Tea Party at the Archie Bray


by Susannah Israel

“CAA artist’s work celebrates her ceramics residency.”

 Tea at the Archie Bray, 2002.  This is permanently sited, and I often receive pictures from people who pose with it.  The featured photo is courtesy of Tom Bivins.

Technical info:
Clay –mixed at Clay Biz, based on our beloved Pete Voulkos’ formula. (He used:
half fireclay to half ball clay, then added 10% sand and 10% silica to the 100 lb batch. ) With some modification for red color and green strength, I used:
half fireclay, 25 ball clay, 25 redart clay. Then I added 20% grog to the 100 lb batch.

Intention – The piece is permanently sited at the Bray, so I wanted it to be directly about my experience of summer 2002. I actively sought collaboration with my fellow residents with this in mind.

Terry Geibar, chopped nylon fiber to mix into the batch
Susan Beiner made a plaster mold of Bill Lassell’s* feet, which were used for all three figures. I suppose you could say he’s still walking with them. Or kicking it with them? not much walking going on.
Mika Negishi Laidlaw contributed six clay eggs. (These seem to have disappeared)
Lesley Claire Baker was the model for the elegant figure in the center.
Allison McGowan made the textured porcelain cup the central figure is holding,(with the 2 birds.)
Kowkie Durst made the cup the right figure is holding.
Sean Derry made the cast green apple the left figure is holding, (that the gopher wants.)
I made the third cup, the chickens, figures and animals. Bill helped mix the clay, load and unload the kilns, and he carried everything that was heavy. But there’s more!

Baby birds
There was a heat wave that deranged the nesting birds somehow, and four baby birds fell out of their nest, right in front of the summer studio door, and were abandoned by their parent birds. Their nurture was taken on as a group commitment, although Terry thought our behavior was hilarious and made dire predictions about the outcome. We got tropical bird food that we mixed with water to make a sticky goop, and dropper-fed our little foundlings. One died immediately.
The other two survived, getting six to eight feedings a day. Fortunately Mika came in at 6 am daily and Sean, Bill and I were late night workers, so we had it covered. The baby birds cheeped constantly and it was our ambient sound track for the summer.

We gave them flying lessons, perching them on sticks and then suddenly leaving them to flap their wings indignantly. It was slow going but it worked – or instinct worked, and they began to fly all over the studio. It was home and they saw no reason to leave it. They were quite bold and friendly, perching on our worktables to see what was happening, and flying on and off our shoulders. They had an excellent relationship with the baby kitten who was also in residence in the studio.

The kitten:
En route to the Bray, Lesley witnessed the horrid sight of kittens being flung from the car in front of her, onto the freeway. She stopped at once and rescued the lone survivor, a very young, underfed kitten. Named Oliver, he rapidly grew fat and sassy, chasing grasshoppers in the long weeds for hours. He never grew very large, but he was healthy, playful, and companionable with everyone, including the baby birds. When Leslie finished work for the day she would pick him up and drape him around her neck like a black velvet collar. Oliver would regard us calmly from this perch, as he was used to the routine and happy to be going home for dinner and cuddle time with Lesley. He too meandered freely around the studio and especially liked to nap on my foam.

The dog
On July 4th a terrified young dog ran into the summer studio, trembling, and made straight for Kowkie. We gave him water – he drank about two gallons – and mashed potatoes, the only thing we had that even approached dog food. Upon gobbling up all our offerings, he lay down, sighed and fell asleep. A comical aspect of this evening had to do with the complex discussion about his name and how to figure that out. Various names were mentioned in meaningful tones and it was decided that he responded to Jim. Jim the dog went home with Sandra Trujillo, but before bringing him back the next day she drove all though Helena to try to find his home. She noticed he was excited by the approach to a particular street, and then a certain house. She let him out of the car, and watched as he trotted up to the door and was let in. I guess they’ll never know.

Because of these wonderful, collective experiences, the animals of the summer studio all appear in the Tea Party sculpture. The chickens and gopher are the products of my imagination.

It is noteworthy that these pieces have sustained no damage from the extremes of Montana weather, which makes them an excellent argument for the durability of clay in public art.

Susannah Israel

* Bill Lassell, my beloved partner and creative collaborator, died unexpectedly in 2009 and is still much missed. His love, his contagious laugh, and enthusiasm for all things is still with me.

Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts: http://www.archiebray.org/

Tom Bivins Pottery: www.bivinspottery.com

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