Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Dardo's Tale from PBI

By Guest Blogger Jill Littlewood

This was my first Paper and Book Intensive (PBI) and the intensity is what impressed and pleased me the most: everyone came expecting to put in 12- to 15-hour days, students and instructors alike. This kind of dedication to work is rare in my life for two reasons: one, everything is fragmented into short bursts of work, whether it is on the computer, in the community, or in the studio. The other reason is that I am not in school, so I rarely have a chance to work continuously with people who love what I do with a depth that matches mine. PBI gives this unique opportunity to stretch and grow when you are already an artist in the world – there really is nothing comparable in our field. And the momentum that builds as the days pass is rare in any aspect of my life; as this group of people works with each other they develop a depth of caring and community beautiful to behold.

Of course, having someone make, serve, and clean up three meals a day is one of the greatest luxuries I can imagine: if in addition you are encouraged to work in an art studio you are truly blessed. The food at Arrowmont is wonderful; the staff a joy; and since we were there in the spring the beauty of the place was all around: azalea’s blooming, dogwood in profusion, the green of the Tennessee hills wrapping us in its lushness. I saw a giant luna moth on a tree outside the ceramics studio; I saw great blue herons in the stream close by; I counted 25 swallowtail butterflies on a tiny sand beach. I even saw a family of snakes emerging from rocks by the river: the mother’s head was surrounded by four small ones – the effect was a miniature mythological Hydra -while the father felt the air with his tongue near by. They were coming out to enjoy the spring air, as we all were.

The school is an oasis in the tackiest of tourist towns: every night we could hear the revving of engines at the Harley Davidson shop and music blaring from the Hard Rock CafĂ©. The town of Gatlinburg is surreal: here at the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park you can visit Elvis looking jaunty in wax or King Kong delivering Fay Ray to safety on the hour. You can buy a bikini made of confederate flags or a shirt with Bush Senior and Junior with the caption, “Dumb and Dumber.” You can get grits and cotton candy in the same store, and you can wash down your funnel cake with a mocha latte or your corn dog with florescent green shaved ice. Women in Mennonite caps stare at tee shirts showing buxom babes flung on the antlers of elk (something about racks written below); a Hell’s Angel roars and fumes in the gridlock of traffic behind an RV towing an SUV. Somehow it all holds together, and Arrowmont continues its long tradition of the finest of craft instruction. Making objects carefully by hand feels like an important contribution to the continuation of civilization amidst all the cheap, imported, mass produced souvenirs close by. And being in community with others who want to make things more than buy them helps staunch the doubts that can creep in when you spend hours working alone on a single cup or book or bowl.

PBI gets the finest instructors and, given the student body, I can imagine it is nice to have such dedicated students. The instructors put in really long hours helping everyone bring their projects to completion. We saw the work from the classes at a Show & Tell towards the end of the second session – this was in addition to the night when we showed our own personal work that we had brought with us. Both times I was amazed at the range and depth of the people who come to PBI. Each event made the personalities of the participants vivid: seeing another artist’s work is a way to know that person in a rich way. After each event, conversations jumped up a notch and personal connections followed.

So, if your idea of fun is hard work, low pay, and Elvis in wax, be sure to get on PBI’s mailing list so you can join in next year:

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