An Inspiring Place – Expectations and Reality

Arrowmont entrance

I spent the last few days in what was called a Masters Weekend. Probably named so that we could work with instructors who were masters in their particular field of craft. I needed an “Arrowmont Fix” because it has been six years since I was there teaching and I just missed the place. There are so many good memories of my growth as an artist and I just wanted to dip into the well again.

I took one offered on surface texturing, in the wood studio. Here is the space and the instructors’ works – Dan Essig and Wyatt Severs.

wood studio

wood gallery 2

wood gallery 1

Instructors work

The Wood Studio is a visually inspiring place to work and the equipment available to the students is easy to access and use with just a quick lesson. Not until a week or so before the class did I realize that the focus would be on milk paint and how it is used to color wood. But aside from that was an introduction to wood burning and waxing. The wood turners in the class made color and texture changes to turned pieces and other students experimented on boards. I don’t work that much with wood so I took objects that I would more likely use in my own work and was very happy I did – otherwise I’d have a bunch of colored boards sitting in my studio this morning wondering what to do with them.

Milk Paint and Burning tool on nature
Among the things I took to class were pieces of davey board, pods, leaves, cubes made of box board with small wooden beads inside, cigar boxes and brie cheese boxes. Here is some of the pieces that have been milk painted, sanded or wiped, then waxed and buffed. The brie boxes also have burned in designs to catch the paint.

Brie boxes

Assessing the work

Most of the time in the three days workshop was working on our own. Good for some of us who do not want too much interference when we get on a roll but not so good for those who wanted to learn more than putting milk paint and wax on wood – or how to make work like the instructors. For me it was about the tools. The sand blaster made work more textured and defined differences between summer and winter grain in the wood which was very good for texturing and gave me a great idea for doing wood block prints. The burning tool was so much quicker and better to use than my run of the mill one in the studio – of course much more expensive, but I know I will get this new one soon.

The milk paint was problematic as my brie boxes even though burned and textured with gesso below the paint, still looked like something Martha Stewart would serve her brie in. The colors of milk paint simply look too designer or worse make your work look like Dan Essigs books. But with a bit more sloppy approach in application and the magic of Kiwi shoe wax, they begin to have possibilities.

Once the cigar box was sand blasted I knew I could turn most of my pieces (especially those Martha brie boxes) into a game box. The gessoed cubes once painted and waxed were fun to hold and shake. The brie boxes would be one for each of the two players with spinner arrows mounted inside their lids. The box itself will hold yet to be designed labyrinth maps on a search for inner peace. Ten cards were made of heavy paper stock colored, of course, with matching  milk paints. These will also have designs and play an integral part in the game. There is also a wooden egg that spins on a metal rod to determine some fate to a player. And one of the most fun pieces in the box is one of those little flexible body forms for drawing. I think one of the goals in the game will be to position him into tai chi movements that balance. Of course the best part of the whole game will be that in the search for inner peace there will be all this tension of winning and gaining ground on an opponent.

It is going to be so much fun completing this game and then finding someone to play it with! Here are some of the parts fitted into the box with my certificate of ‘staying until the end of class without being asked to go somewhere else’.  Or at least that is what I call these bits of paper.

dding to the game box

On a serious note about the weekend I would like to mention that I take this place very seriously. Arrowmont is where I met some of the most impressive artists over the years. It was here that I was sent to get college credits for my undergraduate degree and here where I came to do research in their library. Just looking at this sculpture outside the library and this fountain in the gallery makes the visitor aware that this place values craft, art and those who come here to share their knowledge and inspire others who come after.

Iconic Arrowmont

gallery fountain close up

Resource center

On the panel discussion with all the instructors being guided through questions, I was very much disappointed. The focus seemed to be how to make a living at your craft, how to schedule your time and how much of the tedious paper work to turn over to someone hired to manage that for you. There was not any discussion about what drives the work other than marketing. It was too bad too, because Jo Stealey’s work is very much content driven.

Content was much more in discussion when I started going to Arrowmont in the early 90s. Now it is less about the art making and more about the craft, technique making – and of course making a living with your medium of choice. I was personally pining for the days of John Risseuew, Lillian Elliot, Pat Hickman and so many others who asked the question “Why?” “Why are you doing this?” “What are your intentions?” And as I recall, no one answered, “Because I can make a living doing this.” All we wanted and some of us still do is to bring an idea we are passionate about into a visual form and share it with others.

Thanks for staying with me if you got this far. I needed to get this down somewhere and here is just the place.