CSA co-founder Erin Nathanson spoke with Lune Mer Porcelain about their collaboration, the need for support for artists in Charleston, and what summer shareholders can expect in their CSA – well just a “hint.”
EN: Ruth Ballou and Rena Lasch, you’re a collaborative duo. This is a first for Charleston Supported Art. What inspired you to apply together? What are the benefits of working as a team?
LMP: We were hoping that you would be open to the idea of us applying as a team because the C in CSA stands for Community. Community is about collaboration. We love collaborating with each other, we see this as one of the biggest benefits of working as a team. We both like being part of an artistic community.
EN: Let’s go back. What was your first experience with ceramic art?
RB: Seeing a potter in the mountains of Georgia was the first time I saw something that I thought was true magic. Watching a bowl or a mug emerge from a lump of clay seemed easy. But the first time I tried it myself I realized it was very difficult. It engaged me in a way that none of my other course work ever had.
EN: Have you seen a change in the medium over time?
LMP: The craft movement of 60’s has developed into a more sophisticated and broader range of work. Potters are generally very open about sharing skills and knowledge, both as individuals and at universities and colleges. As a result, there has been a rapid growth in the understanding of glaze chemistry, firing techniques and methods, as well as a deeper understanding of the 3d form and surface finishes. Clay is the original plastic; only imagination and persistence are required to stretch the limits as we know them. Potters seem to love doing just that.
EN: How did your collaboration come to fruition?
RB: I first met Rena through a mutual friend when Rena helped design my garden. I was struck by her design aesthetic and artistic eye. We realized we had a common interest in clay, so she came to work in my studio as an exercise. We quickly developed a rapport in our work.
EN: What’s in store for the future of Lune Mer Porcelain? Any concepts floating around the studio?
LMP: We have some lighting ideas we are working on, as well as larger work. Both of these ideas push the limit of what we can do with clay, which is what we try to do with all our work.
EN: When you think about the arts in Charleston, how well is ceramic work supported?
LMP: As individuals, I think artists in Charleston try to support each other. Cone 10 Studios provides shared studio space and equipment. However, clay is a difficult medium to master that requires a lot of practice and expensive equipment and there is room for city or county establishment of community art centers.
In addition, very is little being done to bring clay work as an aesthetic and skill to the next generation through the educational system. The important contribution that working with clay can make to developing minds is sorely misunderstood and undervalued. Clay provides an opportunity to practice patience and persistence while thinking in 3 dimensions and solving multiple problems along the way to a finished product.
As for “the arts in Charleston” I think our City has a lot of room for growth and really needs to take a serious look at how it can nurture and sustain the artists that are an integral part of our community here in Charleston.
EN: Rena, working in porcelain is new to you but you’re familiar with three dimensional work. Tell us about your background in sculpture and landscape design and how you came to your current work in porcelain.
RL: Well, I am new to working with porcelain, but my experience working with clay goes back over 20 years. Prior to this hand building venture with Ruth I worked on the wheel and I did figurative sculpture. I will always feel like I am a beginner because the medium of clay provides an endless learning process. Each clay body has different strengths and limitations. Firing is an art unto itself. The chemistry that is glazing one could spend a lifetime exploring, in fact I think Ruth is doing just that.
On the surface clay seems so direct and simple, but it is anything but that.
I see my work in landscape design and my clay work as very complementary. I have found that one practice helps me in the other. I really like working in tandem.
I have been a gardener all my life and I am endlessly fascinated by nature. These things were strong reasons why I chose to earn my degree in Landscape Architecture. Throughout my career I have tried to improving the quality of life through design. I still strive for this. I currently work on small scale residential garden designs although I do have ambitions to do large scale public garden/art projects. We will see what the future brings.
EN: Ruth, how important would you say continued education in your art form is? You travel, lead and attend workshops, and have an MFA in ceramics. What has been your favorite learning experience?
RB: Without knowing it, I have always worked to the standard that Edgar Degas expressed in a quote I read 2 years ago in an exhibit of his work in Copenhagen:
“You must aim high, not of what you are doing, but of what you may do one day: without that, there’s no point in working.”
To this end, continued education is vital. My travel to other countries has exposed me to a wide variety of approaches to clay work, in galleries, museums, conferences, workshops, and conversations with other potters. The most mind expanding workshop was at the ceramic center La Meridiana in Italy on paper clay porcelain with Giovanni Cimatti. I had signed up for the course with some expectations. Instead, he opened my eyes to a whole new way of working with porcelain. Most recently, the International Ceramics Festival in Wales provided another amazing experience with artists from India, Serbia, the Philippines, Canada, France and the UK.
EN: How has this combination of backgrounds affected your work? Studio practice?
LMP: Our working together seems so easy. We share many interests in common, we share a similar aesthetic, we both understand a balance of working together and allowing time alone in the studio. We also share a sense of play with our medium and take many opportunities to just have fun with new ideas. Our differences allow us to encourage each other to take chances.
EN: And at this point, let’s talk about the fabulous studio Lune Mer Porcelain is created in. What drives a healthy studio practice for a team of two people?
LMP: A clean ceramic studio is very important. We’re pretty compulsive about that and working safely. The dog and cats make sure we take regular breaks.
EN: What can CSA Summer Shareholders expect and look forward to?
LMP: CSA gave us the opportunity to explore and expand ideas that had been floating around the studio. The Summer Shareholders can look forward to a bit of eavesdropping on our conversations with the clay.
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