I am just winding down after 8 days of non-stop work. I’ve never worked so hard and I have fabulous pieces to show for it. My series of faces may be the best work I have ever done. Some of the things I worked hard on didn’t come off but I learned from them as well.
I’m kind of amazed that this all happened: I took a class with Andrea Peterson a year and a half ago and at the end I did some small works that I thought had real energy. They were faces, made in an almost panicky way because the three-day class was coming to an end. I was using up paper pulp that would have gone to waste, so I was kind of throwing it all about. The faces I made there, 8” by 10”, had power, and I asked Andrea if she would consider teaching me more. She said yes, and we planned a 10-day session for this fall.
It all seemed so remote, and I had no idea if my energy from that short session would translate into a long one. It turns out it got magnified, and that is largely because of Andrea. I’ve never had such perfect support: physically she makes all the pulps (very labor intensive), knows all the recipes, has huge forms for making large sheets, has been teaching for years, and lets me work long hours on whatever path I am on but seems to have a sixth sense about when to nudge me further and when to just leave me be. I feel like an Olympian athlete with the most perfect trainer.
All of this is taking place at Andrea’s farm/home in Indiana. She is set up for papermaking and printing; her husband, Jon, is a potter. Her two boys are wonderful, full of humor and curiosity. They have been homeschooling since I mentioned the possibility when I visited last year, and it has worked out very well for everyone. This is a wonderland for kids, full of plants, animals, and projects in various stages. Everyone spends their days problem-solving: while Andrea and I are trying to get black pigment particles to stick to cotton rag, Jon is working on his new fireplace for the house, based on a Finnish model. He is also designing pizza and bread ovens as a change from making kilns. The one he is testing this week was made by weaving a huge basket from grape vines, turning it over and filling the spaces with clay, and firing it. When you look inside, to see if your pizza is getting hot, you see the pattern of clay smooshed between the ghost of the grape branches. (I’ve been with them for several dinners, the pizza nights being the most memorable. How about goat, mozzarella, tomato, basil, onion, oregano pizza?)
Andrea and Jon, with Lu and Ry, grow much of what they eat - plant and animal. Ry, who is 11, is the farmer of the family and has 3 pigs, a goat, 22 chickens, 7 roosters, and a garden. His love is fixing old tractors with a neighbor nearby. Lu is more of an artist: his menagerie consists of 6 cats. There are two dogs that are just around, underfoot, happy to be part of the melee. A typical discussion at lunch will be about the perfect temperature for the yogurt Lu made, or whether the pickles Ry made could use a different spice. This will be followed by news that a neighbor’s chickens are sick and what they might do to help, and then a discussion of haying rotations and when Ry can go out again with neighbor Charles to drive the haying tractor. (I got to go on one of the big ones and do some turns in the field while it spit out bales from behind.)
Then Lu (9) will ask if he can make an ocarina this afternoon when Jon is in the clay studio, and he will show us the bag he sewed out of leather in the morning. We will discuss various ways to make a drawstring. Christon, who is visiting from Maine, will pass down a brew he made from Belgian hops: the one taste I had was the most memorable sip of beer I have ever had. (Small wonder he just won a national prize for micro-brewing.) A cat they call the Avon Lady will paw at the door and make mewing sounds, so someone will get up to let her in and that will start a discussion of where all the cats came from. (Later Lu and I will make him a cat family tree with illustrations, and I will get to know the naming of the cats. “Oolala” was a good story and is as beautiful as her name implies.)
The physical world of making and doing is a constant buzz, and making paper is just one element. Meanwhile, family, neighbors, visitors and customers to their small shop drop by in a constant stream. Much of the work I did was in the thoroughfare of the paper studio, with dogs and cats and kids and guests going back and forth.