While home in California, I attended a very special gallery reception featuring eight local artists over the age of eighty. The Pajaro Valley Arts Council and Gallery, just outside of Santa Cruz, hosted painters, photographers and potters. My grandmother, Helen Slater, who has spent over five decades in ceramics, was one of these featured artists. The reception included the artists’ families, friends, colleagues, and apprentices who gathered to celebrate their work.
My Grandmother at the gallery reception; her “self-portrait”
My Grandmother began doing ceramics in 1960 at Isomata in Idyllwild, California. My grandfather owned a summer camp so she spent every summer there, and one summer decided to branch out of the everyday camp life and try ceramics at an art school nearby. Nearly five decades later, she continues to work in ceramics, having had studios in Los Angeles and then in Corralitos in Santa Cruz County.
A photograph of my dad at 18 and the ‘Poppet’ my Grandma modeled after him; The ‘baby bowl’ made for me
Early in her career she worked for Metlox Pottery, where she created a commercial line of stoneware pieces called ‘Poppets.’ Later in her career she embraced more whimsical and abstract designs. She created hundreds of personalized bowls to commemorate weddings and births (including a wedding bowl for every member of our family, our friends’ families, and Bill and Hillary Clinton). She worked with countless apprentices in her studios, many of whom went on to become full-time potters.
My Grandmother is proof that a strong passion for and commitment to art is enough to make it your life’s work. It’s phenomenal to be surrounded by people who have devoted their lives to a craft because it’s what they love to do and that they have been able to share it with their friends and family throughout their lives in myriad ways. I remember countless weekends visiting my Grandparents and working in my Grandma’s studio. She would carefully show me how to throw on the wheel, how to glaze, and how to reshape the miscellaneous misshapen objects I would make. I can only hope that one day when I am 80 years old I too be able to celebrate a lifetime of work in art.
(please click photos to enlarge)