I have been working with clay since I was a little kid. I don't even remember the first time I touched it. I feel indebted to the great public school art instructors who first introduced me to clay, the wheel, glazing, wedging, reclaiming clay, all of it. Bill Bell in grade school and the summer workshop I took, when??? 1970, where I was taught how to make pinch pots, slab boxes and vases with hand sculpted heads encircling them. And Percy VanDyke - my high school art teacher who had great plans for me. He taught me how to use the wheel, draw, silkscreen, batik. Many years after I graduated I ran into him at an outdoor concert in my old home town of Hanover, MA. I shyly said hello and asked him if he remembered me. "Of course I remember you Janine. You were the one with all that talent but you didn't know it," he replied. Mr. VanDyke passed away in 2004, a great loss to the town of Hanover. I have no idea what became of Mr. Bell but I still have a bowl he made for me with my name on it (wax resist). I was so lucky to have had them in my life at such a young age. In college I discovered the Dorchester House, in Dorchester, MA, where I could take adult-education classes, with Jean Goldman - a lovely woman and fantastically whimsical sculptress.
After college (on the no-graduation - don't know what I want to be when I grow up plan) came nursing school - well, that's another story. It's impact however was a long dry period away from clay - clomping the hallways of Boston City Hospital, The Brigham, moving to Florida to do hospice, home health, organ transplant and psychiatric nursing from the 89's to the present - but then I discovered a place Hallandale, FL called Pug Dog Pottery. It was then that I resurfaced and got my balance on clay clay-earth again and met Vickie Wydrow who founded Pug Dog. She sadly passed from us all too soon and Eric Evans and Susan Gold took up it's torch and morphed Pug Dog into Fire and Mud Pottery Studio. These folks provided me with a co-operative style studio to work out of for many years. It was more than affordable and I got to meet many sweet, crazy, kind and great people who were also members that I still know today - 14 years later. Fire and Mud closed up shop but Denise Mendez, a former Fire and Mud member, opened up M. I. Y. Ceramics (short for Make It Yourself), in Hollywood, FL in March, '07. I worked out of MIY studio up until April of '09.
In the summer of '07 I headed west to the infamous Tuscarora Pottery School in Tuscarora, NV and attended the summer workshops given by Ben Parks. OMG, two full weeks in the middle of Tuscaora and Independence Mountains and sagebrush to throw, throw, throw. And learn, not just from Ben who is an amazing potter (and also a nurse! Go figure) in his own right, but from Jerry Hendershot and Vickie Mixer. Jerry and Vickie are high school art teachers in Boise, ID and Orange County, CA respectively. In Tuscarora I was also lucky to meet artists Jan Kelly and little Dorothy Peters (don't even try to keep up with her on the hike up Mount Blitzen). Again, meeting fab folks via clay. It was so fun and intense at that workshop (and the food so delish) that I returned in '08. I got to do cone 10 reduction work and more raku, which I hadn't done since Fire and Mud days in '03-'05. My work took big leaps of improvement each time I attended those workshops. Tuscarora made me realize the importance of exposing myself to the influence of other artists and retreating back to nature and wilderness.
Then, in '09, a fortuitous workshop with Jan Kolenda guided me to the fine arts/ceramic department at Broward College in Davie, FL. Broward College has provided the biggest bang for me - gotta say it! My tax dollars finally giving me a great return with cone 10, gas, stoneware firings and a little bit of raku, too. I'm so fortunate to have met there: Jan Kolenda (so helpful and gracious to me, and a huge inspiration), Klawdia Proia, Diane Lubinski, Karen Labarge, Susan Sumerstein, Diane Karmiol and Elizabeth Benedictus - all truly incredible potters/ sculptors/ artists and all around fantastic people/ friends. I incessantly pick their brains, steal their ideas/ techniques and generally annoy them with all my neuroses - I adore them. Broward College also put Brett Thomas in my path at a time when I really needed a pal - God Bless You, Brett - Mr. MobileRaku. Wow, so many wonderful folks in my life all because of clay.
I am so very grateful to pottery.It has opened up a world of absolutely fabulous people, artists and dear friends for me. Pottery is always there for me, like a true friend. It's been my confidant, therapist, comforter, instigator and challenger. It has given me a unique way to discover, express and define myself. It has provided me with something beautiful to share with others. But honestly and most of all, I just love the way it often - no - most times, has the upper hand until it reveals the final surprise.