For the month of March…the one and only Lorna Meaden! Lorna and I crossed paths numerous times before finally getting to work together at the Archie Bray Foundation in the summer of 2006. Ever since I first saw Lorna’s work, I’ve been a fan…and in meeting her, I
became an even bigger one. Anyone who knows Lorna, knows that her laugh is infectious and her company genuine. Lorna’s pieces fit seamlessly into the home…their undeniable usefulness, exquisite craft and raw beauty make her work a perfect pairing for domestic life.
With the launching of this interview coinciding with a recent kiln firing, Lorna is excited to showcase her latest group of pots in the content of this post. Unloaded from her wood/ soda kiln less than a week ago, these new pieces reflect every bit of Lorna’s warm and charming personality.
Next month, Lorna will be a guest workshop presenter alongside Doug Casebeer and David Pinto during Anderson Ranch’s Jamaica Field Expedition. For more info about the Caribbean “Woodfiring: The Art of Fire” workshop with David, Doug and Lorna, click here. May 24-26th, Lorna has scheduled a workshop at Taos Clay in Taos, New Mexico. In June, she is part of a three person exhibition at Santa Fe Clay with Ben Krupka and Adam Field. For additional info about Lorna and her work, please visit her fresh new website: lornameadenpottery.com.
Without further ado…enjoy the interview and the pots (fresh outta the kiln)!
How did you first get involved in ceramics?
My interest for making pots began when I took a ceramics class in high school. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Bill Farrell, then faculty at the Art Institute of Chicago, came to our class to do a demonstration. Watching him throw on the wheel captivated me. My interest in making pots only grew from that point forward.
Can you briefly describe your background and education?
I received a BA from Fort Lewis College in 1994, and an MFA from Ohio University in 2005. I did residencies at the Archie Bray Foundation and Anderson Ranch Arts Center following graduate school. I have been a studio potter for the past six years at my home in Durango, Colorado.
How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate-graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics? Is there anything you wish you had known before leaving school?
Well, my education prepared me in so many ways, including some that I’m probably not even aware of. I have to say that I think the most important, and most beneficial thing school offered me, was how to continually challenge myself.
How would you describe your work? How did you arrive at working this way?
My work is utilitarian pottery. It is thrown and decorated porcelain, fired in a wood/soda kiln. Making this type of work has been a slow evolution of discovering what my interests are. I don’t feel like I ever really arrived at a certain type of work or way of working, but more that it has changed slowly over time as I have become interested in different things, and changed as a person. I continue to learn how to challenge myself.
Would you explain your attraction to functional ceramics?
I’ve always made functional pots from the day I started working with clay. When I think about what I want to make, I only see pots. Let’s just say I’ve never closed my eyes and imagined a sculpture…that’s a job for sculptors. I like the challenge of balancing the way something looks with the way it works. People have a simple understanding of pots, giving them a comfortable, basic place in people’s lives.
What is the inspiration for your pieces? How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?
Currently, most of my ideas come from making work. Making pots for a living requires working all the time. I don’t have as much time to do research as I used to. New ideas can sometimes come from seeing an object somewhere and wanting to make a clay version of it, like a watering can, for example. I also find myself revisiting the same idea for years. Currently, I’ve come back to a wine ewer I made six years ago. I started making decanters
for an upcoming show, and realized it was a shape I had made for my thesis show. I like it when I feel like I’m picking up where I left off a long time ago, but coming at it from a different direction. I look at what I’m making as a continuum of ideas, rather than me coming up with something new.
What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice/style?
Don’t look at ceramics magazines too much. It can have a way of either polluting your ideas, or making you feel self-conscious. There are plenty of places to look for source information outside of ceramics. The other piece of advice is, of course, to work really hard. I think if you make enough work, and you’re paying attention to what you’re doing; your own voice/style will emerge. It’s a tricky thing, figuring out who you are, but everyone is an individual, and people’s idiosyncrasies have a beautiful way of emerging.
You took considerable time between undergraduate and graduate school. What made you decide to go back to school after years of being a studio potter in Colorado? How did that time away from school inform your graduate education?
Education was always encouraged in my family, so going to graduate school was a natural choice, on some levels, for me. I had been a potter for 15 years when I applied to grad school. I think I knew enough at that point, to know how much more there was to know. I wanted to make better work. I already had a good idea of what it was like to be a studio artist when I went back to school. I wasn’t as concerned with how I would make a living when I finished, as I was with making better work. I think that helped me focus during school.
It seems as though there were a couple of points in your career when you made a decision to sell your pots for a living (post-undergraduate school and post-graduate school)? Could you describe how you came to those decisions? Can you talk a little bit about how your audience/motivation might have changed/evolved?
Basically, all I’ve ever really wanted to do is make pots. So in order to support my habit, and still spend all my time in the studio, I have to sell my work. At certain point, if you make enough work, you have to get rid of it. My audience has changed a lot in the last ten years. I went from doing local art fairs and the farmer’s market to nationally recognized galleries. The galleries that represent my work do a great job connecting with an audience that appreciates fine craft and handmade objects. One thing that has changed is that I have to make a lot more money than I used to. Recently, I’ve been trying to reach a balance between selling my work locally, and sending to galleries. At different points I have thought I might want a teaching job. So far, I have wanted more time in the studio than a teaching job affords. I like to teach, but I really like to make work. It’s all a big balancing act that I haven’t figured out yet.
What does a typical workday look like for you? How much do you spend on marketing vs. making?
On a typical day, I will go out to the studio around
8:00am and work until 6:00pm, or as late as 10:00pm, with a couple of breaks. I like to take a break and go to the gym during the day. I try to leave my compound at least once a day, so that I see some other humans. Working alone can be isolating, so getting out has become important. My schedule varies a lot depending on approaching deadlines. The way I work tends to be feast or famine. This has been one of the biggest challenges of being a studio potter. The ability to work “normal” hours has become elusive. One of my goals is to maintain a work schedule that is slow and steady, rather than binge and purge.
How does an artist go about acquiring business and marketing skills? What piece of advice would you give to others just starting out?
The way that I have developed business skills is through practice. I’ve always felt that being resourceful and doing things for myself is important. Because an artist’s income is relatively small, it is practical to become a jack of all trades. For example, I recently took a website design class, and built my new site, lornameadenpottery.com. It took a while for me to have the time to focus on building the site, but it seemed more sensible than paying someone else to do it, and then being dependent on them to update it. It would probably be wise to take some business and marketing courses.
What is your relationship with galleries (on and offline)? How has that relationship changed over time? What are some of the other ways you market your work (studio sales/craft fairs/etc.)?
I have developed some good relationships with galleries around the country. The places that represent my work tend to be clay focused. This is valuable in terms of the established audience that each gallery maintains. Crimson Laurel Gallery in Bakersville, North Carolina is a great example. Although, they are in a somewhat remote location, they draw a wide range of customers, and do a great job of educating their customer base. I have made a recent effort to sell more work out of my studio. I had my second annual holiday sale in December. It was a great success. I think that having a balance between national and local participation in the field is important. I always remember something Doug Casebeer once said to me…”Cultivate your own back yard.”
You’ve attended numerous residency programs and presented at countless conferences/workshops throughout your career. Could you describe some of the most influential or career changing experiences you’ve had?
I will always have a fondness for Archie Bray Foundation. I did two summer residencies there, 2005 and 2006. Sometimes it’s hard to explain how great the Bray is. The combination of the history of place, the location in Helena, and the wonderful people I was able to share my experience with, make it sentimental for me. Among the highlights were that Josh DeWeese as the director, Rudy Autio working in the studio one summer, the International Symposium, and our softball team that lost almost every game in the local league, but had the most fun at the bar afterwards. Not only did my work grow when I was a resident at the Bray, but I also grew as a person.
Anderson Ranch Arts Center continues to be an important part of my life as an artist. I took my first two-week workshop there in the summer of 2001. I participated in two field expeditions, one to Nepal and one to Jamaica. I returned as a resident artist in the winter of 2006. I have taught summer workshops there three times, and I will be a visiting artist for the upcoming field expedition in Jamaica in April. The Ranch has been an integral part of my development along the way. I particularly value my travel experiences with Doug. He has made it possible for artists around the world to make connections and find inspiration.
In terms of experiences that have influential on my career, in 2007, I was a demonstrator at NCECA in Pittsburg, and at the Utilitarian Clay V: Celebrate the Object at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. Both were incredible experiences. My work was not well known at that point. Participating at two national conferences in one year, was not only super fun and exciting, but also pushed my career forward.
How did you decide to settle and build a studio? What were your must-haves when building your studio and choosing a location?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to have my own studio, kiln, and house. I have that now and I call it my compound. I never imagined I would be able to afford to own a house, especially in Colorado. My place sort of fell in my lap. I was back in Durango visiting after I finished my residency at Anderson Ranch. A friend of mine was having health problems and needed to sell his place. He was an artist and wanted his place to go to another artist. He knew I would build a studio and a kiln and stay there. There are two houses on the property, making it possible to earn rental income. I did the math and figured out how to make it work. My brother and his friend built my studio building three years ago and I built my kiln two years ago. It has been five years since I bought the compound. It is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place since I left my Dad’s house. It’s not without challenges, but it has been good for me in many ways. I feel so fortunate.
Finally, What advice would you give to aspiring potters who are looking to set up a studio and make pots for a living?
Work hard, be resourceful, and don’t go into debt. You have to really want it to make it happen. It’s all worth it!
Again, for additional info about Lorna and her work, please visit her lovely new website: lornameadenpottery.com.
And…here’s a list of Lorna’s upcoming events:
6th Annual Triennial Canadian Clay Conference: Elementum: Form, Function, Feast. March 23rd, 2013, Shadbolt Center for the Arts, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada.