Gone to pots at Anderson Ranch
August 8, 2008
SNOWMASS VILLAGE At the Anderson Ranch Arts Centers campus in Snowmass Village, the painting department and the photography department have relatively modern, spacious buildings. The galleries in the main building fairly sparkle. And the cafeteria is airy and inviting, with a gorgeous, garden-like outdoor patio.The spaces given over to ceramics, by contrast, are crowded, old and dark. Youve got to watch your head the ceilings and entrances tend to be low and your step there is stuff everywhere. That goes double in the space reserved for Doug Casebeer, who has accumulated walls, tables and floors full of stuff over the years he has directed the ceramics program. The Lyeth/Lyon Kiln Yard, which houses the departments kilns, would make a good setting for a horror film.A cursory glance might lead a visitor to think that ceramics, often thought of as more of a craft than a high art, has been overlooked in favor of the more cutting-edge mediums represented at Anderson Ranch. Far from it. Ceramics is given more physical space than any other discipline. The ceramics buildings are located more or less dead-center on the Ranchs campus, which can give the impression that it is akin to the heart of the institution. And ceramics has the deepest and most stable history of Anderson Ranchs departments: The most notable of the Ranchs founders, at least on the artistic side, was a ceramist, Aspenite Paul Soldner, whose work is considered revolutionary and who is recognized on an international level. Casebeer is by far the longest-serving of the Ranchs department heads; this summer is his 24th in Snowmass Village.The ceramics department pulls more than its weight at Anderson Ranchs Annual Art Auction. Casually thumbing through the auction catalogue last week, ceramist John Gill, a visiting artist at the Ranch, stopped in genuine astonishment: Look at the back of this book its all ceramics in here! he said. A quick look confirmed the point: In the silent auction at least, the items offered leaned heavily toward pots and ceramic sculptures, and there was adequate representation in the live auction as well.People who come through here have had a great experience, and they want to donate, noted Alleghany Meadows, a former resident in the ceramics department who has a piece in tomorrows silent auction. And because of the high level of the program, the people who take workshops there are already established in their field, so 20 years later, theyre still doing ceramics.The Annual Art Auction is set for Saturday, Aug. 9, at the Ranch. The event, which is free and open to the public, begins at 11:30 a.m. with a community picnic, live music and the silent auction. The live auction, which gets underway at 1:30 p.m., features works by internationally known artists Damien Hirst, George Condo, Enrique Martnez Celaya, and Doug and Mike Starn; locals Paul Collins, Matt Christie and Lloyd Schermer and ceramists Casebeer, Michael Wisner, Jun Kaneko, Akio Takamori, Laxmi Kumar Prajapati, Chris Gustin and more. The biggest fundraising event of the year for Anderson Ranch, the auction typically brings in between $550,000 and $700,000. And rather than being a passive event, with artists digging through their stores of unsold works to find a piece to donate, many of the artworks have been made at the Ranch, specifically for the auction. So they truly are one-of-a-kind pieces, and the auction is the only way you can get that piece, noted Hunter OHanian, who will be overseeing his second auction as president of Anderson Ranch. OHanian pointed out as examples a mixed media work by Matt Christie, director of the Ranchs printmaking department; a mixed-media piece by former Aspenite Milton Rosa-Ortiz; and work in wood, mother of pearl and video by Wendy Maruyama, who works in the furniture department.Among the ceramists represented in the silent auction is Pelusa Rosenthal, who has a set of stoneware cups offered for sale. Rosenthal spent seven summers, through 2004, at Anderson Ranch, learning not just how to make ceramics, but how to build a ceramics department.Her intentions were really clear, said Casebeer. Her reasons for being here were to see what we did here, how we did it, and to model her own center after Anderson Ranch.Rosenthal opened her Curaumilla Art Center in Santiago, Chile, one of several places around the globe that has been directly impacted by the ceramics goings-on in Snowmass Village. Ten years ago, on the site of an old Jamaican sugar mill, Casebeer helped establish, with David Pinto, Good Hope, a year-round retreat and arts center. Anderson Ranchs impact in Katmandu has been even bigger. Twenty-five years ago, just when he started his tenure at the Ranch, Casebeer traveled to Nepal to give a workshop. There he met Laxmi Kumar Prajapati. At the time, there was a pressing practical need in Nepal for glazed ceramics. The discipline required a turn away from the traditional way of making pots, but Prajapatis father, a potter, embraced the change. Laxmi and his brother founded the first glazed ceramic studio in Nepal. The countrys glazed -ceramic industry is now strong enough that ceramics are being exported, and the studio established by the Prajapatis is being used as a model all over Nepal.To test your own values in art, you have to expose them to other people, explained Casebeer, who has Prajapati on his staff this year for the fourth summer. So opening up the Ranch to other communities is important to me, always has been. Thats a great way to get a closer look at what you want to say.Another community that has been greatly impacted by the Ranchs ceramics department is the Roaring Fork Valley. Last spring, Aspens Red Brick Center for the Arts had a knock-out ceramics exhibition. The show filled the gallery with work by 50 local artists; by Casebeers estimation, 48 of them had direct contact with Anderson Ranch. (The other two had contacts with the Ranch that were removed by one degree.)Three years ago this week, two former residents in the Ranchs ceramics department, Alleghany Meadows and Sam Harvey, opened the Harvey/Meadows Gallery at Aspen Highlands Village. The gallery has added needed life to the village, and has also established itself as a dealer in ceramics and work on paper by significant local and national artists, including Soldner, and John Gill, who has a current show of his ceramics running through Sept. 8.Locally, it has brought a very visible group of artists from around the country, who have moved here permanently, said Meadows, who studied in3 California and upstate New York before settling in Missouri Heights. And it has educated generations of people who have gone on to support the arts, or collect art, or who appreciate what goes into ceramics. When they see a piece they can pick it up and say, I know what went into making that.Perhaps leading the way in terms of being educated at the Ranch is Michael Wisner. Some 20 years ago, Wisner had just returned from studying ceramics in Mexico, and pointed his vehicle toward Snowmass Village.I drove up to the Ranch in my old pickup truck and showed Doug [Casebeer] my pots, said Wisner. He said, We have an application process … but let me see your pots. And I got a residency on the spot.Wisner describes an Anderson Ranch that is mostly in the past: That funkiness was still lingering. Everyone who worked there did 20 jobs. You may have been the director of a department, but when you were done in the studio, you cooked food, then served it.Wisner planned to spend a year at the Ranch, but he stayed on, and on. For 15 years, workshop students got a kick out of Wisners methodology: going out to Owl Creek Road, digging up the local clay, heading back to the ceramics studio at the Ranch, and making pots. Finally, three years ago, Wisner parted ways with the Ranch, but not with the valley. He now works out of a spacious studio in Woody Creek, just down Brush Creek from the Ranch. Wisners earthenware pots are included in both the live and silent auctions on Saturday.Wisner says his long-term stay at the Ranch is linked to the encouragement he was given by Casebeer. Doug has an unlimited amount of goodwill, he said. When youre young, in your neophytic stage, Doug was always like, Mike, you can do this. Quit your other jobs. He always offered space, support, helped me out with technical issues. Thats what I love about it its this completely supportive other-world.The ceramics community is relatively small, said Wisner, and Anderson Ranch is somewhere close to the center of it. Its kind of a right of passage to go through Anderson Ranch if youre a clay person. Everyone wants to do a residency, a workshop there, he said. And some people pass through and dont go very far away.Sam [Harvey] wouldnt be here, Alleghany wouldnt be here. I wouldnt be here if not for Anderson Ranch, said Wisner. Theyre first connection to the valley was Anderson Ranch, and the incredible clay program. It has a continuity of community, of people. Other departments have followed that model, of keeping people around to keep the place running and flowing. Their footprint is really large there.
Anderson Ranch Annual Art Auction is Saturday, Aug. 9, beginning at 11:30 a.m. at Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village.firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Collins has a term or maybe he made it up on the spot for the energy that drives the Anderson Ranch Arts Center. Its schlep-power, and to illustrate, Collins points to several massive sections of tree sitting outside the loading bay of the Ranchs woodworking department.You need a lot of teamwork to get that moved, he said, estimating the weight of the wood at a few thousand pounds. Thats a core value here, and people in other places dont always remember that. In other arts colonies I call them white-cube environments theres such a sense of entitlement. You do have to be selfish to be an artist; you have to shut yourself off to make that time to work. But that sense of community is really present at the Ranch.Collins also has a term for the Yale University School of Art, which he attended in the mid-90s for his graduate work in painting. Yale is known as one of the finest fine-art programs in the country, but Collins word for it disparages the school: silly.I really hated it by comparison. Totally, said Collins, who spent two years, 1991-93, as a studio assistant and artist in residence at Anderson Ranch before heading to Yale. At Yale, there was such competition between the painting and photography departments, as if they were still fighting for the portrait business. So silly and silly really is the word for it.Particularly silly to Collins were the lines drawn between departments at Yale. Painters were expected to stay in the painting studios; certainly they werent expected to engage in a dialogue with the sculptors. The rigidity was silly, said the 40-year-old Collins, who rejoined the Anderson Ranch community, as interim director of painting and critical studies, in May. Painting can be very incestuous, so there are a lot of questions that dont get asked.Which makes Collins second go-round in Snowmass Village particularly rewarding. Before his first stint at Anderson Ranch, the New Jersey native, who had done his undergraduate work at Dartmouth College, believed that painting was paramount. But his two stretches at the Ranch have shown him the importance of schlep-power the tendency to commune in order to work out problems and expand the possibilities in art.Since Ive been here, Ive learned that art is a very wide endeavor and can be a community endeavor, said Collins. I love the ceramics, the wood-working. And its all made me a better painter. Im a painter; thats what I do all year. But everything else I do has benefited my painting.The Ranch is special because you dont just have painters talking painter talk. Its cross-disciplinary. Most places are fine art or craft, and they never mix. This is the only place where you have it all.Collins entered Dartmouth with the specific intention of not being an artist. He wanted to be an international lawyer, even if he wasnt exactly sure of what that entailed. It sounded like you got paid to travel, he said. Then I met mature artists, who focused their whole life on art. And then art became undeniable.After his schooling, and his first Anderson Ranch tenure, Collins spent four years in San Francisco, then nine in New York City, where he painted, exhibited his art, and also worked in computer programming. In New York, he also met his wife, fellow painter Alex Blau, with whom he had a 1-year-old daughter, Rose. He arrived in New York an abstract painter, but the city changed him: I got enthralled by the theater of humanity, he said. Walking Delancey, the oil painting he contributed to the Annual Art Auction, shows figures in a Lower Manhattan street scene.But Collins seems to have been affected even more by Snowmass Village.The things Ive learned here are not just about making art, but being an artist, he said. And that has to do with art not as an object, but art as a residue of a life.I think I came here as a painter and left as an artist, continued Collins, of his initial years at the Ranch. I make that distinction because I allow myself to make anything. Beyond just the cross-disciplinary nature of the Ranch, theres a spirit of art-making throughout the Ranch. Thats missing in a lot of places.Collins returned after 15 years to find that the facilities at the Ranch had been upgraded dramatically, and the artistic ideals unaltered.The spirit has not changed at all, he said. I was worried maybe it got hi-falutin, and thats not the case at all. The schlep factor, the teamwork, the balance between art and life is still here. Stewart Oksenhorn