Tell us a bit about your work, career, school, city, ideas, etc
I started college as a Graphic Design Major in 2003. In my second semester, I enrolled in my first ceramics class and was hooked. From then on, I was in the studio constantly making pottery and working. Upon graduation, I attended Graduate School at West Virginia University in 2007 in order to get my Masters of Fine Arts. It was then that I was first introduced to Mold-Making and Slip-Casting. To this day, the majority of my work is made using these methods. After completing Graduate School, I moved out to Red Lodge, Montana to spend a year as a long-term artist-in-residence at the Red Lodge Clay Center. From there, I was hired as a professor at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia where I continue to teach. It wasn’t until I moved back to West Virginia then that I began making the inflatable dinosaurs for which I am most known.
I’ve loved dinosaurs since I was a small child and that passion has never waned. The inflatable dinosaurs are an attempt at showcasing my childhood memories, and these playful objects, as permanent and valuable things. They also mimic the fossilization process in that the toy is covered with a material and then transformed into rock. In that way, I am attempting to fossilize the aspects of our culture most important to me.
What is more important – Content or technique?
There is a large emphasis on ‘craft’ in the pottery world in which I was brought up. I am effected by this still and I do believe that having a piece that it well-made and technically proficient is greatly important. I tend to still be able to enjoy work on some level when it is well-crafted even if devoid of content. However, thoughtful work that shows shoddy craftsmanship is usually a deal breaker for me.
How many hours do your pieces generally take to complete?
This, of course, is the question I’m asked the most and the question in which I am worst at answering. I switch between multiple projects daily and hardly pay attention to how much time has elapsed. Large sculptures probably end up taking 50+ hours. Small dinosaurs are relatively expedient (30 minutes total) to make however the molds for each kind of dinosaur take considerably longer to complete.
What are some of the responses you hear in regards to your work?
The response I hear most often is that someone can’t believe the dinosaurs are not really plastic. I never set out to be a trompe l’oeil artist and I thought they were obviously glazed instead of being plastic. The fact remains nevertheless, that I am somewhat tricking people.
What is currently influencing you that might surprise people?
Beanie Babies. Currently, I am working on a piece about the Beanie Baby Murder of Elkins, WV where a man was killed over a Beanie dispute. In addition, the marketing for Beanie Babies was incredible and through some research, I’ve been able to apply some concepts to my own marketing.
Describe your work environment – Music, TV, Movies, things you drink/smoke, time of day etc
Podcasts, audiobooks and music, I go through so many of them on a weekly basis. If I’m assembling dinosaurs or glazing I’ll usually listen to a podcast or book. If I’m sculpting, I’ll put on music so I can lose myself in my work a little bit more. If it happens that I’m doing something that will allow me to sit in one place for a while, I’ll watch a movie or football. Unfortunately, I make art at my college which prohibits me from drinking. I’d be lying though if I said I didn’t have a glass of bourbon or two during the summer when students aren’t around. Never during the school year though.
Any kiln explosions/tragedies you care to share?
Though he didn’t explode, Rocky came with his fair share of tragedies. I spent about 4 hours on Rocky the first day. On the second day, I found out that Rocky had fallen over and onto the ground. I spent the second day building him back up again. Then, Rocky fell over again. So I spent the third day putting him back together. Those were very stressful days but I finally gave Rocky the supports he needed and it didn’t happen again. Then, Rocky’s base developed quite a few cracks as it dried. I was scared it wouldn’t make it into the kiln and it would take the legs with it. Therefore, I preemptively sawed off his legs. The base did NOT make it into the kiln and had to be rebuilt. Luckily, the legs were safe. The Rocky sculpture had plenty of triumphs and tragedies but like a certain fictional boxer says, “[Life] is about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
Any plans to work with different materials – bronze, etc?
Not currently, though I have been tempted by rubber and resin recently. We’ll see what happens.
If you could choose only one, would you rather be thought of as a great artist or a nice person?
That’s a tough call. I’m not sure anyone thinks of me now as either a great artist or nice person. I guess my answer might be great artist over nice person. I’ve just put so much more time and practice into being an artist.