New Work Birthed During the Pandemic

barbara hager ceramics

These new pots depicting animals and plants found in the St. Louis River Watershed and Lake Superior were thrown on the wheel during the early weeks of the pandemic when counting the weeks in isolation was novel and we were washing every surface and doorknob hourly with bleach and water. I was fortunate to spend many of those months sharing my studio with another artist and friend. We listened to May Gabriel’s book, “Ninth Street Women, a book about five women artists and the movement that changed Modern Art”. We listened to Rufus Wainwright, Cardi B, and Joanna Newsom. We talked about art while we worked. We talked about our fears and our hopes for the future. We maintained our social distance in the studio and were careful in our daily lives to protect each other and our households.

There are a lot of dead fish on these pots, eyes x’ed out or skeletal in an attempt to address the contaminants in those great Northern waterways. But the daily death count is in those x’s as well. George Floyd was murdered eight blocks from my studio during the pandemic and his death is present in these pots. My gardens were planted, grown, and harvested and a baby and a puppy joined our family during that time. Solstice is upon us, Hanukah has started, Christmas is coming, Kwanza will start and a new year will follow. It’s all in these pots and they were made at a time when our axis changed from self to watching out for each other; protecting each other.

As a young potter, I learned that joy and happiness are easier to sell than pain. In 1989 it took several months to sell my “Tiananmen Square” platter compared to “The Critical Period of Matrimony is Breakfast Time” platters that were flying off the shelves. But I am older and time is unyielding. Joy and pain are inseparable. Although distance and isolation must be maintained, taking care of each other is tantamount to survival. As F. Scott Fitzgerald so aptly pointed out, it is possible “…to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”. The overwhelming beauty and power of life is x’ed out with what lies just below the surface, Barbara

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