Monday, April 26, 2010


In 1974 I sat at a potter's kickwheel and gave it such a solid push that I knocked myself backwards to the clay-spattered floor. That first kickwheel was at the Robinson Center for Crafts in Binghamton. Later I studied at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Pennsylvania and then worked at home while I studied with Pete Nye at SUNY Alfred and participated in shows at the Herrick Library.
I was lucky enough to work at the School of Art and Design, Alfred University Summer Clay programs with John Gill several times and in 2004 joined a group of Alfred University students to travel to Jingdezhen China to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of porcelain.
In 1998 I became a member of the Allegany Artisans and have served as a board member and officer ever since. I use an electric wheel and throw while standing firmly on 2 feet, no toppling over expected.

My hands force lumps of clay to be round, tall and wide in my little studio in our 1880s home along the Genesee River in Wellsville. I enjoy the rhythm of throwing and making miniatures with my fingertips as well as large forms with the force of all my body.
Large or small, whatever I am making, each pot is important. I sometimes feel that I reach into clay to touch earth and history, forming useful items by forcing clay between my hands and then using time and fire to harden the shapes. It is an honor to be a potter and to have bowls and creatures involved in the daily lives of people around the world.
I was recently honored by the Skutt Kiln Peep Show in Philadelphia at the National Council on Ceramic Arts Education conference and by being part of Starting Small at the Artist Knot in Andover.

Join me on Facebook at StoneFlowerPottery.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Belmont's Purple House Spring Show & Sale

When Pat Vossler told me that there was a time that she didn’t like antiques, my jaw dropped to her 100 year old carpet hitting, on the way down, antique glassware and photos. Her husband, Lew, changed her life in many ways from parenting two daughters to getting her interested in travel and by teaching her to love, and collect, antiques.

Pat lives in Belmont’s Purple House. Only a few years ago it was red, white and blue, striking in its own way but it didn’t look like it was dressed for high tea in the spring of 1890 like it does now. It needed to be painted so in trying to decide what to do Pat went to the Belmont Library and found a book about Victorian houses. She thumbed through it until she found one of those grand ladies done in shades of purple.

“Some people like it,” said Pat. “People knock at the door for permission to take photos but one woman looked at the house and asked if the paint had been on sale.”

“I wish,” was Pat’s laughing reply. It’s Pat’s Purple House and she likes it - a lot. Even the front lawn is sprinkled in purple forget-me-nots.

Inside are thousands of other colors because inside are thousands of other things but before describing any of those things, the house deserves a bit more time. It was built circa 1895 by Dr. Herbert A. Barney.

The March 22, 1907 issue of the Belmont Dispatch is my source of information about Dr. Barney. The entire front page holds eulogies and testimonials on the occasion of his death from quinsy at age 42. He was a doctor, town supervisor, the coroner and county jail physician. Clearly, he worked long hours with a deep sense of obligation to meet the needs of people, sometimes giving his patients money rather than charging them. The paper reports that over 1,000 people attended his funeral.

Legend has it that he was an inventor, that the second floor of his home was used as a home for elderly patients, that he experimented on himself in trying to develop new medicines but these are stories handed down from Lew Vossler to Pat and she doesn’t really know.

Clearly, Dr. Barney had the means to construct a marvelous house. Likely it had gas lamps then and multiple fireplaces. There is still a wood fireplace in the living room and the mantle from another fireplace stands in the dining room. There are two sets of pocket doors and the swinging door to the kitchen has a pair of hinges 8 inches long and large enough that a person could slip a garden hose inside.

The turret was in the original design as was the old tin roof which has lasted over 110 years (but due to be replaced this summer). After the Barney family left, the house was divided into apartments and went into decline until Lew and his first wife Jane Whitcomb purchased it with her parents in about 1940. Lew set to work restore the original glory with interior renovations and a new porch.

Pat’s favorite area is the dining room. It has the swinging door to the kitchen, a fabulous window with huge beveled glass panels as well as beveled diamonds. There is a large built-in china cupboard too. The walls and ceiling are papered in textured green and white and in the center is the table that Lew built. He built it right there in the dining room – it’s that big and heavy – and he caned the seats in several of the chairs that surround it.

Lew built a lot of things for Pat and he supported all her decorating ideas. They worked together to accessorize the house starting with his collection of antique boot jacks, door stops and tools. Then Pat got into it. There’s a little corner with souvenirs of the 14 European countries they traveled to. Then she started collecting hats and sometimes has tea parties where her guests all wear the hats.

Pat collected spoons from the many states she and Lew visited and she searched for and found hand painted photos by Wallace Nutting, a Presbyterian Minister from New England. In the kitchen is Pat’s teapot collection. She and her granddaughter washed them all recently and counted 58. One is from Cakes and Curious in Cuba. It is a divided pot with two spouts so it can steep and serve 2 teas at once.

She has a collection of dresses including her mother-in-law’s wedding dress and a celluloid collection of little boxes and pins. She collects old photos thinking that it’s sad that this bit of family history ends up in some rummage sale or antique shop. She gathers them up and takes care of them wishing she knew who that baby was or how life worked out for the smart gentleman with the mustache.

A lot of Pat’s things are like that. They are more made of memories than of wood, paint or china. The men’s hats were collected by Lew as they drove; the thermometers while driving along the old US highways during the 50s and 60s when they stayed at bed and breakfasts. The tea tiles, coin spoons, tea cups and dolls are important for what they represent as well as for their craftsmanship and beauty.

Pat’s respect and admiration for handcrafted work makes the Purple House a natural place for a craft show and so that’s why it has been the site of a Mother’s Day weekend craft show and sale for 3 years now.

Pat’s daughter is Kristen Vossler-Wigent, soap-maker and partner in Green Circle Grove. Also working as Green Circle Grove is Meredith Chilson who designs and sews totes, purses, bags, lunch bags and bitty bags. Together these ladies do a number of shows but they kick off the season with a tea party/sale in Pat’s kitchen.

Green Circle Grove often partners with Joan Sinclair with her cross stitch, weaving and and detailed needle work as well as with StoneFlowerPottery, locally known for Mommy Vases or Grandma Vases as well as all kinds of functional and fun pottery.

Green Circle Grove, StoneFlowerPottery and Joan Sinclair will be in the Purple House on Friday, May 6 from 11 till 6 and Saturday, May 7 from 10 till 4. Come over for tea and cookies and take home a handmade gift for Mother’s Day. Support the local economy and peek at Pat’s collections. White gloves and veiled hats optional.

For more information call 585 808 0385, visit or find StoneFlowerPottery on Facebook.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Alfred Symphonic Band Concert, April 23

Trumpet and French horn solos abound in the next concert for Alfred University's Symphonic Band - 8 p.m. in Harder Hall on April 23rd. The guy behind the trumpet started playing when he was 9 years old – Alejandro Miranda-Bermudez.
At Spencerport Elementary, students were welcomed into the instrumental music program in fourth grade. Alejandro’s parents asked him if he was interested. “Sure,” he remembers saying.
Mr. Rossiter, the teacher, asked Alejandro what he’d like to play and the answer was, “Trumpet.”
There was no enticing Alejandro with trombones, saxophones or percussion toys – not once he decided that trumpets are, “loud, noisy and sounded awesome.” Decision made, on trumpet he started and on trumpet he stayed.
He played in symphonic bands from the start and in 8th grade joined the jazz band. Alejandro was accepted into the most demanding levels of band and so was able to travel around the country to perform. That he accepted the extra work and commitment is interesting because he claims to be “a little lazy” and says his parents “made” him practice. It doesn’t seem to be a lazy choice.
After high school, Alejandro thought he would go to his “top pick” – Fredonia - but appeased his parents with a visit to Alfred University and that was it. With the same certainty that he became a trumpet player, he selected Alfred. He says he can’t pinpoint why Alfred felt so right. (Maybe the campus was loud, noisy or in some way awesome that day.) AU accepts students in groups without forcing a minor in the field and that was a big plus. Alex knew that he wanted to keep music in his life but not as the focus of his study.
During his 4 years on campus, Alejandro spent a lot of time in the Miller Center and grew to appreciate the professors. “The people in Miller are great. You couldn’t ask for a better faculty.” smiled Alejandro. “Dr. Foster is an awesome professor and it’s been great learning from him.”
Alex has gotten to know the professors in Miller because somehow this “lazy” guy played with the Symphonic Band and Orchestra for 7 semesters each while shoehorning Brass Ensemble into 4 semesters and, for really loud and noisy stuff, managed a season of Pep Band. That’s a lot of time in Miller Hall with his trumpet all while maintaining high grades in his major field of Psychology. Alejandro said, “It’s about prioritizing and organizing.”
His favorite piece in this concert is Mother Earth composed by David Maslanka in 2006. The piece is the essence of musical variety - seemingly unrelated and disparate parts that come together and make sense when played well.
Next year Alejandro hopes to attend graduate school saying that in his field he needs an MS for most positions. Hopefully he’ll find one with an open band or orchestra policy such as AU.
On the other side of the Symphonic Band seating you’ll find Ben Esham with his French horn. Ben’s family found the level of organization and dedication needed to raise 4 children and get all of them to both violin and other (French horn, oboe and flute) lessons.
Benjamin is a senior at Alfred University and a member of the Symphonic Band set to perform on April 23rd. Benjamin talked about his experience with music, starting as a second grade violinist under the instruction of a husband and wife team’s elementary string program, a program that Benjamin’s younger siblings also attended. Right now the program is being threatened with budget cuts but Benjamin’s and other parents are working to keep the program intact – further evidence that the Esham family values all the embellishments that music can bring to life.
In addition to studying violin and horn, Benjamin also spent a bit of time with a trumpet in Jazz band and with a mellophone (what a flute player might see as a trumpet/French horn blend) for marching band. He finished his high school marching career as Drum Major, a task requiring conducting and leadership skills. The Geneseo band marched in street shows where Benjamin led 90 students from a high school population of 240. That’s impressive.
Geneseo’s band also traveled so Benjamin went to Charleston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Trips like that mean intense rehearsals and a ton of fundraising too.
After high school, Benjamin chose Alfred University because of “a very nice scholarship” but also because he liked the location, the size of the school and that he could play in the band or orchestra without having to major in music. While Benjamin has spent uncounted hours in AU performance groups - Symphonic Orchestra for seven semesters, Symphonic Band for 8 semesters and all 4 years in Pep Band - he chose to minor in chemistry, not music.
Benjamin came to Alfred as a National Merit Scholar and he maintained high standards throughout his studies as shown by his induction into Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year. His coursework was likely demanding because keeping that chemistry minor company is a pair of majors - math and physics. Benjamin plans to study theoretical high-energy physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after leaving Alfred.
Benjamin’s favorite piece in this concert is Sanctuary by Frank Tichelli. “It’s beautiful the whole way through. It’s soft and reflective at the start and builds to intensity in the middle but it’s consistently beautiful,” he feels.
The performance of Sanctuary, in all its beauty and strength will be dedicated to Julie Taylor Ogden, a woman of great beauty and strength, who played with the group before her life was dictated by pain and claimed by cancer.
Benjamin said that he’s really been impressed with Dr. Chris Foster, director of the band. “He built the band from a really small group into an ensemble that has gotten larger and better every semester.”
The Symphonic Band Concert invites you to an impressive one-hour collection of contemporary music written expressly for symphonic band. Selections include Samuel Hazo’s jubilant “Exultate,” Steven Bryant’s pensive “Bloom,” and Dana Wilson’s dry and rhythmic “Colorado Peaks.”
The concert will be in Holmes Auditorium, Harder Hall, on Friday, April 23 at 8 p.m. It’s free, open to the public and a dignified start for Hot Dog Day weekend. Enter Harder Hall on the uphill side through the multiple glass doors. Turn right to Howell Hall auditorium.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sarah Carmen presents Senior Thesis Show

A few years ago I thought I had a basic understanding of “art” but as a result of listening actively and looking deeply, of concentrating intently as various students described their work, I’ve realized that art is a small word holding an entire world of meanings.

Is art about what I see or about a practice of exploring materials and processes? Maybe it’s about discovering relationships and linking science with thought or past with present. Maybe it’s about making people slow down and put words to their responses as their eyes or even hands explore an object or idea.

Maybe, all I know is maybe so it’s time to work at that definition some more. It’s time for Alfred University’s 2010 Senior Thesis Shows. All seniors in Alfred University’s School of Art and Design create a thesis and present work to explore that thesis - a senior show. Every student will have a different thesis and will present their answers in different ways – using clay, paint, rocks, dirt, glass, paper, gesso, time, fur, wood, dance, sound, machines and whatever other material seems to suit the thesis. The shows will be held on Saturday, May 8. The opening reception is from 4-7 pm and you’re invited. Bring a friend and share rides. Parking is hard to find.

In preparation for the shows, I spoke with Sarah Carmen. Sarah’s major is Art and Design with a concentration in photography and a minor in Education. Sarah came to Alfred to study art and she always intended to include education in her program but she didn’t jump into photography until she signed up for classes for a semester overseas in Scotland last year.

She filled out paperwork choosing graphic design as her course work while in Scotland. As soon as she saw those words on the paper she realized that she wasn’t a bit interested in graphic design. She wanted to study photography. She changed the answer and has been snapping up antique cameras and photos on 2 continents. “Art has been heaven ever since,” according to Sarah.

Sarah’s camera of choice is a circa 1950 Ansco Flex medium format camera. It has 2 lenses, one for her to frame her image and the other to expose light to the film. She can’t get film for this camera so she buys black and white Kodak 120mm film and takes it off the spool to rewind it onto other spools that will actually fit inside the camera. The process of loading film takes her about 30 minutes.

Sarah has a friend, a psychology student, who understands Sarah’s language of photography. She knows how to stand and how to look to capture the aspect of the setting that Sarah wants in her photo. That’s an uncommon skill, she says.
Sarah’s project involves using her photos as well as photos she has found and copied and manipulating them by cutting them, changing the textures, blowing them up and changing them.

One of her projects in Scotland was to present a single photo 50 different ways. She really liked that project and doing it made her stretch her understanding of images. When she returned from Scotland she brought that challenge with her and has spent her senior year manipulating photos in even more ways. While working with photos this way she realized that the processes made her photos more like her memories of Scotland.

“The mind sheds memories,” said Sarah. “Our minds take in an image through our eyes but change that image to fill it in with textures and related experiences – current or from other time periods. Our minds work on those images, superimposing some parts and erasing others but we think those are the images we really saw.”

Sarah makes copies of her images and then puts them on heavy, gesso-coated paper and then washes off the paper to reveal grainy images on the large sheets. Photographic representation of mind-fuzzed memories. She also layers photos in light boxes putting several images on plastic or glass and piling them up in groupings that seem related to her.

The light boxes will be small and the washed images will be huge and they will all represent Sarah’s mind and memory and her sense of “heaven” in a space shared with Rayanna Bump’s stained-glass show in Harder Hall on the second floor painting area.