Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Interview: Joan Tucker...

Joan Tucker is a multi-faceted artist, writer and ceramist. She is also a master storyteller and blogger. Whatever medium she uses, Joan manages to create something intriguing and uniquely beautiful. She and her partner, Lana, own and operate Off Center Productions. Off Center Productions specializes in one-of-a-kind ceramic jewelry components and vessels. They travel around the country selling their wares and sharing stories at various trade shows and bead shops. They also sell their pieces online. CLICK HERE to visit their website and CLICK HERE to visit their company blog. CLICK HERE to visit Joan's poetry blog, A Wild Patience, and HERE to visit her observational blog, A Circle of Crows.

Andrew Thornton: You had another career before you began your Second Life with beads, what brought you into the bead world? How did you get started with clay?
Joan Tucker: Andrew, I worked as a social worker, counselor, women’s center director, advocate, conference planner, and administrator in employee development in the WA community college system for many years. After retiring early, I did consulting with organizations and conducted training until I decided to refocus my energies on an entirely new direction.
Lana, my partner of 26 years has always had a pottery studio. She was a studio potter at Pottery Northwest. The studio was her turf and I did other crafts and hobbies.
After a beady adventure with my granddaughter and frustration at the lack of availability of artisan beads, I asked Lana to make some and she replied, “Make your own beads.” One day I wandered in the studio and tried out a few shapes. Lana taught me the basics of pottery and Off Center Productions was born. Lana and I both started making, glazing and firing porcelain and stoneware. My daughter Kim encouraged us to make a business plan and supported our diving into the bead market.
Marsha of Marsha Neal Studios was the bead maker who helped us think about a larger scale bead business as a real possibility. At a show in Bellingham we chatted all weekend and we started to see where we would fit in the bead community.
We chose to follow an artisan, one-of-a-kind path and kept striving for a unique voice and style. In my true bullish Taurian fashion I chose Tucson’s To Bead True Blue in the tent as my very first show. What a hoot, sleet, expensive hotels, Lana’s back went out and I helped out the AZ economy with my overhead expenses. But you do learn from the struggle and we have done as many as 12 shows a year and are currently back on the road-this time with our RV- Ole Grrl.
AT: Many of your pieces are one-of-a-kind or done in limited runs; has there ever been any pressure to mass-produce any of your pieces? What drives you all to continue to make one-of-a-kind pieces?
JT: Well I am an ornery old crone who does what she wants and playing in Groleg porcelain is what I like most. Lana has the patience to do bead multiples but she is always too busy with her pots and boxes.
People have asked for multiples in special colors and sizes; it is simply not my style. I am unwilling to work that hard for the prices they want to pay. I want to make what pleases me and charge a price that at least makes me feel it was ok to sit in a cold garage and handle messy glazes and deal with hot kilns.
When I started making beads, I worked in our garage studio for days on end; with no sense of time or day of the week. My girls would call and ask me if I had taken a shower lately. This kind of passionate immersion was so thrilling. After all those years of being of service to so many people, clay felt good and even a bit indulgent.
So I made grumpy faces and beautiful baskets and old coins and built replicas of antiquities, but mostly I let my emotions, my sense of shape and form emerge unconstrained by shoulds. I studied the other clay artists and decided to try to do anything but what they were making.
At Off Center Productions, we have what I call “skunk energy” if you like what we make you really like it and if it repels you, you walk right by and that arrangement is ok with us.
AT: Speaking of work you’ve made, you debuted a line called, "Global Connections". What prompted that? Are you working on any other lines?
JT: Global Connections and Antiquities are still our two main themes.
I love ethnic things, Asian and African artifacts, Middle Eastern forms,
I have moved 35 times and lived in many places that inspired me.
I dragged my three children to more museums and galleries than I can count so bringing those influences to the clay is natural. For example, the Pergamon in Berlin influenced me and cobalt blue never was bluer than on Ishtar’s Gate.
Alaska and Hawaii both put their cultural stamp on my aesthetic. I worked in diversity training and community building for years so I also learned to appreciate the richness of cultural differences.
We are adding more pit firing, reduction glazes, and collaborative bundles using glass and bronze beads as a part of the collection. I will be making a set of shrines with a story attached to each one. New tiles, bells, mobiles, wall vases, dream jars, small sculptures. Clay provides for endless experimentation and creative play. I also dream of large –very large – acrylics on canvas. Who knows?
AT: Inspiring. You’re a protean artist! Besides being a visual artist, you’re a poet and a writer; do you think that has influenced your work or the way that you approach your business philosophy for Off Center Productions?
JT: I am a sucker for a good story. I am the queen of long lunches, retreats, and tribal gatherings. I have always loved words, always kept a journal and have played with words and paint in the past.
My poetry blog: a wild patience was inspired by my early fascination with feminist poets who spoke to the conditions of life in the 70’s and 80’s. Writing a poetry blog is very scary and stretches the comfort zone of revealing and sharing inner emotions. Photography is my newest passion and I hope to connect writing and digital photography more in the future.
My philosophy for business is to have clear goals and to start by asking:
- Why am I doing this?
- Does making the ware make me happy?
- How much money do I want to make or can afford to lose?
- What are my ego’s needs in the craft business?
- Who are the people I will encounter? Will I like them?
- Can I grow in this endeavor?
- Will the business fit with family, travel and other goals?
- Can I grow my tribe?
- Will the customers and vendors be fascinating?
- Can I grow as an artist as well as a business owner?
So far Off Center Productions has measured up in all categories.
We just heard we were accepted into a big local market where we can sell pots and beads, so we will still travel to Tucson and do a few other shows but concentrate on sharing our work locally and when we do travel we will travel purely for enjoyment and adventure.
This May we head to Italy for three weeks of inspiration, sketching and discussion of new work. And yes more blogging and photos galore!!!
AT: Speaking of blogs, you've been blogging for awhile now and currently have three blogs. Why do you blog? What are your thoughts on blogging?
JT: Sometimes I think blogging was invented for people like me. I love typefaces, graphics, words, and photographs. I dream in color and create detailed stories.
Blogging is like heaven. Write, edit, delete, write, edit, change, print, edit, delete, review, write, share, share, get feedback, write... damn this is grand. All free; all out there; all fun. The blog world is a big exuberant, varied, random, uncontrollable tribe of writers, innovators, artists, and dreamers who share their reality with anyone who will take the time to read. In the quantum physics sense – we are all dancing particles.
Off Center Productions is our business blog; my poetry blog a wild patience is purely fun; and A Circle of Crows is the place I go to dream, reflect, rant, tell stories and generally pretend I can really write. My alter ego Violetlake writes mysteries but that is a secret.
AT: You’ve got a lot of artistic endeavors going. What are some of your biggest inspirations?
JT: The ochre light in Verona, the blue green ocean on Maui, the full moon rolling over the Chugach Mountains in Anchorage, the orange-red foliage in Massachusetts, the cobblestones and ancient facades in Augsburg, the navy blue sky in Tucson, Calder’s red mobile in the National Gallery, the early pink cherry blossoms in grey Seattle skies, the feeling of silty soil in the Connecticut River Valley, soft air in Wahiawa, my two grandchildren, the courage, stamina, and creativity of my three children, the endlessly playful energy of my partner Lana who taught me pottery skills and also taught me to have the courage and good sense to cull the ware for less than wonderful beads. Her motto, “I make ‘em and I can break ‘em.”
A few of the many people who have inspired us in clay and artistic pursuits, as well as lifestyle include: Jam-e and Guy at Wild Things, Leslie Rogelski, J Larken Van Horn, Marsha Neal, Kelly Russell, Joanne Zekowski, Rima Staines, and you Andrew.


somethingunique said...
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SummersStudio said...

Oh my goodness, is this one of the most beautiful interviews I have ever read. The questions and answers are all so heart felt. I am an enormous fan of Off Center Productions work and of Lana's pottery. It is just absolutely wonderful to hear Joan speak about her work and her journey. Thank you so much for posting this most beautiful story.

Marsha of Marsha Neal Studio said...

Joan (& Lana) - you two inspire me to shake off those old tattered flight feathers and let the new ones come in as they will…
Thank You for being - well - you…

Wonderful interview!!!

Lisa Peters Russ said...

awesome blog post JT! awesome blog my dear! thank u andrew!

Patty said...

FABulous interview, Andrew! I love this woman and I've not even met her, but I feel like I have. I can't wait for the day that I do. What a vibrant person!

Green Shoot Jewellery Designs said...

What an inspiring interview, thank you for introducing off centre productions x

Shai Williams said...

Andrew you are such an enabler. I follow so many blogs that I can't keep up now and here you introduce me to a couple more. I have to find out where Off Center Productions is in my area so I will have to keep an eye out for the local market.