Candice is a ceramic artist on her way to a long-term residency at the Archie Bray Center next month.
Her work is outstanding.
She has a great sense of humor.
Her experiences have been amazing.
I’ll let her introduce herself and tell her story.
JW: Can you tell me a little more about your background and what attracted you to ceramics?
CM: I am the queen of odd jobs and when I was living in Summit County, Colorado, in my early twenties, I had a random job assisting a woman named Merry Cox who had a ceramics business. I helped her pack up orders and took deliveries to ski area gift shops. Eventually she had me working on the slab roller, making work from hump and slump molds. There was also another woman named Mary that I helped from time to time. She did majolica and I helped her paint plates. At the time, these were only jobs assisting artists. When I moved in Telluride, CO, I took a beginning wheel throwing class at the Ah Haa School and then began to spend more time making pots and was given a space in exchange for helping out in the studio. I moved over to Durango, CO, and started working at the Durango Clay Center, which was opened by Lorna Meaden. (The doors closed when Lorna decided to go to grad school.) I had a space there in exchange for cleaning the studio and recycling clay.
I’m not exactly sure what initially drew me to the material itself, and I’m still not sure but I know I stuck with ceramics because I was inspired by all the strong women I had encountered in the field. I grew up without a mother and I am always looking for the mother in everything. These women where strong, resourceful, successful, hardworking, focused, driven, passionate, and knowledgeable. I really admired that and wanted that for myself.
JW: Tell me about the Northern Clay Center’s Warren Mackenzie Advancement Award that funded your trip to Ghana, West Africa. That sounds amazing!
CM: The Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award, through the Northern Clay Center, was one of the best experiences I have had with clay! It enabled me to travel in Ghana for the month of October, 2016, the year after I had finished my MFA at the University of Minnesota.
When I was in graduate school I had moved away from wheel throwing and working exclusively by hand. I came across an image of a traditional painted house from Burkina Faso in my research and was really taken by it. I love the notion of cultivating art in all aspects of life and I decided that I really would love to go there and see it. I was aware of the MacKenzie award when I was in school but had to wait until I graduated. So I had awhile to research and plan for the trip.
I started working with the coil and pinch methods and after researching cultures and works being made with these methods, I fell hard for African ceramics and objects. I was very aware of this way of making pottery for a long time though since I had lived most of my life in the Southwest and lived with Native American cultures and objects, which is another huge inspiration for my work.
JW: Tell me more about that experience in Ghana and how it has informed your life and your art.
CM: Originally I wanted to go to Burkina Faso but at the time it wasn’t the safest place for a woman traveling alone. I realized that some of the adobe architecture and bambolse painting came down into Northern Ghana. I traveled to Sirigu, up next to the Burkina Faso border and stayed at a place called SWOPA- Sirigu Women’s Pottery Association. It was an organization established to help keep the traditional crafts alive as well to educate tourists as well as the community. In some ways it was a very magical experience. I really appreciated learning about a culture and systems firsthand through people and experiences: stories, food, what they make, how they make it, what it will be used for, how they learned, etc. I think so much of my appreciation come comes from being a white person in the twenty first century with no obvious culture or connection to a lineage and I felt really privileged to be there learning. It was really challenging in some ways though as well. I realized how much of an American I was. I went there with a very specific plan and I was at the mercy of the laidback Ghanaian way of life. I also had romanticized what I thought I would find there.
I didn’t achieve all of my goals, which were to help repair and paint the traditional houses and have a firing. In that area the traditional architecture is disappearing. Structures are now built with cinderblock and sheet metal because it is easy and affordable and there is little maintenance. Timber has been almost clear-cut throughout the country and thatch has to be imported from neighboring countries as well as the pigments used to paint the houses. So almost all of the traditional houses I saw in that area where abandoned and in disrepair and were occupied by elders. The firing did not happen because of the scarcity of wood. Nevertheless I really felt a connection to the makers in the area because of the ways in which we approach the work we make. I am very low tech in my approach to making and this helps me feel connected to the material and history. I also feel that in some way or another the stories of our lives come out in our practices so whether I am fully conscious of it or not there is Ghana in each piece I make.
JW: You hand-build your pieces using a coil and pinch method, followed by multiple layers of slip and terra sigillata. How much of that technique comes from African traditions? How did you develop your current process?
CM: The first line to my artist statement is “The foundation of my work is the presence of the hand”. One of the elements of African art and objects that I really love and strive for in my work is this element of casualness. This is not to say the makers of these objects lack skill, it’s quite the opposite. There is this lack of desire for perfection so the work is open to life.
I myself am always in search of asymmetry, I love a bit of wonk but I also appreciate craftsmanship. I think the only commonality my work shares with African tradition is really just in the forming of the piece. I developed my body of work through research and really paying attention to what struck cords in me, I look at a lot of historical work and I steal from here and there making it mine and making it contemporary.
JW: Where do you look for inspiration?
CM: Everywhere really. I am always on the lookout when I am in nature or in museums. I have a lot of books that I use as research and reference tools. I’ll go online looking for something specific and end up with a bunch of other inspiring images and info. When I lived in Arizona I stopped at every little museum that displayed Native American Art or in Santa Fe, all the museums and collections there. I go to ruins every chance I get and I have traveled to Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica to look at pots and learn techniques. I can’t wait for Covid to end so I can travel again.
JW: You mention that there’s a lot of repetition involved in the production of pottery. From my experience there’s also a lot of alone time. How do you deal with those challenges to stay creative?
CM: I really enjoying being alone, I work better alone. I am an introvert and I can go from spending the whole day alone in the studio, to a long walk in the woods seeing no one, to making dinner and going to bed and having not said one word to anyone and being perfectly happy. Small talk makes me grumpy.
JW: You spent time in Minneapolis, which has a thriving ceramics community. Are you currently involved with a community of artists – and how important is a sense of artistic community for you?
CM: Ceramics has such a loving and open community all over and I feel like I have a family in so many people.
I made a lot of connections in Minneapolis that are really important to me. In that community I felt like I got to be student, mentor, friend, collaborator, and it is still a community I am close to. I am in the lineage of Minegi and Mingeisota because I studied there under Mark Pharis who is also in that line. I go back every year to participate in sales or go to the St. Croix Pottery Tour where I get to see my friends and my clay family.
For the first ten years, when I was self-taught, I had no idea that there was such a vibrant clay community, it was such an added bonus and a joy to discover. Now I feel like I could reach out to anyone, even if we have never met and ask questions, problem solve, continue to learn or just ask to stay at their house as I am passing through.
JW: Has the coronavirus pandemic impacted you and how you create?
CM: Oh Yes! It is hard not to be impacted by Covid. I had a solid year planned for 2020, that probably would have killed me so perhaps it was divine intervention? (JOKE)
A lot of tours and sales got cancelled or postponed or moved online. All of my teaching opportunities also got postponed so the financial outcome has been a hard pill to swallow. I switched gears to teaching online which is great in some respects. Its sort of quick and dirty, no traveling, no long days and classes are affordable to most and I’ve actually taken a number of classes myself but the pay is minimal to what I normally would get paid and in some ways it seems weird and unnatural. There’s no real connection with people. You don’t get to feel the energy and excitement of folks learning something new or being on pottery vacation. You don’t get see what they are making and when the class is over you hit a button and it all shuts off.
As far as my own creativity, I generally don’t have any problem staying creative. I work everyday because being a one-woman-show demands it but I haven’t been working as hard. I have more time for outside adventures and some days I might take the whole day off. It has given me some time to play with new forms and look towards where I all want this go.
JW: Do you have any direction you want to take your work in the future?
CM: I am starting a long-term residency at the Archie Bray for Ceramic Arts in September and I am really looking forward to applying color and different firing methods such as pit and saggar fire to my work, also I am going to research clay architecture and building techniques to build small structures for installations.
See more of Candice’s work on her website. On her website, Candice also features several videos that outline her work processes: