Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful for Joe

Bruce Gholson and Sam Henneke, Bulldog Pottery, NC 2010 ©

When I was struggling to get into graduate school, I spent a year at Alfred University (NYSCC) as a special student (no joke, that is the registrar's term.) I was able to learn from some amazing people, most of whom were not under the employ of the university. As I was thinking about what I am thankful for, I am so grateful I had that time at Alfred. It was there that I met Joe Streno.

Out of the blue, came a larger than life character with a swagger, a smile and a wicked rye sense of humor. As a returning student, Joe came into the room with more experience, wisdom and life under his belt than most of us would have twenty years later.

Bruce Gholson and Sam Henneke, Bulldog Pottery, NC 2010 ©

We made it through the mid-way hump of the year and began the downward slide into the end of the year. As we prepared for our exhibitions and filled out applications to get into grad school, we all had to prepare images of our clay work. Joe offered to help me shoot slides of my work. Having had virtually no experience shooting commercial caliber work, I was completely in awe of how Joe was willing to share all of his time and technique. The images that came home from that shoot are still some of my favorite pics. What I am thankful for is that Joe said it was easy. He said that learning how to do it was easy. Then he added that being really good was a bitch. Joe made it look so smooth and seamless.

Bruce Gholson and Sam Henneke, Bulldog Pottery, NC 2010 ©

So what are these images all about? Well, Joe taught me to think about light and pots... and to find the drama therein. Joe wasn't timid behind the lens, and light bent for him in the most amazing ways. Sixteen years later, I pulled some of my favorite pots out of my cupboard to see what I could do to show them off. I have met so many great potters over the years, and whenever possible, I always tried to either trade or buy the best of their work that I could possibly afford.

While in school at Alfred, one of my fellow students was Samantha Henneke. At the time, her student body of work was primarily oxidation fired, very brightly colored glazes with dot patterns and amazing satin surfaces. I was blown away by how her functional work could pack such a visual wallop! I still kick myself for not picking up any of her work from that time.

The two pieces here are from Sam and her husband Bruce. Together they run Bulldog Pottery in North Carolina, doing what most potters only wish for. They make GREAT pots, sell great pots and live POTS. And it shows. I am so glad I get to use these pots every day. They sit by my computer keyboard with steaming tea or chai or hot chocolate. Every day.

On some level, they are a gift to myself. When the doctors and surgeons told me that clay would no longer be a reasonable or safe thing for me to continue doing, I was devastated (still am). Using other potter's pots though, makes it easier. It also helps to encourage me to pursue my photography with the same fervor that I pursued ceramics with.

When Joe first offered to trade his photographic skills in return for my pottery, I was blown away. Honored and excited! But most of all, encouraged. We both got the best part of that deal. By the time we wrapped up the shoot, I was still completely ignorant of all that went into the preparations for a commercial product photograph... but I felt like it was something I "could" learn to do. Like I said, Joe made it easy.

That encouragement is still there everytime I setup my seamless backdrop. In the past year, I feel like I have started to get to know what my lighting rig can and cannot do (easily). As with most things photographic, there is the easy (cheap) way, the right way (hard) and the fast way(expensive!) Since my ordeal with the surgery, coma and subsequent recovery, money has been a constant nagging hammer pounding into my skull. What in a normal year, I would simply throw money at as a way of solving,... now I can't do. If money couldn't solve it before, I would throw my back into it and shove my way through.... cant do that either. Which leaves me with the hard (smart?) way... and that is tough.

And for that, I am thankful.


  1. I am humbled, honored and surprised. But most of all proud to call you friend. I am still amazed how people influence one another, whether we know it or not. As we pass through each other's lives the impressions, conversations, actions and thoughts that linger ... there is the gold.

    You always seemed like an old soul, and I think that was our first connection. We were who we were and that was all that was needed. No pretension. No bullshit. Sort of like your pots ... artful, grounded, utilitarian ... with no airs .... just a quiet beauty there for the world to see and use.

    Your two lidded casseroles still sit on top of my fridge. I admire them every day. And one of your blue drinking glasses sits in the bathroom and used daily. I see you & interact with you every day ... even without Facebook! ; ) And Sam's bright green polka dot canisters are used every day. One holding flour, and the other Splenda for my daily cup-o-joe. (Sorry …no sugar here.) But here's the laugh … when I first read the title … I thought you might extoll the virtues of coffee … not me! ; )

    We all shared what we loved and loved what we shared. I'm happy you are finding a new path through some rather dark times and it's lit with the light of discovery. That's something we can all aspire to. Finding a new path and exploring things outside our contort zones. I have to say you've taught me a lot this past year about redefining, rediscovering, and recreating oneself. I only hope I can be even a quarter as courageous!

    So I thank you, from the bottom of my heart for your kind words, your fortitude, your drive, and for you … just being.

  2. Well, being.. I can do that.

    As for writing about a'cuppa... it could happen. I have a feeling that coffee and I are gonna become fast friends this winter. The chill is already here and fuel prices are expected to be considerably higher than last year. Coffee will light the way!