The Appalachian Center for Crafts (ACC) is located in Smithville, Tennessee and offered clay, fiber, glass, metals, wood and special workshops. In April 1981 I was going over word by word all the workshops listed in Ceramics Monthly. Since I was living in Tennessee ACC’s listings of clay workshops caught my eye. The Clay Symposium description was “A working environment with Joe Bova, Sandy Simon, Cynthia Bringle, and other surprise guests. Students will work with masters toward generating an exchange of habits and ideas. June 22 – July 3”
Workshop fees were $15 per day; room and board $20 per day. Linens $2. Processing fee $10.
My first thought was “Can I go?” My children were young, they’d be out of school, what is the cost (12 days x $35 per day). I wanted to go and since I was teaching pottery classes to children I could use the $ I had saved from teaching for the $425 plus linens and processing. Would my military officer husband take vacation time while I took two weeks to further my clay work? Yes! It worked out. Several conversations with my husband, talks with my children and I sent in my application and check.
Packing was easy. Jeans, my clay tools, some shirts, bathing suit and I was off on my first real road trip alone. This was the first of many, many workshops. I’ve gone to an average of two workshops most of the 36 years I’ve been working in clay. This workshop is the one that cemented my life’s work. Clay has been and continues to be my passion in life. Driving up the winding driveway to the Appalachian Center for Crafts was like driving down the roadway to my future.
Popping out of the car I strode into the APP’s office with a smile that was about to break my face in half. I felt like I was just where I needed to be. After a quick registration I was directed to my cabin to unpack (yes, I always unpack everything right away). Great dorm cabin with four beds, kitchenette, sitting area, lots of woods, porch. I was dancing in circles as I checked out the fiber, wood, glass, metals and, last of all, clay studios. The smell of clay, other workshop students and the sunlight coming in through the huge windows that fell across the wheels ~ it was like a dream come true.
The dining room was where I met other workshop students. We talked, ate and darned if the after lunch activity wasn’t volleyball. At 32 years of age I’d landed in adult clay camp.
After lunch and volleyball I ambled over to the clay studio. I just sat in the middle of all those wheels and one by one other students came in with silly smiles on their faces that matched my silly smile. A studio assistant came in and said we could start making our clay body anytime. He showed us where the bags of dry clay and minerals were located, the sink, clay mixers and teamed us in 3’s. We made clay all afternoon. It was a good way for us to start getting to know one another and decide whether to use beer, vinegar or urine to age our clay!
June 23 started early ~ none of us could sleep ~ we stayed up late talking, running ideas by one another and then fell into bed. Breakfast in the dining hall and then I practically ran to the clay studio. Choose a wheel, spread out my tools, set up my clay and just continue smiling as I sat there knowing in the afternoon the sun would shine right on my spot and I’d be throwing and learning and wanting each moment to last.
Sandy Simon, Joe Bova and Cynthia Bringle came in and spoke with us about their methods of working in clay. Sandy’s work was beautiful and white and creamy. She was devoted to her work and shared with all of us. Joe was doing large animal sculpture and was disarming when he talked about how he came to clay work. Cynthia spoke about her clay beginnings and challenges and then she trooped us off to the wood studio to make our own wood tool.
During the first few days I concentrated on throwing multiples. Having several hundred pounds of clay literally at my feet meant I could throw freely. After three or four days I found I had gravitated to sticking close to Cynthia’s wheel when she was demonstrating and listening intently and taking notes (yes, I was making lists back then!) anytime she taught. Cynthia’s concentration on functional pots and her close attention to detail and craftsmanship captivated me.
Day after day the routine was a quick walk down that long driveway and then back up for breakfast, over to the clay studio with a break for lunch, volleyball, back to the clay studio, dinner, volleyball, roam around the metal, fiber and wood studios, long talks with other students and instructors.
There were several afternoons when we’d put on our bathing suits, climb into cars and head down to the man made river/lake and get on a boat, swim, climb a rope up cliffs so we could jump back into the cool water. I remember Cynthia’s hair was long and she would swim, climb and jump with us. She was serious in the clay studio and yet could relax with us and have fun. I knew I’d met my clay mentor. Thank you Cynthia.
As a side story, and as I remember it, one clay student that I’d become close with during our two week workshop wanted to purchase work of Cynthia’s and she and Cynthia worked out a trade so that the student took home the work and the student’s husband painted some really professional and cool stripes on Cynthia’s van!
From that workshop I took home with me a desire to make functional pots, enjoy life’s joys and to share my love of clay.