This I Believe…

Empty Bowl Donations 2013

Empty Bowl Donations 2013

There used to be a segment on NPR’s Morning Edition called This I Believe with Jay Allison. I didn’t like that segment because it was full of sappy stories, much like the Family Circle magazine that is now showing up in my mailbox…(Thanks, Martha Stewart for going digital with Whole Living and making a deal that made that happen). These days our beliefs are plastered on everything from our cars to our Facebook pages. Growing up in a christian environment, your beliefs, or non-beliefs, as are mine these days, were kept to yourself and not so readily shared. That said, I DO believe that it is a good thing to help others, to donate and help our community thrive by sharing what we have with those less fortunate or struggling. These days there is a lot of this and it makes me feel good to share when I can.

As an artist, I get asked to help out causes all the time. And as we draw 2013 to a close, I have been thinking about this notion of being asked to donate my work. I can claim the donation on taxes but I don’t get the retail value. And my bank account doesn’t grow like I would love to see. There is even a Facebook group called Stop Working for Free that I joined to see how other artists deal with pleas for free work.  I have read numerous articles where artists are told not to work for free. I’ve even read articles where people think that artists should expect to work for free and not feel that we are “entitled”. As a young artist, we get told that by doing a freebie for someone will give us exposure and help our careers. I have to say, that as an “older” artist, this has been the case for me locally. I don’t ever expect to be a famous artist but, after losing my job to the internet, and having to fall back onto my  artistic talents, I am happy to say that some local exposure has been helpful to my new career. But at the same time, I still get frustrated when I am asked to give a donation for a cause. Especially if the cause is something that I don’t believe in. For example, I was asked recently, because I do rabbits, to donate a piece of my work to a rabbit rescue… CALIFORNIA. Uh, rabbits are food….. and a silent auction to save rabbits from someone that decided they didn’t want them anymore, to me is not a worthy cause for me to donate my long hours to. And to ship it to the opposite coast…..Sorry.

I have several causes that I do donate my art work to. This year I have had five and luckily, haven’t had to turn down a cause because I thought it was silly or something that I can’t support ethically. In my heart, I have to feel that I am truly giving back to the community by giving/donating a piece to someone because, these days, there is little monetary funds for them to ask for. I even cancelled my $5 a month donation to I do feel that I am maxed out in terms of donations at this time so if you think this is a good time to give me a call, you might want to reconsider that…..just sayin’.

My causes this year have been:

  • Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. This is the organization that I helped brand and spent about 10 years volunteering with them as a river monitor, benthic monitor, webmaster, helping with fundraising and yes, donating my artwork for them to auction off. I even became one of the people that went to other artists and asked them to donate to the cause. This is the organization that I have to thank for the support that they, in turn, have given me and helped to get my name out into the community so that I can do what I am doing now. Thank YOU, FNFSR!
  • Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter. When I decided to become a full time potter, I was asked by Kary Haun to donate to the Alliance’s Empty Bowl Supper. The first year, I think, I donated 24 bowls. Now, you need to know, the Shenandoah Alliance does compensate the potters $6 per bowl to cover the materials but the time spent creating the bowls are given by the individual potters. This will be my third year doing this and I really love this event. The shelter’s mission is to provide help for the homeless. Unlike many cities, where homelessness is very visible, our rural area still has this problem. This shelter gives temporary shelter to these individuals or families so that they are taken care of.
  • Habitat for Humanity. I have always felt that this is a worthy cause, even though it is christian based. How cool is it when a group of local people come together, as a community and build a house for someone that qualifies for it. The homeowner isn’t given the house but has to meet qualifications and be able to repay the loan, just like the rest of us. They are required to give “sweat equity” as their downpayment so this is proof, to me anyway, that I can also give some sweat equity and help them get into their new home, knowing that they are a hard worker too.
  • AIDS Response. This event was to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS and help those persons with their medical needs that might not be available through another source. Since our society is becoming more tolerant of the gay lifestyle, there is still a stigma surrounding it and yet the expense, like many illnesses, add a burden that I believe we, as a community, can help with.
  • Shenandoah’s Response Shelter for Abuse.  Given that I have seen first hand, abuse to women is not something that should be taken lightly. My mother put herself into abusive relationships and had all the symptoms of how women deal with these types of situations. With the economy and funding being cut to these programs, both on a national and local level, I feel this is one that I also have to try and help out.

So, as an artist, who by this time of year, is pretty much done with my donations, I have to say that, donating to a cause is a good thing. If someone approaches me to do free work or discounted work, I am learning that I need to ask for money for the work. I have bills to pay just like everyone else. My art is personal and is for me. It is not something I can do to suit someone else who thinks I need to make what they think will sell best. I need to be the one to make those decisions but I also need to eat.

I also believe that our society needs to think more about where items come from. The mug or bowl that I make isn’t from China. If, for all those years, we had been paying someone like myself, in our own communities or, within a 100 mile radius of our homes, prices for hand made items might not feel so high. I believe that by building communities and trying, (notice, I said, trying) to leave our beliefs out, that we can come together and do a lot of good for ourselves and our planet. I just believe that is the right thing to do. What are your thoughts?

Here are some links for some additional reading on this topic.


My pottery frog plate.

October 8, 2011

As many of you know, I do a lot (A LOT in capitals) of volunteer work for Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River. Seven years ago, we decided to do an annual fish fry as a way to fundraise for the issues surrounding the Shenandoah River. Four years ago now, we have been asking local artists to participate in this event by decorating an object that we then auction to raise funds for that purpose. Initially we were going around to local businesses to find items to auction and that idea became stale very quickly. I had the idea to obtain large fiberglass sculptural fish to have local artists decorate and when I began the research I soon realized that it was a huge expense just to purchase the fiberglass pieces. Horse Mania in Lexington, KY supports much of the arts with the proceeds from this kind of event. They are actually repeating the event again in 2011 from 2000.  So why not scale the idea back and find something less expensive. That first year we did terra cotta planters, with a River Visions in Terra Cotta theme and they were wonderful. The idea took off and we had artists wanting to know how they could participate. The next year we did floorcloths. And last year we did wooden cottage benches.  The items have been so successful that I overheard some grumbling from some of the attendees that the items were selling beyond their means. And really, each year it seems the prices have risen to certainly more than I would pay for some of the items. And while we don’t seem to raise the kind of funds that the LexArts folks do we still need to make the items reasonable for our local demographic.

The idea to offer a silent auction item was put into play and I came across a site for a gallery in Oregon that was doing a benefit for CERF (Craft Emergency Relief Fund) and asking potters to submit a plate to be auctioned online. The submissions for the gallery in Oregon were wonderful and I contacted the Mary Lou Zeek, the gallery owner and found out the details and decided to give it a try to offer a less expensive item at this year’s fish fry. The minimum bid will be $25. Hopefully the prices won’t rise too high and folks will see that we are making an effort to make items available to everyone. Even those of us that the recession has hit.

My plate has frogs that are coming out of the pond of fish. The frogs have expressive faces and the fish in the center is a slip trailed image of a fish. Not necessarily a Shenandoah Fish. Water lilly  leaves form a circle around the outside edge and they are glazed in a celedon with a slip detail of the leaf showing through.

As this year’s  fish fry gets closer, there will be other potters submitting works and the collection of plates will come into view. We weren’t able to get 100 plates or potters on board but the dozen that we have will hopefully give us a starting point to getting a new item of our fundraiser off the ground.

Tickets will be going on sale soon and the event is October the 8th this year. Mark your calendars and plan to attend. The larger item that other artists are decorating this year are Adirondack chairs with a river theme. Those should be lots of fun to see too. I didn’t do one of the large items this year with my fall being full of family events but I can’t wait to see what the other artists come up with as their vision appears on the chairs.

The Frog Plate…

Constructing a fish…

Looks great John, are you okay in there?

About 5 or so years ago, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, the group that I do a lot of volunteer work for, devoted an entire Saturday to brainstorming for the groups future. They invited me to attend even though I was no longer a board member. During the day we discussed our problem with getting local individuals interested in our group. The past history of the group was one of combative advocacy and that was one of the issues we were discussing.

Locally, in Shenandoah County, parades are a really big deal. When Herb and I bought our house it happened that our closing was on the day of the Fireman’s parade in Tom’s Brook and we couldn’t get into town to even get into our new house. We had to wait for the parade to end. So I made the suggestion that our river group begin working on a parade presents with a mascot or a group of mascots with a whimsical and funny take on the problems the river is facing. I suggested having a fish with an IV, maybe a clown fish throwing water (confetti), some folks inside a canoe that the bottom had been cut out of and have an entire troupe of fish that attends events and parades. This, I thought, would put the group into a more friendly appeal with a sense of humor but also with an interest in the water quality problems that the river was facing. It would make us more approachable.

So the idea was shelved until later.

The Science committee chair, John Holmes, approached me later and said that if I would make the costume that he would wear it. It just seemed that I never had time for such an undertaking and when looking online at costumes, none of them seemed to fit our pricing or look. So finally, last spring, I decided to dive in and tackle the costume. So I thought I would share the process of constructing a fish.

After consulting with Terri Fluker, a Berea College alumni, who designs and creates costumes in Hollywood, I bought upholstery foam at Jo Ann’s Fabrics and assembled the fish as if it were a quilt. Making a quilt sandwich for each side and planning to add the fins into the seams. Essentially, a pillow case like container that would slip over someone’s head and look like a fish.

Many hours spent quilting the sides of the fish was the hardest part. It was just extremely time consuming and difficult to push around under  the sewing machine.  The head was stuffed and a wooden embroidery hoop was sewn into the neck area to hold it’s shape. I also added some long sash pieces inside the neck to wrap around the shoulders of the person wearing the fish and bring around to their waist and tie it like an apron in order to stabilize the head so it doesn’t flop around and will stay put. Armholes were added as well to give the person inside a means to get water and for safety purposes. John determined that they were good to have but he was going to keep his hands inside.

The assembled fish was then painted with gesso as a primer to accept the paint. Using a photo reference of the Stoneroller fish,  acrylic paint was applied to the overall surface. A gold glitter paint was used to draw in the quilted indentions and metallic paints to add a sparkle and shine. And the screen “look through” area was spray painted white to recede it into the belly area.

Now that he is finished, we see things that we can do to help the person inside and add to the illusion. Adding some elastic into the belly area to pull the sides together will allow the fish to look less belly dominated and maybe adding a small skirt area under the belly to hide the pants. Also, I may try and add some lips on the face. I’m not happy that the fish appears to be looking up all the time. If, and that is a BIG IF, I ever do another one, I would try and have the fish head so that he is more facing forward.

I want to thank the following for the help and support they have given me for the past year as I assembled this beast…

Hopefully, “Stoney, the Stoneroller” will help to bring smiles to some kids faces, help to educated the local population as to who he is and how he lives in the Shenandoah River and his purpose and his message of helping to clean up our precious river. He is now ready to take on all those parades and festivals that are coming up in the summer months and into the fall and winter.
Of course, he’s a little worried about the fish fry in October