Bluegrass legend Doc Watson passes

I woke up to the news that flat picking legend Doc Watson passed away. A truly sad day for bluegrass fans. Blind from an early age his refined sense of touch could be heard in the way he picked the guitar. He had the ability to play with intensity without muddying the crisp tone of the strings. His fluid sound never seemed heavy handed even while playing at great speed.

He lived in Deep Gap, NC right down the road from my alma mater Appalachian State. One night while having dinner with friends I looked over to realize he was eating at the table beside ours. He was a fixture of the local community and the school recently honored him with the Doc Watson Endowment for Appalachian Studies. His legacy is a great reminder that mountain music is a living tradition in Appalachia.

One of Doc's many great contributions to bluegrass was the founding of Merlefest in North Wilkesboro, NC. The festival named after his son Merle, who tragically died in 1985, has grown into one of the year's best festivals for bluegrass and old time music. It happens to fall on the weekend surrounding my birthday so I have many fond bluegrass birthday memories. The last time I attended in 2000 the bluegrass-influenced jam band The String Cheese Incident was on the bill. The crowd was an entertaining mix of patch work wearing neohippies and baptist church going mountain music fans. The cross over appeal of bluegrass into the counter culture dates back to the early 1960's when pickers like Doc and Bill Monroe toured college campuses during the era's folk revival.

For those not familiar with bluegrass I have included two examples of his playing. The video above is one of my favorite songs that Doc would play. This version of Jimmy Driftwood's Tennessee Stud opens with a close up of Doc's fingers moving effortless over the fret board. The video below shows Doc playing Summertime with his son Merle. Doc's voice is a great complement to Merle's string bending intro.

R.I.P. Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson 1923-2012

Click here to listen to a 1988 Fresh Air interview with Doc Watson.


Way Outback: Animal Kingdom

It is easy to feel alone in the endless plains of the outback but that feeling constitutes a lack of perspective. At all times there are animals above you, below you, around you but most of all invisible to you. Our lazy human position at the top of the food chain has allowed our peripheral awareness to slip. Only when I stood still in the desert could I notice the abundant animal life around me.

Societies that maintain active hunting traditions retain and refine their ability to see food sources around them. The Anangu people fit solidly in that category. I spent an afternoon hunting kangaroo and ngintuka (a type of lizard) with a few men from Ernabella. I was blown away by their ability to see animals in the bush. We would be driving down a station road at 40 miles an hour when they would signal to stop. Pointing the rifle to the horizon they would shoot at roos hundreds of yards in the distance without the aid of a scope. They seemed to have a sixth sense when hunting.

As well as being a food source these animals are key characters in Anangu cosmology. Their myths use animals to address sustenance and survival often anthropomorphizing them with human characteristics. (Click here to see a video about Kuniya, the sand python of Uluru.) I have included images of desert animals with the art made to portray them. From the top down you can see bush turkey, kangaroo, witchetty grubs, magpie, and perentie.

I'm glad to say the bush turkey plate above is now part of my collection. The bird is framed so nicely by the lopsided concentric circles. The artist Carlene divides the decorative border into five parts switching shades of green and the number of lines in the motif to keep your eye activated. The Ernabella artists where masterful in their mixing of animal forms into pattern and decoration.

In the next post I will discuss the Anangu depiction of land in their art. I'll be showing paintings made of thousands of individual dots that form aerial views of Anangu land.

Way Outback chronicles my time in the remote outback town of Ernabella, South Australia. I am spending a month here collaborating with aboriginal artists. For more information on the project you can visit the Kickstarter page that helped fund this project by clicking here.

Click below to read the other posts from the series
Way Outback: The Road to Ernabella
Way Outback: Night Writing
Way Outback: Chasing the Light
Way Outback: A Story for the Eyes
Way Outback: Animal Kingdom
Way Outback: Paint, Money, and Land
Way Outback: The Red Walls of Uluru


Way Outback: A story for the eyes

I went to Ernabella to learn about Anangu story telling. Their myths and fables represent an oral history stretching back generations, connecting the people to the land and their ancestors. By learning their cosmology I hoped to reflect on my own culture from another angle. The excitement of learning from other cultures often leads me to better understand my own sense of place and tradition.

In the lead up to the trip I fostered the idea that I would go there and record people telling their stories. Holding this quaint idea, I failed to realize that the people might not want to share their stories verbally. After all, why would they tell me? I am white, I am young, and I am an outsider. All three of these qualities disqualify me from most conversations about Anangu culture. I learned from friends in the community that to be included in any conversation is a gift that comes infrequently. It takes years for the community to trust a new member with cultural information.

My westernized assumption was that stories are meant to be told. I fell prey to the idea that the strength of a story lies in the telling. This is often true in our globalized society but Anangu culture is only 70 years removed from an isolated nomadic lifestyle. For them, a key aspect of a story's power is its ownership. Specific people have rights to specific stories. Men possess certain stories, and women possess others. Some are told openly in the community while others are only to be shared in the privacy of one-on-one communication. The stories aren't secret but they aren't for the outside world.

After a month in the community I can't say that I heard one story from start to finish. The most direct things I learned about stories came from reading exhibition catalogs in which aboriginal people agreed to be interviewed. It wasn't that I asked and wasn't told. They didn't hide anything. In fact the stories were accessible and ever present. They live in the paintings, the pots, and the sculpture that was made during my time there. They can be seen in the art, but they aren't often heard by outside ears.

I went to learn how Anangu embedded story into their art, and in the end I received the perfect learning scenario. Instead of being taught I had to observe. At first this change of plan frustrated me. Then it became a challenge. Each art work was a puzzle that I knew had meaning but lacked discernible pieces. It became my job to look for connections in imagery. After a month I am hooked wanting to know more.

I have included a few images to introduce you to a small portion of the Anangu aesthetic. The Anangu are spread over a great geographic distance leaving their aesthetic splintered into many subgroups. The bottom image shows Derek, a talented young clay artist, working on a Kangaroo platter. This animal is at the core of many Anangu stories. The next post will be about the representation of animals in Anangu decoration.

This post functions as a restart to the series Way Outback. My ideas about the community have changed dramatically during the last two months so I need to restart with a disclaimer. From here on you won't see many photos of the Anangu as there are prohibitions about sharing their image publicly. Any individuals who appear in this series have graciously given me permission. Images are not to be reproduced in any way without permission from the individual pictured. I want to publicly thank the Ernabella community for letting me be there and for the artists who worked along side me in the studio. 

Way Outback chronicles my time in the remote outback town of Ernabella, South Australia. I am spending a month here collaborating with aboriginal artists. For more information on the project you can visit the Kickstarter page that helped fund this project by clicking here.

Click below to read the other posts from the series
Way Outback: The Road to Ernabella
Way Outback: Night Writing
Way Outback: Chasing the Light
Way Outback: A Story for the Eyes
Way Outback: Animal Kingdom
Way Outback: Paint, Money, and Land
Way Outback: The Red Walls of Uluru


The 3 Cheers for 3 Years give away winner is....

The winner of the 3 Cheers for 3 Years cup give away is Carol Mcginnis from the great state of Texas. She will receive this cup in the mail shortly. Thanks to all those who participated and have supported the blog over the years.

In other news I am finally home in Shanghai. A week in Seattle, five weeks in Australia, and a weekend touring Shanghers (aka people from Shanghai) around Jingdezhen has left me worn out. I'll be back in the studio tomorrow with lots of catching up to do. I have what feels like thousands of photos to edit along with a few exciting new video projects. I look forward to getting them up as soon as I can. For a tease here is a shot of the pots that came out of the kiln in Ernabella. More to come soon.


Tales of a Red Clay Rambler Podcast: Ep. 2 Chandra Debuse

This week on the Tales of a Red Clay Rambler Podcast I have an interview with studio potter Chandra Debuse. Her animated functional pottery serves as an imagined world where squirrels, rats and slugs engage in the often humorous activities that make up the human condition. She uses drop molds and throwing to create the bulbous forms that become environments for her characters to interact. She says of her work, "My work, in practice and product, reflects my approach to make-believe, which I identify through worlds of imagination, character, and landscape. I incorporate bouncing lines, candy colors, low relief and hand-drawn elements into my ceramic service ware, encouraging a sense of discovery and exploration. Illustrations of anthropomorphized animals and stylized humans employ exaggeration, humor, and metaphor to facilitate the viewer’s ability to capture the narrative and apply it to his or her own life."

In the interview we discuss transitioning away from graduate school, her recent distinction as a NCECA emerging artist, and the ideas embedded in her pottery. She will finish her residency at the Arrowmont School for Craft this spring and move onto to set up her own studio. You can find more about her work at www.chandradebuse.comTo subscribe to the podcast on iTunes please click here. You can also stream the latest episode on the new podcast tab for the site. Click here to listen.

These bottom images are from a studio visit I did with Chandra at Arrowmont during Jason Bige Burnett's surface symposium. She had a great collection of sketches on her studio floor. She does full sized sketches that become templates for the forms and decoration. I also snapped a few shots of her molds in action. She uses a combination of molds- wood drop, bisque and foam, to make her forms.


3 Cheers for 3 years! Cup give away

The last few weeks have provided much to celebrate. I turned 32, the blog turns 3 (as it passes 20,000 hits), and this week marks 2 years since my move to China. Seems like the perfect time to show my gratitude by giving away a cup. To be eligible you simply have to be on my mailing list. If you have not already signed up you can by clicking here and filling out the form. I'll draw a name and post the winner later in the week.

In other news I just returned from my trip to Australia. I was sad to leave the blue skies and new friends that I made. In only five weeks the country made an impression that won't soon fade away. I have many blog posts about the trip in the works but they will have to wait until next week. This week I am catching up on piles of unfinished business before I take a group of my students to Jingdezhen for the weekend. I am excited to turn people on to this wonderful clay city for the first time. 


Jeffrey Sincich's This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land Bicycle Tour

Jeffrey Sincich, ceramic sculptor/biker/all around art star from the great state of Florida, is embarking on a one-of-a-kind research trip to fuel his studio practice. He will be biking from Portland, OR to San Francisco, CA mining the great North West for cultural oddities and inspiration. His sculpture draws heavily from folklore, kitsch, and tourism so this trip will be foundational for him. From the images above you can see his take on the classic folktale about Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Jeffrey explains the motivation for his project. "My desire to travel, continue cultural traditions such as folklore and folk music and appreciate the land that we have in the good ol’ United States is what drives me to make the work that I do.  Bicycle touring is a unique form of tourism, with little environmental impact, time to smell the roses (literally) and a chance to interact with the local communities in a way that almost no other form of tourism provides.  On this trip, I plan to see the sights and sounds that attract others and me to the Mighty West Coast and translate this into my artwork, which can be seen at www.jeffreysincich.com."

He received a Regina Brown undergraduate research grant from NCECA to help fund this trip. In an effort to raise additional funds he has started an Indiegogo campaign. Head over to his campaign site to help him make the trip a success. Click here to visit. You can see more of Jeffrey's work on his website. Click here to visit.


The Red Clay Rambler Podcast: Ep. 1 Matt Long Interview

To celebrate the third year anniversary of this blog I am rolling out the Tales of a Red Clay Rambler Podcast. This podcast will consist of interviews with artists, writers, and musicians with an occasional special travel episode thrown in for good measure.

The first episode features an interview with American potter Matt Long. Known for his functional porcelain pottery, Matt specializes in communal drinking vessels such as flasks, bottles and jugs. In the interview we discuss the dynamics of change in studio life, the importance of making a good cup, directing students through mentorship and teaching, navigating the ceramic workshop circuit and a whole host of other topics.

I met Matt in 2001 when I took his workshop at the Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts. Over the years I have come to appreciate his gestural approach to manipulating clay. He has a uniquely subtle touch with porcelain. He often uses thick slip to create three dimensional surfaces that are accentuated by his soda firing process. As one of the masters of American soda firing Matt has refined the use of flashing slips and carbon trapping to create dramatic flashing on the surface of his pots. 

For more information on his work you can visit his website at www.fullvictory.com. To see Matt in action head over to Ceramic Arts Daily to see a clip of him making one of his signature hip flasks. You can purchase Matt's work at fine ceramic galleries like the Red Lodge Clay Center.

To listen to this episode you can visit the podcast tab on the blog (by clicking here) or subscribe in iTunes (by clicking here).