Susannah Israel holds the unique distinction of having been both artist (2002) and writer-in-residence (2011) at Archie Bray. The summer of 2002 was a critical time in Israel's artmaking, as she was still mourning the death of her partner of 25 years. The strength and inspiration of the Bray creative community brought solace and new inspiration in the piece Tea at Archie Bray, permanently sited on the grounds. The sculpture is an affectionate narrative about the residency experience. You can read the full story below, along with information about the Bray. To read about her writer's residency, please see "Jentel Critic @ Archie Bray: A Tale of Two Residencies."
About Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts
The Bray is a public, nonprofit, educational institution founded in 1951 by brickmaker Archie Bray, to be "a place to make available for all who are seriously interested in any of the branches of the ceramic arts, a fine place to work." Its primary mission is to provide an environment that stimulates creative work in ceramics.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Bray is located three miles from downtown Helena, Montana, on the site of the former Western Clay Manufacturing Company. Set against the wooded foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the 26-acre former brickyard is an internationally celebrated gathering place for emerging and established ceramic artists. The mountains and brick factory ruins provide a splendid backdrop for the creative arts community created by the resident artists each session.
About Tea Party at Archie Bray, 2002.
The clay was mixed at Clay Biz, based on the classic Pete Voulkos formula. He used half fireclay to half ball clay, then added 10% sand and 10% silica to the 100 lb batch.With modification for red color and green strength, I used half fireclay, 25 ball clay, 25 redart clay, 20% grog to the 100 lb batch.
The Tea Party piece is permanently sited at the Bray, so I wanted it to be about the Bray experience, the long conversations, of summer 2002. I actively sought collaboration with my fellow residents, keeping this in mind.
Terry Geiber - chopped nylon fiber for the mix
Susan Beiner - plaster molds of Bill Lassell’s feet, used for all three figures.
Mika Negishi Laidlaw contributed six clay eggs. (These seem to have disappeared)
Lesley Claire Baker - the model for the elegant figure in the center.
Allison McGowan - textured porcelain cup for the central figure with 2 birds.
Kowkie Durst -the cup the right figure is holding.
Sean Derry - 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.
The Elements of Tea Party
The 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 b 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.
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 form 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.
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 collective experiences, the animals of the summer studio all appear in the Tea Party sculpture. The chickens and gopher are the products of 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.