Critical comments on Nancee Meeker's work

 

In the Daily Freeman of July 19, 1996, James G. Shine wrote:

After reading studio potter Nancee Meeker's resume I tried to find the right adjective to describe her artistic production in an appropriate manner in terms of exhibition achievements. "Remarkable? Phenomenal? Outstanding? In any case, all three seem to be fitting, and yet they fall short when facing the fact this Rhinecliff based artist can name no less that 30 one or two person show she's participated in, and 71 invitational and juried group shows. To say the least, no average stuff here!

Which means that Meeker has taken her stone-burnished and pit-fired vessels from Tennessee to Connecticut and from London to California, New Jersey, Canada, Idaho and Pennsylvania, to mention just a few venues for her works since she began her career in this medium in 1973.

Meeker, a warm, cheerful and extremely friendly lady, recently received visitors in her studio on the corner of Kelly Street and Russell Avenue in Rhinecliff with open arms and an honest to goodness big grin. On a Sunday towards noon-time, the activity in her studio is explosive. A group of her summer students are hard at work at a variety of chores. Gigantic ovens are going full blast, a group of men and women pull out beautifully colored and exotically shaped ceramic pieces from piles of straw laid out on the ground, while someone busily proceeds to feed them water as anyone would feed water to a thirsty fern.

Momentarily, someone may look at the intruding visitor, in this case, this reviewer, smile and nod politely and then return instantly to whatever they are concentrating on to achieve their respective ceramic goals. Meeker explains they are in the final stages of their projects and this one final step is like a high point after a painful process of work.

She looks around, presents questions, makes observations, turn to explain what's going on, and then moves on to other parts of her studio, where she keeps a beautiful display of her work in a show that will last until at least August. Walls and pedestals painted white make just the right frame for scores of marvelously streamlined vessels with subtle colors and exquisite designs.

Meeker begins to explain that there's no glaze on any of the pieces because the shine they all have comes from burnishing with a stone.

"I never got along with glazing." she says as she picks up one off-white piece with designs of leaves. She continues talking as she moves form one set of vessels to the other, at the same time explaining how she deals with all those fine pieces.

It's super fine clay particles which I rub with a stone until the particles become aligned and reflect light, which we now see as a high shine," she remarks.

What about the design? That, she said, is carved while at the leather hard stage. The inevitable question - what is the leather stage? "Oh, that's when there is still water in the clay, "she explains.

So as we look around and she talks, I proceed to ask her about the different stages in her rich and varied career. She tells how when she started some 20 plus years ago, all her designs were geometric, and that geometric direction lasted eight years. She illustrates he point by pulling from a shelf one very fine piece which, in effect, is exquisitely decorated with fine geometric shapes.

Then she went on to work a geological design on the vessels- which, by the way, are not for holding liquids, they are purely decorative. That period lasted another eight years, and she emphasizes the point that several pieces encompassed no less than 60 hours each in the carving process.

When asked about the very muted colors, she said they come from the burnishing slip, which is terra sigillata, which in lay terms refers to watery clay. She collects clay all over the country, she says. Any special reason why these places? Not to her, that's where she has traveled, and that's where she dug it. "Clay is my karma," she says with a big laugh.

In any case, between one series and the other, it had been 18 years of non-stop work-basically 10 hours a day, seven days a week. "So I simply burned out after that time! So I went and lived in Ireland for 14 months and didn't touch clay for all that time." That serious? "Yes, that serious," she instantly replies. Then what? "It was 18 years of overwork, and not a life of my own at all!"

The time came when it was OK and she got back to her routine, only this time she's making sure that she still has time for many things she likes. That means traveling, reading and simply doing other things that make her enjoy the world without going to the extremes of the past.

In her new work, she has returned, in some pieces, to the lines which she said she used 15 years ago, but the design is now more fluid and more graceful. Flora and more flora is the source of inspiration and the result is scrumptious. There is a red lacquer-toned color that she has worked from the inside out, and all in very simple statements. All said and done, it would be hard to make a selection of which works from which stage of her amazing career one would want in one's own home or art collection. From all three stages, of course!

Complementing the Meeker ceramics display, the walls of the Rhinecliff studio and showroom are covered with an extremely fine collection of recent drawings by artist Maggie Pickard, mainly based on long stemmed wild flowers, birds and shells. A perfect set-up for breathtakingly beautiful pieces, and in addition, the picture post card beauty of Rhinecliff on a warm and bright summer day. Can't possibly ask for more!

In the Woodstock Times, on August 11, 1994, Stuart Klein wrote:
If New York was a state that declared select artists and artisans "Intangible Treasures," potter Nancee Meeker would undoubtedly be one of them. Her work, as stunning as it is subtle, demands it.

Fifteen years after settling in Rhinecliff, Meeker has decided to open her studio and beautiful gallery to the public, and I hope readers of this article choose to leap at the invitation.

On my last visit, Nancee showed me her very first pot. "Our initial assignment was to form a pot over a part of our body" she said, holding out a small shiny black object, like a thick rubber safety tip for a walking cane. "I wasn't very brave. I used my thumb......Even then I didn't like glazes."

After graduating Skidmore, Meeker set up her first studio in New Jersey. She also taught students, ranging in age from six to 60. "I was somewhere between a baby-sitter and a shrink," she recalls. "After three months I knew I didn't want to deal with people every day."

She showed her work at the second Rhinebeck Crafts Fair, and from that point on, she says, she knew that her life was going to be filling orders. "My work developed, but I didn't," says Meeker. "After 18 years I needed a sabbatical to search for wonder. I could go to the city if I needed to jump-start my system, but it didn't make me happy.......The sight of chilies drying on widow sills makes my heart go thump."

Meeker's dilemma strikes many artists-from not being able to give your work away, you get handcuffed to producing it. You need to work, and to do so , you need a studio. But you need to get away; you need to keep in touch with solitude. In Meeker's case, craftsmanship and beauty needed, and still need, to co-mingle and survive successive completion processes. That beauty needs to be infused with soul, and that soul is its own studio.

Not long ago, the word went out, "Nancee's going to Ireland to live for awhile. She's gonna do a lot of fly-fishing; she may not come back." My first thought was worth of a doughnut maven; Who's gonna make the pots? Everybody needs at least a dozen.

After three months of traveling, Meeker settled in Galway, rented a studio in which to draw, and signed up for a photography course. "I answered an ad and bought the darkroom equipment of a 40- year-old American who'd died mysteriously," she says. "That afternoon I was horseback riding and told my friends, 'If I die rinding this afternoon; don't sell my darkroom to an unsuspecting 40 year old American."

The Irish drawings and photographs successfully depict Meeker's interest in deft strokes and textures that are yielded by natural forces or human impulses. Give and take; give and take.

After a year, however, she came back to the Hudson Valley. Her solution; Make more but fewer pots. Open the studio. Open the gallery. Invite other artists to display work in the gallery. Teach a few people at a time in Rhinecliff, and guest-teach at Elder Hostels in foreign locations. Be available by appointment.

The visitor will first experience Meeker's throwing, drying and carving space. The pots are begun as classically shaped vessels, thrown in white earthenware. Some are left to harden and are then carved or incised. Some are skewed from their symmetry. Some have their sides pushed into motifs or networks of deep or shallow convex forms form within.

At the next step Meeker brushes on several coats of terra sigillata slip. This slip utilizes the ability of sodium silicate to separate the clay particles, which will become lustrous by burnishing with special stone implements. The pieces then receive a low fired bisque kiln. That being done, the pieces are give a sawdust pit-firing.

Meeker's kiln, made above ground with fire brick, is behind the studio. The sawdust burns at different intensities in the kiln, depending on how much oxygen is sucked through the brick chinks. Meeker uses recycled sawdust from various sources, and the natural colors of the original wood also contribute to the overall effect. Color is smoked on and in both the burnished and straight earthenware surfaces. If sufficiently gorgeous, that's it. If not, subsequent firings may be required.

She uses various terra sigillata for their intrinsic color, from Rhinebeck Yellow to Turkey Red or Maui Mauve. Sometimes, having been taught by the Kiln God, she uses wet sawdust.

The galleries are upstairs and feature about a hundred pots. The work shown is mostly post-sabbatical. The impact is one of a high level museum show of work imbued with an ancient spirituality, set in a venerable design/craftsmanship continuum. It is a reminder that pure design is prehistoric, while its aesthetic reverberations are immediate.

In Hudson Valley Magazine, July 1994, Jorge Arango wrote:

The Earth Below: the Sky Above

If you should ever travel with Nancee Meeker, be prepared for abrupt stops. When Meeker is cruising along in her car, she watches the landscape, and when her eye hits upon a vein of beautifully colored earth, the 43-year-old potter is likely to cry "Whoa!" in midsentence, hit the brakes and start digging.

Meeker has an abundant supply of energy-it's the kind that bounds and ricochets, that swirls around you and takes flight. It's a marked contrast to her pots, icons of serenity, each a kind of meditation on the rhythms of the earth.

The Rhinecliff, Dutchess County, potter is known primarily for her earlier monochromatic, low-fire pieces whose main bodies were intricately carved in roughly textured "fossilized snakeskin" or "ledge" patterns, then accented with smooth, red, highly burnished rims. On larger pots, it took Meeker 40 or 50 hours to do a carving, and the burnishing-which was done with smooth river rocks, not a chamois cloth-required thousands of strokes across the surface to align the molecules until they shone.

It was enough to burn almost anyone out, which is what nearly happened two years ago, when Meeker took leave to live in Ireland. She didn't even look at the dirt for 14 months, preferring instead to paint and draw.

Her new body of work is no longer so painstakingly carved. Instead, sensual, undulating designs are pushed ever so subtly out from the inside of the pot when it's on the wheel. Entire surfaces are now stone-burnished, and Meeker says she has rediscovered color, though that doesn't mean you'll see teal or fuchsia. The surfaces are made from clays that were dug out of sites as close as Rhinebeck yellow) and Virginia (orange) and as far away as Maui (red and purple) and Turkey (red). "I've always been obsessed with looking down at the ground," the potter explains. "These are more like clouds.They're about looking up."

Meeker's older works and her new vessels are priced from $30 to $2,000. She is also organizing workshops-the first is next month-at her studio, located near the Rhinecliff train station.

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