Sometimes, objects deafen you with their silence.
Walking around at a juried crafts exhibition, there was, as usual, a good deal of visual stimulation (some good, some, well, just ok).
And then, suddenly, I had one of those movie moments when the noise and the craziness suddenly die away and it’s just you and the object of your affection.
In this case, that object was actually a series of vases and bowls: elegantly shaped, quietly sensual; translucent white, with a crackle glaze. Looking closely, the glaze–so elemental, so organic–sat on top of perfect, delicate porcelain forms. Yin and yang. Rough and smooth. Diamonds and work boots.
And there was more. More earthy, but still refined work incorporating wire and metal. White porcelain hearts (as in the muscle, not the Hallmark kind): shocking, but starkly beautiful. Hands: graphic, moving, insistent.
Peggy Loudon, the hands, heart, and brains behind this work lives in Arcata, far northern coastal California. Funny, smart, assured and wise, Peggy was firing her kiln as we spoke, getting ready for the prestigious Washington (DC) Craft Show and the silly season ahead. (Prestigious craft shows are nothing new to Peggy: she shows her work across the country and is regularly invited to show at the juried Smithsonian Craft Show.)
Tell me about Arcata. I grew up here. It’s a great place to live: a college town. (Humboldt State.) But it’s got a real cross-section of people: fishermen, dairy farmers, loggers, intellectuals and creatives and of course, the pot farmers…it’s kind of a hodgepodge. (I’m thinking Weeds meets Northern Exposure, if anyone remembers that TV show. Hello HBO, Showtime and AMC.)
And ceramics? I started ceramics at College of the Redwoods. No…actually, I started as a child. You know, we grew up at a time when kids could run around and play and really discover their own thing. So my parents had a pond: we called it the pottery pond, and we made little bowls out of locally found clay. It was also the 70’s–another period of craft revival–so there were always things like candle making, batiking etc going on in the kitchen.
Did you think you were going to be creative or make your living through craft? I always assumed I’d be a teacher, but I took a ceramics class in CoR and was just hooked. Once I touched the clay…it was magical. I responded viscerally. But I didn’t think I would end up as a potter.
So what changed? I went to UC Santa Cruz for college and my major was community studies. I had to do a six month field study. I taught pottery to chronically aggressive males at Napa State (a mental hospital).
Whoa. Yeah. You could say that. But it was pivotal. It got me thinking about using clay as a way to make a living. I was offered a full-time job in Napa but went to Europe instead. I took a trip to Italy and sitting on a hill, overlooking Florence, I decided (and announced to a friend) that I wanted to be a potter. So I went to Humboldt State and got a degree in Studio Art. And there I really learned the craft and life of pottery from a guy named Jim Crawford.
How did you develop your style? I originally wanted to use a volcanic crater glaze…it’s gnarly on the exterior but with a gold interior. (Know anyone like that?) A professor gave me a recipe for a reptilian glaze, which I apply with a brush. It’s tough to work with but it gives great results. A friend who does a lot of shows told me that the work was pretty unusual….so I applied for various shows. The first show I got into was the Smithsonian Craft Show in DC (pretty impressive) and things took off from there.
So you create, you do a lot of shows, what else? I teach at the Fire Arts Center in Arcata.
Your new work takes you in some different directions (still gorgeous). How do you make that leap when you’re known for a certain style? It’s really tough for others…I know. I was searching for new inspiration, and really open myself up to things. It’s about asking what if, and then exploring. I love texture and mixed media, and this got me thinking about marrying metal to porcelain. So I started using new barbed wire and padlocks and the unexpected. It certainly has opened up a new direction for me. It’s fun for me to play and dream and sit in my shop and make. I feel like I’m still looking, refining my work. But you’re right, I’m definitely balancing old and new. I was lucky…I also received a grant to play and explore. I love making pots, but what I’m excited about is combining found objects. I get to poke through lots of salvage and find cool stuff.
What is it about metal and porcelain? It speaks to another side of me that’s more poetic….maybe rawer, more hidden, more symbolic. It’s nice to have that balance. And the hearts are really symbolic too.
Do you have a favorite (I know, people are loath to say which)? I’m partial to the heart pieces. They’re lit, and I make personal versions for people. (So what’s important is written, literally on the heart. Nice.)
So who collects your work? (Now, most people really hem and haw over this. Not our Peggy.) Former potters. Asian women. Gay men. It’s so funny. They come in, have an instant connection and buy.
What motivates you? I don’t want to add to the cacophony of bad pots in the world. I want quiet beauty. We have enough going on in our lives. We should surround ourselves with objects that support quiet and peace and solitude. (She succeeds. Totally.) I’m never bored. I’m firing right now and can’t wait to start throwing.
You live just a little (!) off the beaten path. How do you sell, get the word out? It’s one of the hardest things….I do retail through the stores listed on my site (many local stores, and one of my favorite stores anywhere: Ochre, in New York.) I’m also going to a workshop on direct marketing. My partner Naomi is my marketing/business manager. And we do a lot of shows. And I’m still looking at expanding online commerce.
What inspires? Everyone usually talks about nature. For me, it’s pure form. It’s not so much nature. Living where we live, it’s wild, almost desolate. I think essentially I hold the desolation and the waves and the smell of the pine in my body. What inspires me is what challenges me.
What do you collect? We trade for jewelry. And there’s a potter up here, Keith Schneider. I love collecting other people’s ceramics, especially wood fired ceramics. And there’s a blacksmith John Rais (his work is great). And…Brent Comber, Aaron Kramer, Marne Ryan, and Kirsten Francis to name a few. (Nice. We appreciate collectors!)
And what are you reading? I read a lot of poetry (Mary Oliver, I know everyone reads her. I also like this woman named Naomi Shihab Nye. But really, I don’t have a lot of time to read: I’ve had The Help on my bedside table forever and haven’t finished it. I do read a lot of magazines. Dwell, Wired, the Economist, Elle Decor, Architectural Digest, etc. (Love the eclecticism.)
Best gift given? A poem I wrote in a book I made. I made the cover out of copper. I like making books of poetry as gifts. It’s original….I started at 15 when my best friend went away. I also love making music compilations for people.
Speaking of which…what do you listen to as you work? I just made one for the shop…alt country (Corn Sisters, Neko Case, Axton Kincaid) I love the classics too (Merle Haggard etc.) Then rock. And Patty Griffin, and Emmylou (Harris). I love Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn.
Best gift received: The first thing that pops into my mind is my autographed baseball with Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Alvin Dark, all these greats for the Giants. I love sports.
And if there would be a movie of your life, who’d play you and what kind of movie would it be? It would definitely be a thriller and the actress who’d play me would be a mashed up version of Frances McDormand and Ellen Page. (Kind of fabulous.)
What’s in the fridge? Naomi’s a gourmet cook. So…leftover shrimp creole, salsa, venison in our freezer, lots of Thai Curry pastes. (This is my kind of fridge!) Beer: definitely local breweries like Mad River, Redwood Curtain! We like to explore.
Five Things that define you?
My fire pit
My green leather jacket
My floaty pen collection
My kangol hat given to me by my boys
My cowboy boots, oh, that’s more than five (that’s OK.)
And there’s the Daily Margarita (cazadores blanco, cointreau, triple sec, squeeze of lime, simple syrup or agave juice)
Sounds good. Is it cocktail time yet? If you’re in DC, make sure you check out Peggy’s lair at the Washington Craft Show. You won’t be disappointed.