rebounded exposing the deposits. The Presumpscot Formation of glacial marine clay is ubiquitous in the Mid-coast region of Maine with individual deposits reported up to 200 feet thick.

As the country began to expand in the post-Colonial era, there was high demand for durable materials to build the growing metropolises. The abundance of easily accessible clay, ample fuel to burn the bricks, the proximity of navigable waters with easy access to the coast, and the seasonal nature of work provided the key ingredients for a thriving brick manufacturing industry along the Mid-coast region of Maine. Presumpscot Formation clay contains impurities like fine sand, marine shells, and organic matter that precludes the necessity of adding tempering ingredients commonly associated with purer clay deposits, making the clay particularly suited to brick making, which requires such constituents for strength at the fired stage. At least twenty-three brickyard sites have been identified on the Damariscotta River alone. At its peak in the mid-nineteenth century, the nearby town of Wiscasset boasted seven brick makers, some with the capacity to fire up to a million bricks at a time. Edgecomb, Boothbay and Walpole were all home to thriving brick manufacturers. In addition to being used in the construction of local architecture, the bricks were widely exported to ports south, such as Boston, and were used as ballast in ships carrying other cargo.

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Brick makers in Brewer, Maine

These brickyards were mostly decentralized, small-scale operations run as a low-investment component of agricultural endeavors. Brick making was extremely labor intensive with all aspects of the trade executed by hand, from the excavation of the raw materials, to the forming of the finished product, to the lading of the ships used to carry it away to distant markets. The process was relatively simple. The clay was extracted using shovels and pick axes and wheel-barrowed to a drying yard to become permeable enough to be slaked in water. A primitive circular pit mill usually powered by horse or oxen broke the clay down into fine particles and mixed it to a consistent slurry ready for molding. In the absence of a mill, simply having the animals walk back and forth over the raw material would break up and mix the clay. Large impurities like rocks were removed and the raw material in slurry form was hand pressed into molds. After drying for a day, the molds were turned out, or “struck”, and the bricks were stacked to dry further. Bricks produced in this method of manufacture are referred to as “waterstruck” bricks.

Depending on weather, the drying process could take anywhere from a week to several weeks. The dried bricks were then assembled into “scoves”, primitive kilns assembled on site for each firing. The scoves were fired with wood. The entire process of building the scove, firing the kiln, cooling and unloading could take up to a month.

As the nineteenth century came to an end and the industrial revolution began to change the face of American manufacturing, Maine brick makers were slow to adapt new technology. The local industry was largely unchanged over the course of several hundred years. The one innovation that did take hold here was the invention of the Hobb’s Mill, a low-technology unit that combined the slurry mixing process and the molding process, though production was still one brick at a time. The Hobb’s mill was not enough to sustain an industry not in the position to scale up to fully mechanized production. Extruded brick became the industrial standard along with large permanent kilns and the Maine brick making industry quickly declined.

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Brick shards mixed with sediment on the banks of the Damariscotta River

Evidence of the boom period is clearly visible today with beaches along both the Damariscotta and Sheepscott rivers littered with the discards, now barnacle covered and worn smooth with the actions of tides and waves. Despite the fact that Maine was once considered the pinnacle of architectural brick manufacturing, today Morin Brick Co in Auburn is the only major brick manufacturer in the state and the last commercial American manufacturer of waterstruck brick.

Watershed’s Brick-Making Legacy

Watershed’s origins are inextricably entwined with the post-colonial brick manufacturing industry of the region. In 1974, during the ascendancy of the historic preservation movement, an attempt was made to revive the manufacture of waterstruck brick to supply what was projected to be an increasing demand. A large supply of locally mined Presumpscot clay was deposited on the property of Margret Griggs (which would later become Watershed) and a large chicken barn was relocated from elsewhere on the property to house a drying area and two large, oil fired, beehive kilns. Brick molds were made and an electrically modified Hobb’s Mill was installed adjacent to the clay hill. So was born the Watershed Brick and Clay Products Co. But much of the work was still labor intensive,  production was limited to warm months and the location of the factory in a swale retarded drying times. Market forces did not materialize in their favor and transportation costs exceeded profitability. The enterprise lasted for only a year.

Margaret Griggs, an artist and investor in the brick factory, had long envisioned a place where ceramic artists could work on large scale pieces, either independently or in collaboration. In 1985 Griggs joined forces with local artist George Mason to organize a pilot project to utilize the brick factory site in a new way. George and Lynn Duryea joined twelve artists from the US and Britain to live and work on the property for a summer. In the fall, Chris Gustin invited students and graduate faculty from the Ceramics Department of the Swain School of Design to live and work for ten days at the former brickyard. The rustic and open-ended aspects of the facility encouraged the artists to approach their work with a new vigor and awareness. As a result, an enlightened community of artists came together to establish Watershed’s philosophy and shape its future as a residential ceramics facility

Today, while we no longer manufacture brick, we still use the clay that was deposited here for that purpose. One of the beehive kilns has been preserved and the Hobbs Mixer is still standing beside the clay hill. We no longer use the kiln or the mill, but we do harvest the clay and process it mostly by hand to supply artists with terra cotta derived from local deposits. While some artists prefer the clay straight off the hill, we make additions to the clay for use by residents. Straight from the ground the clay is rather rough, even by some brick making standards, with large particulates, organic matter and naturally occurring lime deposits. The occasional pebble or small bit of twig are not unusual and tend to make themselves apparent at the most inconvenient times in the construction process, appearing as you bring up a vessel wall or trim a foot. And the lime, invisible in the green stage, can cause breakage during the firing process. While passing the dry clay through a hammer mill mostly alleviates those problems, it is a time consuming step that is bypassed in the name of expediency and economics. We live with the impurities.

Watershed Clay Today

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Sifting raw clay on the hill behind the Watershed studio

Our process consists of breaking up the exposed surface of the clay hill with shovels and bow rakes and passing the material through a series of screens to remove the largest impurities. This material is then spread on tarps to dry before being transferred to a Soldner clay mixer and slaked. Small amounts of commercially mined materials are added: fire clay to raise the firing temperature, ball clay to enhance its plasticity, and barium to counter the effects of soluble sulphates present in the clay. It is mixed until sufficiently homogenous and of the plastic consistency appropriate for studio ceramic use.

Clay drying by studio

Drying clay on tarps

Unweathered Presumpscot clay is usually described as gray blue in color with striations that vary with depth. Sections closer to the surface tend to be browner which is considered to be a result of oxidation. No difference in the particle size, plasticity, mineral or organic content of the different striations has been discovered. The Watershed clay deposit is of the browner variety with a slight bluish/greenish tint when hydrated. Watershed’s clay matures at pyrometric cone 04 (1915° F) and can be fired as high as cone 1 (2028° F). At these temperatures it fires to a pleasing brick orange color. At higher temperatures it goes quickly from brown to black and becomes overfired. In reduction atmospheres it is highly prone to bloating. Used straight off the hill it becomes a pale greenish glaze at cone ten (2345° F) in reduction atmospheres.

SD plates drying

Salad Days Artist plates

Watershed’s residency program supports a hundred artists in a season, including our Salad Days Artist, who is tasked with making five hundred plates for sale at our annual summer fundraiser. The plates are made from the Watershed clay mixed on site. While not all artists use the Watershed brick clay, we produce a minimum of ten thousand pounds each summer. Although the process is time consuming, labor intensive and weather dependent we are proud to carry on a tradition so rich in local history.

 

 

Earth, Water, and Fire: 2017 Summer Session I Preview

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In this guest post, artist and session leader Berry Matthews shares her plans and reasons for organizing Watershed 2017 Residency Session I: Earth, Water, and Fire.  Several spots are still available for those interested in joining the group from June 4-16.  Additional participants include guest artist Trisha Coates and AIA members Rosette Gault, Elizabeth Garber, Roy Pearson, and Joan Watson.  Learn more and register.

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“Fire on Ice” installation by Berry Matthews

I have been to Watershed four times. The first time was soon after I had lost my teaching job, my dad and my boyfriend. I was pretty depressed, but Watershed gave me a wonderful place to work hard and move forward. I still remember working at night on an installation with a large fan on high to keep the mosquitoes from devouring me. (I am so glad the studio is now screened in!) Many years later when I came back with a group organized by Paula Winokur, there were new quarters for artists and a bathroom building with a fabulous tile wall. We were there during Salad Days and I remember helping out in the kitchen peeling carrots for the huge crowd, and making a fire installation. I came back soon after that and again for a fall salt kiln firing, each time enjoying the wonderful fresh meals, and a great sense of support and friendship. I love the earthiness of Watershed! Each time it feels a little more like home.

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Artists lighting Matthews’ installation

I can get a lot of work done in 2 weeks at Watershed and still enjoy a late afternoon swim in the nearby pond. All the materials are there to mix my own clay and glazes and the staff is ready to help when I need other materials. I am looking forward to creating another fire installation using beeswax on clay that everyone is invited to light with me. (I am taking a poi class now…so who knows maybe some fire dancing too!)

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Installation after burning

Each time I come I have learned new ideas to use from other artists’ approaches to clay (who knew a heat gun could be so useful?) During Session I, there will be artists at Watershed who make large installations with paper clay and artists who are primarily potters, but who use their functional work to extend conversations about art and how we approach it.

I look forward to meeting new people with new ideas and to seeing how our session uses the time at Watershed expand and grow our work. And to making new friends!

To learn more and sign up for Earth, Wind, and Fire – visit our 2017 Summer Residency page.  There is room for any artist to join this session.

Reawakenings: 2017 Summer Session IV Preview

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Artist Whitney Forsyth shares her plans and reasons for organizing a residency session at Watershed.  Spots are still available for those interested in joining the group from July 23 to August 4, 2017.  Additional participating artists include Kate Dameron, Cathryn Thomas, Allison Lackner, Nancy Andrasko, Shawn Phillips, Beth Edwards, and Mike Teal.  Learn more and register.

whit picMy first visit to Watershed was in 2008 when I was invited to attend an AIA session led by Virginia Scotchie. It was a meaningful time full of laughter, relationships, food, hospitality and tons of clay. The studio was inviting and productive. Hearing and smelling the rain through the open screen windows in the studio was refreshing and calm. It was a time for me to refocus my studio practice with a wonderful new family of clay artists.

I have always wanted to return to Watershed for another residency, but the timing had not been right. Last year I connected with Watershed board member Gretchen Keyworth, who travelled to Tulsa, Oklahoma with a group of Smithsonian Renwick Collectors to see what was happening in contemporary craft in our city. When we met she made the Watershed connection with me knowing I had been to a residency there, which led me to finally propose an AIA session.

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Whitney Forsyth

 

I gathered a group of Tulsa based clay artists that I know through teaching at The University of Tulsa and interacting within the larger Tulsa art community to join me at Watershed this summer. We are a diverse group of clay artists from sculptors to potters who care about clay in our lives and our community. We have witnessed a recent transformation in the Tulsa art community through the revitalization of our downtown and arts district. As clay artists we are actively looking for ways to make a difference in this thriving art community, through teaching, making and exhibiting our own work, and participating in dialogue that might lead to new community clay opportunities.

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Kate Dameron

 

My hope is that artists who live in other communities that are on the verge of or have experienced this same kind of revitalization will join with us to share their ideas and efforts. We are excited to see more clay in Tulsa in the future, in education, museums, galleries, art centers and public spaces and to find creative ways to make this happen. We are passionate about our studio work, each other, our art community and would love to spend time with other clay artists who share the same enthusiasm and experiences from different places in the US.

Click here to learn more about joining this session of artists at Watershed.

The Art of Maine

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screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-11-52-53-amMaine has a long tradition of influential artists and craftspeople finding space in our state to create and contemplate close to nature.  Some stay for a few weeks, others make their homes here for a lifetime.  The most recent issue of The Maine Quarterly shines a spotlight on some of Maine’s most influential artists, arts organizations, collectives, and communities, examining their role in our state’s creative life and history. We are thrilled to be included among those featured! 

Read the piece on Watershed in the Community section of the publication – be sure to watch the short video on Watershed’s residency program and a second video to learn more about Salad Days . (Save the date and plan to join us for this year’s Salad Days on July 8!).  You can also peruse the whole issue here.

Chris Gustin Honored by The American Craft Council

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chris-headshotOn October 14, The American Craft Council will induct Watershed Co-Founder Chris Gustin into the ACC College of Fellows for his outstanding achievements in the craft field. We are thrilled to celebrate with Chris as he receives this honor! His extensive body of ceramic work, as well as his commitment to forming creative spaces (like Watershed) where artists can engage, connect and informally learn from one another, highlight his unique vision and lasting impact on the clay community.

Chris grew up with clay in his blood, as his family co-owned several whiteware ceramic manufacturing companies in Los Angeles, CA. His love of clay developed early but it took his brother’s urging for Chris to pursue the artist’s path. He briefly worked for the family company as a factory foreman, but changed direction to attend college at Kansas City Art Institute and graduate school at Alfred University in the early 1970’s. 

photo7After completing his formal studies, Chris taught ceramics at a number of northeastern colleges and received several fellowships that helped establish his career in clay. He exhibited work extensively, both nationally and internationally, and eventually settled in South Dartmouth, Mass, where he still lives today. From 1989-1999 Chris served as Associate Professor of Ceramics at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He retired from teaching in 1999 to pursue his own studio practice and run his custom tile production company full time.  

Chris’ profile in this month’s issue of American Craft magazine focuses on the pivotal impact that several personal and professional relationships have had on his life and career. He speaks about the profundity of his brother’s encouragement to follow his interest and passion for clay and the pride he has for the role Watershed has played in so many artists lives. 

In the following video, hear Chris share the story of Watershed’s beginnings and enjoy scenes from our early days.  While our center continues to grow and develop, the core of what we offer—the opportunity for artists to live and work alongside one another and form lasting creative communities—remains true to Watershed’s origins. 

Chris, we are grateful for your vision, passion, and dedication to not only your work and Watershed, but to the ceramics community as a whole. Congratulations on this well deserved award!

Jason Burnett Leads Dynamic Surface Design Workshop

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Plate surface design by Jason Burnett

A week and a half ago, Watershed was brimming with the energy and excitement of Jason Burnett’s surface design workshop. Fourteen artists arrived from many corners of Maine, as well as many corners of the country, to join Jason as he shared a wide range of techniques and tricks for ceramic surface design.

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Jason demonstrates slip transfers on tiles

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A participant experiments with applying slips using newsprint

During the three-day workshop, Jason filled the factory with his southern warmth and charm, and kept the group laughing as they learned everything from making and applying decals to inlaying with slips, burning screens to applying screen printed images with under glaze inks, repeat pattern design to simple Photoshop techniques, and much more. The group walked away from the warm fall weekend at Watershed excited to try many of these methods in their own practice.  

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Jason shows how to apply and layer decals

Jason’s work has been shown and published extensively, in a number of publications including Pottery Making Illustrated, Ceramics Monthly and American Craft. In 2015 he wrote and published a book: Graphic Clay: Ceramic Surfaces & Printed Image Transfer Techniques. He is known for his functional ceramic pieces which layer slips, stamps, screen printed images, decals and lusters to create bright and fantastical objects that tell stories through their surfaces.

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Jason’s enthusiastic teaching style kept everyone engaged and excited throughout the weekend.