Getting to Know The Artists: Susan Beecher

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Susan Beecher is a renowned potter, her bio can be found at http://susanbeecherpottery.com. She is full of life and love. Her work reflects those direct connections to the human race and mother nature. Talking with her was inspirational, you’ll want to go and create some pots with her when you’re finished reading! ~Vicki Thompson 

You have lots of workshops planned for this summer at Sugar Maples that not only involve the ceramics department, but all types of art genres such as Mosaics, Chinese Brush Painting, Print Making and Plein Air Painting workshops. Are you the instructor for them as well?

No, I don’t teach any of the other art classes. I don’t have a degree in art, although I studied ceramics and drawing extensively I’m not proficient in other media. I love other media, of course. So I go about finding someone who has either been referred to me or that I’ve see their work and I’ve met them. It’s important to me that they are good teachers besides good artists. I do my best to figure that out and then I hire people. The woman who is now teaching mosaics, I met when I was teaching ceramics at another craft center. I could see what a great teacher she was and what wonderful work she did, so I hired her for Sugar Maples, so that’s sort of how it works.

I’m really impressed that you don’t have a degree in art and you are self made

I loved art and clay from the time I was a very young girl. In those days, I never even knew another woman who was an artist. It was something foreign, so when I went to school it wasn’t even a question about studying art. My degree was in communications and my minor was in business. When I got out of school, I had children young. I made pots and I apprenticed myself to a really wonderful maker in NY and in exchange for my working for her, she taught me. She was an MBA from Alfred so I learned lot from her. Then, I started making pots and eventually teaching. When I got a divorce, the whole question of what to do to support my family arose. Making pots in NY is not a very viable way to support your family, so I was lucky that I had a degree in communications, so I went to work in publishing. I had quite a career in publishing for 20 years.

Were you able to practice your ceramics in the meantime?

For a while I did, but as I got promoted and I had jobs of more responsibility, I couldn’t make pots, raise my kids and do my day job, it was too much. I didn’t make pots for almost 15-18 years. At my last job, I was the Director of Marketing at Scholastic in NYC. I worked my way up. Eventually, it got to a point where I really wanted to make pots. I really wanted to get my hands in clay. Luckily, I worked it out so that I could do freelance and I started making pots again. I immediately started studying with people I admired, I was able to study with some very great makers. It just gradually happened. I made more and more pots and sold them. Because I didn’t have a degree, the only way to get your name known and get your pots into galleries, you need to enter national shows. It’s very competitive though. Gradually during a five-year period I started to get accepted into national shows and then I started to get invitations to teach. So that helped. You make some money, usually

01_Byour students buy your work, and so it’s sort of a win-win. By that point, we had brought a little house in East Jewett with an old horse barn. I built my studio, I think it was in 2000, I built my wood kiln. I had experienced firing my pots in wood, and it was thrilling to me, it was magical. Woodfiring makes a whole different surface on your pots and the clay and the glaze I think become alive in a different way. So I built my wood kiln and that was really a great experience.

 

 

And you wrote a book about Woodfired Pottery.

At that point, the Catskill Mountain Foundation had a small publishing arm and they were publishing books about contemporary artists in the area. They approached me and asked me if I’d do a book and I said sure, it was very exciting!

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So you had your wood kiln and that’s when you got involved with Sugar Maples, thereafter?

I think around that time Peter Finn had just started the CMF and they wanted to start a Ceramics Program so he approach me and asked me if I’d be interested in running the ceramics arm of Sugar Maples. That sounded really exciting to be because I feel that crafts are almost being forgotten today in this technological world that were living in and I think it’s very important for children and adults to continue to make things by hand. I think it’s sort of wired into our DNA that we should continue to make, on whatever level, not necessarily on a professional level. I see it with my students; they become so satisfied making pots or mosaics. I thought that would be a really good part of my journey and it has been just wonderful.

Do you think ceramics creates an art community that other genres don’t create?

Yes. First of all you need equipment, you need a kiln, you need a wheel, you need a place that it doesn’t matter if it gets dusty or messy, so it’s harder to do on your own, although many people do. Whereas painting for instance; you can go to the store and get your paints and paper and it becomes much more accessible. I do find that Ceramics’ people seem to love the workshop experience, it’s part of their thing. Whereas painters are more solitary, ceramic people seem to really love that group experience, feeding off each other and people. They are grateful for the experience, they really are.

There’s a lot of mental disorders associated with famous artists, I wonder if there’s less on the ceramics end. There’s no statistics I’ve seen, but I’m just wondering if there’s less of a correlation due to the community aspect.

That could be true, there is much more sharing community and support.

What type of pots are you currently focusing on?

Traditionally I have made functional ware, I sort of feel like functional pots, meaning pots you would in your kitchen or on your table, are sort of like the last affordable art form. It’s a very enriching experience to drink your coffee out of a handmade mug or eating off of a hand made plate. It’s very different than eating off of a plate from Macys. It just is. And if you think about and open yourself up to that experience it can be really enriching, so I love to make pots that people will use. That said, I make lots of pots for flowers, flower arranging, but I do do some more sculptural work at times also. That had the kind of determination on what kind of wood kiln that I built because I don’t want so much wood ash on my pieces that people cant drink out of them, so that largely determined by the kind of kiln you have. I don’t know if that answered your questions or not.

No, you answered the question just fine! Who are your favorite Ceramic artists?

Number one is Michael Simon, he is a wonderful ceramic artist out of Georgia. I’m very much in the Leach-Hamada tradition. Those were one of the most influential and finest sort of studio ceramic artists of the last century. They schooled two or three particular artists in this country. They are from Japan and England. That Leech-Hamada tradition really influenced a whole generation of potters including myself. Michael Simon was also in that tradition, as was Warren MacKenzie. Warren MacKenzie, he’s in his 90’s still making pots. He’s like the grandfather of American Pottery. Michael Simon, He’s not well so he’s not making now. I was very, very lucky to work with both if them, they were exceptional.

What do you do in your down time? Besides art…

(laughs) Do I have down time?

I don’t know….

I don’t have much down time. I love to cook for my friends and family and I have a grandson. That’s why I’m now spending half of my time in California because I have grandkids here. My daughter has an organic fruit nursery. I spend time out there helping them. My greatest joy right now it that my youngest, 8 year old grandson, loves clay, so he comes and stays with me for a couple of days. We make pots and things together in my little studio here. It is just wonderful; he glazes the pots and then we fire them. It’s really great to pass on, that tradition. I also love to read, I came up in publishing and never seem to have enough time to read what I want. I just finished the Pulitzer Prize winning Goldfinch, which was like 7 hundred and something pages. It’s something unbelievable, that book and she deserves the Pulitzer Prize.

I agree with you on that one, that was a great book. There’s never enough time to read, I always wish the books would read to me sometimes.

Do you like to listen to books on tape?

Yes.

People have been telling me to get books on tape but somehow I just never can.

Do you listen to music while you make pottery?

Yes.

Maybe if you listen to books on tape….

I don’t know, it’s not the same as loosing yourself in reading.

Right, And music does so much when your working with clay that you can loose yourself in that way. What’s your favorite musical genre?

I love classical music, but at the same time I love old blues, old blues jazz and old folk music, so I’m really diverse in my musical interests.

Can you share one of the many of your favorite memories from working at Sugar Maples?

Last summer I taught a workshop on Pouring Vessels, It was the smaller class, like 7 or something. Teapots are the hardest thing to make because you’re trying to bring together all these different elements to work as a whole, everyone managed to make a teapot and some of them were not experienced students, they were quite new to clay. So it was very challenging, but they all got it together. It was so exciting and at the end of class we put all the teapots on the end of the table and we talked about everyones work. People were just so happy and proud that they had accomplished that.

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That actually makes me want to cry, I don’t know why.

Yes, you can relate to it. The other thing is, I’ve had such great makers. Every other summer Jack Troy comes to us. He is one of the most respected makers to date in clay. This man, he’s a retired professor in his 70’s he’s also a poet. Sometimes in class everyone’s making while he’s demonstrating and he’s reciting one his poems. It’s the most precious moment and people are so enraptured with him.

That’s the full experience.

We’ve had Ron Meyers , a maker in his 70’s, so talents, he does a lot of very funny painting on his pots. He did a remarkable workshop, and he doesn’t give workshops anymore! I called him for 3 years, I worked on him for 3 years inviting him to come. Finally he came!

Good, I’m glad to hear that your magic works!

So those moments of very special people are really golden moments that I wont forget and that the students are not going to forget either.

Any advice for young aspiring ceramists?

Keep your overhead low and it’s just a lot of hard work. It’s inspirational. I think when finally starting getting national shows it was those little cruet sets, those a little oil and vinegar sets, they were unique. Those were the first pots that got my into national shows. My advice would be to keep searching for something you make that has a uniqueness about it because that’s a way for people to take notice.

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Anything else you’d like to add Susan?

People should try the experience of working and making things with their hand no matter what it is, painting, clay, mosaics, it will enrich their lives.

 

 

 

 

 

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Capture, Ruckus and Manifesting Some Sort of Destiny. Meet the PPM’s 1833-1835 Nuns & Clark, Benjamin

By Vicki Thompson94aeea044dbe7a103eea247337d600a0

 

Most people and inanimate objects cannot remember much prior to about 3 years of age. But I can remember it all, way before the beginning. That’s impressive considering I am almost 200 years old. They call me Benjamin, and I must say that although I am referred to as an inanimate object, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’ll have you know that, we are all very animate and have spirits of our own.

I can remember back to when I had been part of a rosemary tree. Chopped up, I sat for 2 years seasoning in the weather. I learned from a young age how hard life is enduring the seasons changing without a blanket or shelter. After that I felt I earned a vacation for the next chapter of my life where I spent it in a dry house. I felt as though I was on the equator in the Bahamas roasting away. These were the earliest memories of my life. My most captivating memories lie within my journey to the West Coast.

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That’s, me! My selfie.

Let me step back for a few details; After I was considered to be bone-dry, I had my growth spurt. Humans have their growth spurts during puberty. Pianos have their growth spurt at an early age. It’s just easier to get it out of way in my opinion.  I had my growth spurt in my assemblage birthplace of NY, NY, in 1835 at the Nuns & Clarks factory. I am known for being a transition piano. I was one of the first to have metal included in my hitch pin and iron strut to support my wrest plank (Just a fun fact I like to share about my self and  my construction, like when humans feel the need to tell that they were the youngest or oldest of the grade school class….) Afterwards, I was immediately blindfolded. What felt like a straight jacket was wrapped around me. This is what I heard to be called “shrink wrapped.” All I heard with this shrink wrapping on me was voices surrounding me as I got hauled into an empty train’s carrier.

Next stop: Missouri. Missouri was warm. My folks were friendly and they played the most fun and entertaining music. I always brought people together. They would admire my new posh look, jumping from the old Victorian style pianos with so much “to-do” on them. I thought they looked like they were trying too hard, very gaudy looking. I’ve always been a fan of simplicity.

Mr. and Mrs. Alton Long were my owners names. Mr. Alton owned the Davies County Savings Association. He decided that he wanted to share me with the public coming in and out of the office to help society to return to the normalcy it had craved after the war.  I was perfectly fine with that. He hired a local pianist to play me during the day, and a piano tuner to clean me during the night. I slept with my beautiful shawl from Barcelona on. It was a copacetic,almost too good to be true time. Sometimes Mr. and Mrs. Alton would host late night employee only parties. These nights were carefree. People would admire my presence and play me like they were running a marathon.

Unfortunately, this was the time of Jessie James robbing places and killing people. It was when America was trying to settle the dust and friction in the air between the North and South from the Civil War. Jessie James had been hyped up in the papers. People would read the articles out loud while gathered around me, discuss them and then play tunes on me to remind them of happiness.  Mr. Alton never believed what the papers had to say about Jessie James being an honest man working to help, not harm the people of the South. He always knew Jessie James had malicious intentions. He would laugh and ridicule these articles and then play light hearted music on me.

One night, Mr. and Mrs. Alton were hosting a Halloween party, extending the invitation to all of the employees of the Davis Savings Association.  This night was one of the best I can remember up until midnight stuck. Everyone was laughing and dancing as if there was not a care in the world. Moments like this in life are rare and too few and far in-between. The weight of the world can be immense and onerous at times, even for a piano. Playing songs only of cheer sprung life into the air. Oh music…

Masked in costumes like the rest of the party, entered Jessie James, his brother Frank and 50 other men. They were all dressed in Robin Hood costumes, can you believe that? So much for ambiguity. About 20 of the professed Robinhoods picked me up after unmentionable bloodshed occurred. I still cannot speak of it to this day. I get too sad when thinking of all the good and kind people left there that night, especially Mr. and Mrs. Alton. The Robinhoods were chattering about how heavy I was and how much money and publicity I would be getting Jessie. I didn’t care to hear any more. The occasional tree they ran me into and pinching of my keys when they were carrying me put me in a coma like state.

I woke up in a train carrier. There were lights, beer and, to my surprise, another piano. As the robinhoods unmasked themselves, they shot guns in the air though the train carriers doors as a signal to move forward. Apparently it was time for a piano duel between myself and this no-name piano for the train ride to California. Here is where I stop calling the Robinhoods such and begin calling them criminals. I rode in that train carrier with over 30 drunken criminals and two captive pianists. These 2 poor musical pianist souls were captured purely for the entertainment of the train ride to California. Undoubtedly they were to be killed upon arrival. My future wasn’t clear at this point either, as far as I knew I could be future firewood. I don’t imagine the Californians knowing what to do with a piano! I had to shift perspective…If I was going to live or die, I would win what could possibly be my last piano duel!

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 A photo of the Train Cart we were crammed into

Down the duel went! We traded off tunes like Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Sonata No. 2,” no easy triumph I must say! Next, the no-name piano would play “De Falla Ritual Dance” from ‘El Amor Brujo’.

 

 

I haven’t been played like that in my whole life. The aggression, the passion, the energy of the criminals combined with the pianists hope for life by winning the piano duel. Whoever was in the other corner certainly had a different sound than me. She sounded to be of an earlier decade with the cascading pitches. She kept a clear and concise tone the entire train ride, I’ll give her that. My strings were getting splattered with the beer from the criminals mugs in the cart. It was ok though, while we were both playing for our lives, I still had a stronger presence.

At the end of the journey of a few days and nights, I was announced the winner after playing “My Old Kentucky Home.”

It  was simple but brought up true emotion to the drunken southern criminals. I, the good old, sleek and slim Nuns & Clark had won the battle. I knew I had it in me.  The train ride ended and I approached my supposed final destination. A man named Henry picked me up, paid the criminals $200 cash and I was placed into a truck and brought to his farm.

The people of California reacted strangely towards me. I was a foreign object, they even changed my name to Sunny. How unoriginal? Just because it’s sunny in California, doesn’t mean that should be my name. I changed back to Benjamin as soon as I got back in NY. People were so curious around me in California and not many people could play a solid tune on me for about 10 years until some experienced pianists made their way to California with Manifest Destiny in mind. It was rough, but comfortable I suppose.

If you are concerned or feeling doleful about the other piano, I’ll share something that will lift your spirits if you think the no-namer became ashes. The other piano, she was loaded onto the truck behind me and we ended up at the same location. I learned her name, learned all about her, and she eventually became my piano wife. She was a beautiful 1824-1826 Wm. Gieb Square Piano who is named Ophelia.

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And now Ophelia (pictured above) and I reside here in the Piano Performance Museum in Hunter, NY.

It’s a long story of the journey from California to Hunter, NY, best to save for another day. But we love our home here. I feel my sound is kept safe. I am warm and get attention, but could always use more 😉

 

New Art Exhibit May “Peak” Your Interest: Interview with Jack Laroux

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You’ve been described as an artist from NYC and the Catskills? Which part of you lives in the City? And which part dwells in the mountains?
The part that lives in the city is the ambitious, energetic, chaotic and business side that absorbs the city’s energy on all levels. The city is a place that gives me hope to survive in the art world. I see millions of people that have millions of walls that need art on them. I think to myself often, how will I reach all of them to see my art!? 
The part of me that dwells in the Catskills is the focused, calm and productive side. I take all the city’s energy and channel it into my work here in the hills. I also think about what to paint when I mow my lawn for hours on the John Deere sipping on a beer.
How long have you been connected with the local area? 
My family has owned property here since the late eighties. I have memories being in the Catskill Mountains from a very young age, such as learning how to ski when I was three years old at Hunter Mountain in 1980.
We’ve heard that you were the featured artist at last year’s Mountain Jam? How did that happen and what was that like? 
Yes, I was the featured artist two years in a row now, 2013 and 2014. It’s so much fun to be part of a big music festival for 4 days that continues to grow every year. Art and music is a perfect marriage. When fans look at my Mountain Jam painting “ Fountain of Youth” or “Music Maker”, I want them to hear the music and feel their experience at the festival through my painting. 
Like everything in life, it happened because of connections and always promoting my work where ever I may be. Specifically, connections made through my love for snowboarding. I met one of the organizers snowboarding at Hunter Mountain. One chairlift ride up to the top with a couple turns down the mountain ending at the lodge and I became the featured artist for Mountain Jam.
We’ve also heard that you lit up a huge LED sign in Times Square. What was that like? And why did you do it? 
I lit up five huge LED signs. The entire experience can be summed up in one word, “SURREAL”. I felt such a great feeling of career accomplishment seeing my logo and art rotating on the huge prime video screens on Broadway and 43rd street. After all the years working hard to get “out there” as an artist, It felt as if I conquered New York City. 
I was able to light up the billboards with my work because of a private corporate event that showcased my paintings. They had access to the billboards and thought it would be cool to have the art rotating on the screens during the party. Since the views from the company’s offices look directly down at the screens, they thought it would compliment the show. I strongly agreed!
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You’ve described yourself as a neo-cubist? What does that mean?
That’s always my first response when someone asks me to describe my style, but, honestly, I don’t know really what that means. I am a new and some what young artist that lives in the 21st century creating artwork that is reminiscent of cubism, so neo-cubist sounds like the right thing to say. All I know is that I am heavily influenced by surrealism, cubism, futurism, abstract expressionism, graffiti, cartoon and low brow art, but if you try to pin down my style, I don’t think it is possible. I guess that is what makes it unique. My work is a mash up of all different styles and techniques. I was intensely thinking during my years of art studies how I can be different from all the other extremely talented artists in my program. How do I create a style that is almost instantly recognizable as Laroux. Almost like branding, I guess business school influenced me a little bit before I attended art school at Parsons! 
Who are your favorite artists?
I have a long list, but Picasso is definitely at the top of my list, not only for his art accomplishments but his business savvy. Murakami and Jeff Koons are up there too on the favorite living artists list. 
What do you hope to accomplish with your art? 
On a basic level, I simply want to entertain people. I want my work to heal people, create a sense of awe or just put a smile on one’s face. I want walls in people’s home to come alive and stimulate imagination. As my career progresses, I want to accomplish refining my artwork and push my talent and creativity to the very max. It would be great to accomplish immortality which sounds extremely artsy fartsy. But, when I physically leave this planet, I would love for my paintings to live on and continue to inspire, stimulate, entertain and heal for eternity.
Your imagery is highly imaginative. What are the sources of that imagery? 
My mind is continually bombarded by images and scenes that seem to rise from some creative abyss deep in my brain that also simultaneously distorts the imagery from my regular life. As an artist, you simply look at the world differently. I like to do a lot of things other than sitting for hours working on artwork. Such as snowboarding, running, working out, riding motorcycles, watching TV shows about aliens, learning about the cosmos, science and technology and the list goes on. If you don’t live life and continuously learn new things, how can you create? 
Does Freud have anything to do with your imagery? That is, do you ever think of analyzing it? If so, what do you think it says about you?
No. I don’t analyze my artwork, I just make it. I would like to imagine that when people see my work they think of a dude that is very serious about making awesome paintings for people to enjoy! They also might think I am completely nuts and use lots of drugs, But I am not and I don’t. 
Color and shape seem to play such a huge part in your work. Is that a Cubist thing or just your thing?
Many people will be shocked to learn that I am very color blind, specifically with red and green colors but it seems to effect all my colors. I DO see colors, but I severely fail the color blind test book with the dots that make up numbers and letters. Some say that my color blindness leads to the intense and vibrant colors in my work. I just like colors to blast of the wall, so I think its just my own thing. 
The shapes I create play with the extremely important balancing act in my work. I strive to have everything very balanced with smooth line work juxtaposed with cubistic grids.
Where do you see yourself as an artist ten years from now
I hope to continue to progress my style and gain millions of LAROUXart collectors and fans from around the world. I have a bucket list that I am slowly checking off ,Times Square was one of them. 
Are you a modernist or a post-modernist? Or don’t you think about things like that in terms of your work?
Shoot, I have to look those terms up again to refresh my memory. I am a magician. Haha Honestly, I don’t ever think of things like that. I just work hard to make beautiful paintings that try to grab peoples’ attention and make them think.
Is it fun to be an artist?
Being an artist in general, yes of course! 
Trying to be a professional working artist, ABSOLUTELY NOT! 
It has been a crazy experience, an emotional and financial roller coaster ride that creates a seriously unstable life with many compromises. BUT, when all the stars align after years of hard work and I get a cool commission, big sale or have a successful show, then the high is bigger than anything on earth. This temporary high propels me forward to create more art, set ambitious goals and gives me new energy in order to continue chasing the dream of making art for a living. 

Meet Cara Dantzig, The CMF Would Be Lost Without Our Black Olive Eating Administrative Assistant

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Meet Cara, the administrative assistant at the Catskill Mountain Foundation. She is groovy, intelligent and one of the most giving people I ever have met. I am proud to share bits and pieces of her large personality with the public.  ~Vicki Thompson

A favorite quote of yours? 

I don’t really have a favorite quote that popped in my head, but I keep hearing in my head…. “We were born before the wind,” Van Morrison.

What do you enjoy most about the CMF?

The hustle and bustle. There’s always things going on, great things. It’s interesting getting to interact with all kinds of people throughout my day.

A favorite food?

Oh goodness, I really love black olives.

That’s so weird

Why?

I don’t know, that’s just a random one. 

I do, pitted or not pitted, right out of the can or right out of the deli department.

Hm, I’ll have to try it out. Least favorite thing about humanity?

I think people really not being aware there’s other people among them, being really selfish. We’re all sharing space and time here.

Most favorite thing about humanity?

Were so smart and creative and I think we pull from each other in that positive way.  I also think when it comes down to it, people will help each other out in time of need……

Imaginary getaway?

A big, beautiful tree house, It wouldn’t have to big, it would just have to magical. Beautiful fabrics, rugs, wind chimes and pretty circle windows. And the tree is covered in moss.

How do you think CMF has had a positive impact on the community?

They’ve created jobs for our local community. Also, they’ve provided arts for the community by allowing local artists to participate in the gallery and have a say on how to present their work. I think main street in Hunter would look really sad if the theater wasn’t beautiful, and if this building (Hunter Village Square) wasn’t beautiful.

What are you Lils and Chris dressing up as for Halloween?

Well today, Lilly is going to be Peter Pan, so we’ll see what happens that day but in her mindset she wants to be peter pan. So I have to make a costume and find some tights.

Are you going to dress up?

I don’t know, I don’t think so. Maybe something silly  Last year I was a disco detective here in the office. I have this polyester jumpsuit that I rocked that and I wore this private eye hat and glasses with the mustache and nose. I think I have to see how I feel that morning.

Were you the only one in the office who dressed up?

Yes.

Of course!

People were coming in the door, and here I am.

Haha, Having fun in your space! Now  for some free association….

Music? joy

Dancing? joy twice.

Art? great

Peace? Love

Duck Sauce? Bonkers

Big Ears? ooooooh.DSC_5339

This is Cara’s Favorite tree from her window in the CMF office.