Artist Spotlight: Michelle McCurdy
Michelle McCurdy has been a potter since her first time handling clay in college in the ‘70s. She was always interested in art, but something about ceramics excited her like no other medium had, and she know right away she wanted a career in pottery.
McCurdy teaches at CMC in Rifle and has her work on display at Midland Arts Company in Rifle, Crack in the Wall in Silt and Gallery 809 in Glenwood Springs. She sat down with the Post Independent to talk about how she came to the valley in 1982, her passion for teaching and the importance of handmade objects.
Post Independent: Did you move here for the Anderson Ranch?
Michelle McCurdy: Well, yes. I was in graduate school in Southern California, and Paul Soldner was one of my teachers, and he started the Anderson Ranch. He said to me, ‘Do you want to go to the Anderson Ranch for the summer, Michelle?’ And I was like, ‘Yes! I’m out of Southern California!’ because I hated it. I said, ‘Yes, I’ll go,’ and I was at the Ranch for three years and then opened my own studio. I never left.
PI: Tell me about the first time you ever did anything with clay.
MM: Oh, my goodness. I was at Humboldt State in Northern California, and I was in the arts, but I did a lot of print making and stuff like that. Then I took a pottery class, and it was instant. It was like, ‘Yes, this is it.’ I was one of those disgusting people that picked it up pretty quick. So I stayed there and did some pottery workshops in different places. Then I graduated, and then I went to Claremont Graduate University. That’s how I ended up here.
PI: What did you love about it right away?
MM: Probably, since I was an impatient person, probably the immediacy of being able to just throw something, and there it is. Granted, that doesn’t happen immediately, but for me it was pretty quick. I still have pots that are scrawled ‘1978’ on the bottom, and some of them I actually look at and go, ‘Well, that was pretty good.’ So probably the immediacy and the functionality of it. You can make something you can use. And then the kiln firings were and still are one of my most favorite things to do. There’s one going right now.
PI: Did you know pretty much right away that you wanted your career in pottery?
MM: Yeah. That was it. The reason I went to graduate school was not just to have that experience, but I wanted to teach at a college or a university. The only way you can do that is if you have a master of fine arts. And then at Anderson Ranch I just met a lot of really great people and teachers and had a lot of really great experiences.
PI: Where did you go after Anderson Ranch?
MM: After Anderson Ranch, I spent a couple years working in Aspen, and then I started teaching at CMC up in Aspen. Then I moved to Basalt and created my own studio. Originally the name of my pottery was Running Horse Pottery. So I did that, and it was more of a production sort of thing. Then we moved to Parachute in 1993 and made a bigger studio there, and then I started teaching at CMC here [in Rifle] at the old campus. I’m doing what I believe I’m here on earth to do, which is teach pottery and make pots. And I love teaching. It’s the best thing ever.
PI: What are some of your favorite parts about teaching?
MM: Turning people on to pottery and clay, that’s the major thing. Just showing them how to do all these things — not that I know how to do everything because I do not, but I can sure figure it out, especially now that we have the Internet. Sometimes it’s a struggle; people have a hard time sometimes with it. But I told them at the old campus, and they’re still bothering me about it. I always tell them: It’s just a damn pot. It’s just a pot. If it ruins or it wrecks, no biggie. You make it again. You have many chances to make a good pot. Life is too filled with other humongous losses — don’t get all out of shape because your pot didn’t work. The more you make, the more experimentation you can do. I think the hardest thing for people is to find their own voice. Really, that only comes from looking at a million pots.
PI: Tell me about the program at CMC
MM: We have beginning to advanced. This summer, Alix Knipe is doing a sculpture class; it’s kind of like a workshop. And then we have our regular classes. We have a great studio, and they’ve helped us by getting us a nice shed out there, and the kilns are great. We really have what consider to be, in terms of CMC campuses, one of the best campuses. And I must say the administration at this campus is beyond great. They’re so supportive of what we’re doing in pottery. Pottery classes are a big pain in the butt, and they do cost money. I’m firing the kiln out there to 2,300 degrees, and the gas is just going in there. But we have quite a bit of interest in the classes. We have wheel throwing and hand building, and we do all kinds of different firings. In my classes, I always say if some beginner comes and wants to come into my class because it suits their time, bring them on. It doesn’t matter to me because I teach them all individually anyway. And we like to do things for the community. Our Empty Bowls event was such a success that now we’ve gotten ourselves into doing 400 bowls next time instead of 200. Every class period I say, ‘Are you guys making bowls yet?’
PI: Why do you think pottery is important?
MM: I do have this little philosophy I’ve been thinking about. You always have to ask, ‘Why are you making pots in this world of computers and 3-D printers?’ You can make a pot on a 3-D printer. I’ve seen it on the Internet. But I really think that handmade stuff, not just pottery, is what’s going to ground us. As human beings, I think we like to do art. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. And I wish more people would appreciate the handmade pottery — like mugs, oh my God, they’re just the most intimate form of art, really, because you hold it in your hand, you put it to your lips, it’s warm, it’s a very personal thing. So rather than buying these cookie-cutter things from Wal-Mart, you can feel where the potter’s hands were.
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