Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Kathryn McBride

Recently, the local clay community lost an important member.  Kathryn McBride was more than just a teacher. And, taking her class was a life-changing experience for me.  I realized, by watching her work, that handbuilding with clay was an exercise in problem-solving of the highest order.  At every step of the process, from the initial idea, to the finished, glazed product, there were choices to be made, ideas to be carefully considered.  Watching her work was always a pleasure.  Her hands worked independently, automatically, almost magically.  But, her brow would furrow with deliberate concentration, and her mouth would compress into a tight line.  Her clay of choice was porcelain, and she was always so respectful in the way that she handled that material.  But, when she worked, there was laughter, and joy, because Kathryn truly loved what she was doing.

While taking a couple of other night courses at Cabrillo (kiln mooching), I was able to watch Kathryn put together and install some large group projects.  One evening, she prepared some giant beads that had been pit fired by her beginning students, creating an enormous mobile.  She spent over an hour, rearranging the beads to make the best composition, and "stringing" them with airplane cable.  It was an incredible piece of work.  Each bead was independent.  But, each bead also coordinated in color and shape, to the adjacent beads.  The ceramics room was, as usual, a noisy hive of activity.  It was May, and every table was full.  But, Kathryn was oblivious to the confusion, and was completely focused on her problem-solving.  She was coaxing the beads into becoming the complex project that she had invented in her head.

One time, I mistakenly took a wheel throwing class at night.  I'm not a potter.  I have none of the skills required, although I have tried.  But, I was having a difficult year with my job, and I thought working with clay would be a form of therapy.  It most certainly was NOT!  I spent each class night in my own personal hell.  One night, I was standing by my locker, feeling frustrated and sorry for myself.  My overalls were spattered with clay, and I was angrily picking slip out of my hair.  Kathryn came around the corner, and smiled at me.  She asked me what I was doing.  When I told her that I was taking a wheel class, she laughed and said, "Oh my."  Then she said, "Well, then you had better go into the gallery and see the show that's in there right now."  Off I went.  It was a show by master handbuilder, Una Mjurka.  The entire gallery had been transformed into a feast.  There were handbuilt platters of fruit and fish.  And there were flowers, and cakes…  It was spectacular. Kathryn kept me from walking away from what I love, just by sharing with me the creative possibilities.  I stayed on in the wheel class, and struggled through.

Yesterday, at high noon, there was a memorial for Kathryn at Cabrillo.  And, I was unable to attend.  So, I sat in my classroom at noon, after the children had left for lunch.  And, I thought about the people that we encounter in life, sometimes casually.  Like a Thomas Hardy novel, there are people in our lives and we intersect, maybe even briefly.  But, each interaction is a gift.  I want to thank Kathryn for teaching me about clay, and for teaching me about intention.  I wish all of her friends, and her family a sense of peace and comfort at this difficult time.

Larger Work

Lately, I've been experimenting with creating larger vases.  Working taller involves letting the clay dry for a longer period of time.  Working larger also allows for greater freedom in decorating the surfaces.  A friend suggested that I try finishing these pieces with a white crackle glaze.  In order to pick up the texture, I'm going to try to use some oxide wash before adding the white crackle glaze.  I think I'll experiment with a test vase first!