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leach comment @ black mountain college in 1952 was re: what is

updated fri 1 feb 02


MOLINA, RAFAEL on thu 31 jan 02

American Style To You?

I vaguely remember a comment by Bernard Leach while at Black Mountain =
College in NC (one of his stops during his American tour circa 1952) =
also lamenting the lack of a "Taproot" or source of style and tradition =
in American ceramics.

What I can't fully remember is the response from an audience member who =
I believe challenged his assertion and whose rebuttal cited indegenous =
pottery traditions and I think traditions brought over by immigrants.

Does anyone on the List know of this exchange and who the person in the =
audience was who challenged Leach?



Rafael Molina, MFA
Assistant Professor of Art
Department of Music, Art, and Dance
Tarrant County College-Southeast Campus
2100 Southeast Parkway
Arlington, TX 76018-3144
(817) 515-3711
(817) 515-3189 fax

-----Original Message-----
From: Doug Gray [mailto:dgray@FMARION.EDU]
Sent: Wednesday, January 30, 2002 8:06 PM
Subject: What Is American Style To You?

Interesting Proposition, Wendy.

If, by American, you mean the United States, then the word melting pot
comes to mind. As a graduate student I got into a heated discussion
with an art history instructor over this notion of "the great melting
pot." At that point I argued that the humbled masses that came to this
country never truly melted into one homogenous culture. My theory was
that all the many subcultures in the US that didn't support status quo
were simply marginalized, making it appear as if their were one
homogenous culture. She, being of a different generation, disagreed
vehemently. And as she was the teacher and I the student, my grade on
that particular essay would suggest that she won the debate.

But if you look back on the 1950's style "American Family" as portrayed
on television, (Thank you, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and
Gidget) we, as a culture, never obtained that type of homogeneity.
Since the time of the first settlers, immigrants to this country have
clustered in groups and villages, towns and neighborhoods. We have our
China towns, and German towns, our little Italys and so forth. And
while many of the largest cities in the US capitalize on this type of
diversity, there has always been the more seedy and bigoted means of
separation, fondly known as the "wrong side of the tracks," in all too
many US towns and cities,

Today, there is an attempt to recognize and honor cultural diversity in
the US ( I did say attempt, folks. We've a long ways to go.) And the
idea that we are one homogenous "melting pot" culture seems even more
absurd to me now. If one has not descended in a clear blood line from a
particular culture, it is not out of the question today to adopt one.
So, trying to define an American Style, or a US style, seems a most
formidable task. How does a country made up of so many diverse
cultures, religions, and ethnicities produce a singular "American"
style? Or to put it another way, how does mixing various dissimilar dog
breeds produce anything but a mutt? (And just in case you are
wondering, some of us are mighty proud to be mutts, thank you very much)

Of course we can always point to specific people and specific studios
within the US that produced innovative wares, but ultimately one must
acknowledge that most of the processes these exemplary people learned
from and built upon originated elsewhere, especially if you are
referring to non-native artists (Let's not forget the fact that most of
us are not native to this land). I think this is why Bernard Leach
stated that US pottery had no style, no tradition. Our style is based
on what we have been able to assimilate from other cultures. That's not
to say there are no unique and creative things happening in this
country. Just that relatively speaking we, as a country, are too young
to have developed "one unique style"-- too young... and we put so much
emphasis on Individualism. Can you imagine what tyrannical bureaucracy
would have to be constructed to get the ceramic artist of today to honor
a singular style rivaling the Greek Amphora? Even the Greeks and Romans
couldn't persuade the colonized potters to make that stuff for very

Instead, we contemporary clay artists do all styles. And we combine
world cultures and styles in ways that are unique and significant to our
community. In general, it seems that our country is more like one of
the rebellious teenagers of this world-- one who insists on tasting the
world for him/herself. We are explorers, sometimes too arrogant for our
own good, but explores nonetheless who'd much rather test the thrilling
uncertainty of the unknown than to rest contentedly in the known.
Assuming your have followed my assertions thus far, let me ask this.
Can we honestly state that these rebellious innovations are uniquely
"American?" Even an action of denial or defiance is still a reaction to
something that already exists, and consequently is influenced by the
whats and whos that precede us. We do not, can not, and have not ever
produced art in a vacuum.

I'm not sure that I've formulated this line of thought well enough to
continue, but let me say this. While I still don't believe the various
cultures in the US ever became homogenous enough to be called a true
melting pot, I do believe that, in some strange way, the artwork
produced in this country probably has. Speaking in terms of the BIG
picture, our style is diversity. Our style is based a great deal upon
cultural appropriations but with a healthy dose of innovation and a very
real assertion of individualism. How else can you explain Soldner's
raku innovation or the Volkous' sculptural innovation, or even Orr's
Barnem and Bailey Circus approach to marketing pottery. We don't seem
to know when to leave well enough alone. And while I hate to quote
Martha S., sometimes, that can be a good thing.

Doug, SC

waiting for the flames to begin, wondering if I should have waited until
morning to send this on.

hoping others will find Wendy's question as stimulating as I, even if
they happen to disagree with me. (or perhaps, particularly if they

And, Wendy, as for the camera issue... it all depends on who's watching
; )

From: Wendy Rosen

We'd really like to know how you define
what is uniquely American...

Are you willing to say it on camera???

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