In the summer of 1983, I was a high school ceramics teacher living and working in rural Indiana in search and need of a summer creative experience. I don’t exactly recall how I heard about or discovered Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, but fortunately I enrolled in a one week ceramic workshop taught by Paula Winokur-an artist whose work I admired. At the conclusion of that magical week, I was offered a partial scholarship to enroll in the following two-week Anagama wood firing workshop. I knew nothing about this Japanese wood kiln, process or aesthetic and even struggled with pronouncing the word Anagama. I knew I wasn’t ready to return to Indiana and enthusiastically accepted the scholarship. That workshop experience along with the artists, students and administrators I met, ignited a spark of change, creating connections and opportunities that have continued to impact my life in unexpected ways.
I returned to Indiana with new skills, feeling more confident and motivated as a teacher and artist-but also feeling a strong internal need to do something different. The following spring of 1984, I applied for a sabbatical to attend a five-month post graduate residency at the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Tennessee, followed with a return to Arrowmont for six weeks as a summer studio assistant. During that summer, I fired the Anagama kiln again, helped build a new soda kiln and made several connections that directly resulted in my 1985 summer travels to Japan attending the International Workshop for Ceramic Art in Tokoname. That experience provided an invitation to live and work with Mr. Ikehata, a traditional Japanese wood fire potter. My duties included splitting wood and preparing glazes for the firing of his traditional Anagama kiln. I could finally pronounce the word correctly and understand its translated meaning and history.
Returning to Indiana, I decided to leave my full-time art teaching job in place of a part-time position and become a “local potter”. At the time, it felt like the right decision, however, I soon realized that studio isolation was not the best fit for my personality and needs. I was fortunate again to return to Arrowmont in the summer of 1986 as a summer studio assistant. It felt like home. I fired the Anagama kiln again, this time with much more clarity and devotion. In early 1987, I received a letter from Arrowmont inquiring about my interest in applying for the assistant director position. I applied, interviewed and 4 months later moved to Tennessee. This July celebrates thirty years working at a craft school. That initial 1983 Anagama workshop has now grown to numerous other firings and I’ve developed friendships with hundreds of artists whose work and lives I admire and respect. For me, the craft school experience guided me and changed my life-making a full circle in unexpected ways- and ultimately becoming my community and a way of life. Bill Griffith is an administrator, educator and ceramic artist. He has worked at Arrowmont as the assistant director, program director and currently part-time as the outreach and partnership liaison. He has taught at, assisted or been a student at most all of the craft schools associated with the Craft School Experience. www.billgriffithclay.com