Enriching lives through art and craft

Arrowmont Connections: Maggie Connolly reflects on the past year as an Artist-in-Residence

Arrowmont is a special community full of creative people – a family who know that coming together and making art is important. We talk a lot about the Arrowmont Experience – connecting through craft and community. That connection exists beyond physical proximity. It is in shared memories and new ideas. It lives in the friendships we make with each other. It grows when we learn and support one another.

Whether on campus or off, we are connected as members of the Arrowmont family. Over the next few weeks, we are going to share stories from our community of instructors, residents, and students in a new series, Arrowmont Connections.

Maggie Connolly, 2019/2020 Artist in Residence

Maggie Connolly is a ceramicist and author from Dubuque, Iowa. She is the first American graduate to earn an MFA in ceramics from Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, and the second American graduate to earn a Ph. D for studio ceramics at Tokyo University of the Arts. Recently, she finished a two-year post-doc at TUA where she completed book manuscripts about Chinese and Japanese ceramics. She is a contributing author to Ceramics Monthly. Connolly is a 2019-2020 Arrowmont Artist-in-Residence. Recently, Maggie shared her reflections after completing the 2019-2020 Artist Residency at Arrowmont.

What have been the highlights of your year as a AIR?

Ohmigod, everything! I enjoyed all of it.


The way the residency is set up, it’s like they are preparing us and giving us practical experience for ANY potential path we may take after Arrowmont.

Strictly speaking, this was my first year making art in a non-academic setting in over a decade and the opportunities and work obligations that go along with this residency were some of the best experiential educational moments I have received. From teaching Artreach to art handling in the gallery to designing the final exhibition, I have so much more practical experience that will only benefit me going forward. That said, I think the friendships I made over the course of the workshops have been my highlight of the year. Between students, workshop instructors, Arrowmont staff and Work-Studies, I have made lasting friendships and contacts that I have sustained throughout the year and hopefully beyond.


How did Arrowmont’s unique environment impact you?


Continuing from the previous question, thanks to Arrowmont’s proximity to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I was easily able to take a walk in the park whenever my free time afforded it, sometimes everyday.

Coming from some of the world’s most populated urban metropolises, the ease at which I was able to return to nature really afforded me some space to relax and enjoy my surroundings in a way that made me feel incredibly lucky and appreciative of my living situation,  like I had won a life lottery or something.

Relatedly, the small size of Arrowmont’s campus meant I would really have to be trying to be late for a meeting, or at most inconvenienced for about 3 minutes if I had to run back to my room. This environment afforded me the space to cultivate a really relaxed mind-state, meaning I never felt anxious entering and working in my studio, allowing my work to evolve.


How has your work evolved this year?


Which leads me to this answer. During grad programs, or any sort, the goal is to develop the focus and depth of knowledge that only comes with sustained, long-term research on one specific style of making. While there is nothing wrong with this approach to art-making and is obviously necessary for any professional artist to be able to do, the downside is that this can create tunnel vision in the work, not allowing space to breathe or play.

The work I produced here in my year at Arrowmont is completely unrelated to all my work from before.

Indeed, looking at the final exhibition, every single piece on display is different in style and concept from every other piece. I have been waiting a long time for the opportunity to have a studio space in which I can just play and I’m sure that the work I’ve done while at Arrowmont has set a strong foundation for however I choose to proceed in the future.


Any personal challenges you overcame in the work?


Just trying something new in the studio was personal challenge enough for me!

I came to Arrowmont after spending 12 years abroad and I faced many challenges in my day-to-day life simply trying to re-integrate to American life and culture.

I had never fired a programmable electric kiln before, and the first time I tried a glaze firing, I was unaware of the difference between cone 06 and cone6 and I just ended up re-bisquing the ware! I had to learn a whole new knowledge set in regards to my materials, processes and facilities. I taught myself glaze chemistry and started producing glazed tableware for sale – I had never done that 9 months ago! While I freely admit to feeling dissatisfied with the quality of the work at the moment, when I stop and pause and consider the context of everything, I have admit how satisfied I am that I even dared these first steps, I know that they are just the beginning of some really exciting avenues I will consider pursuing.


What’s next for you?


I’m moving to Knoxville, other than that there is a lot up in the air. I’m not looking to de-stabilize my life again by moving cross country or something like that. Hopefully, in another year I will have a better idea of what I really want in this life and a better idea of how to achieve it.


What advice you have for artists in your field – even if they don’t get an 11-month residency?


What is your goal when making art? For me, the goal is the act of creation itself, not some line on my CV about which residencies I have done. Anytime I am able to have the time, space and money to bring some piece to completion is considered success. Will I be able to support myself financially on my art alone? I don’t know, but I am certain that if that avenue proves to not be viable, I will continue to make just for myself, for my own pleasure and the only person that can take that away is me.



Anything else you want to share?

Cr8tive Muddery 4 lyfe


Maggie Connolly’s Website: http://www.maggieconnolly.org/

Instagram: @firmcurd

“Clay Culture: Ayutthaya – by Maggie Connolly for Ceramics Monthly”: https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/ceramics-monthly/ceramic-art-and-artists/ceramic-artists/clay-culture-ayutthaya/

“Clay Culture: Tradition and Change – by Maggie Connolly for Ceramics Monthly”: https://ceramicartsnetwork.org/ceramics-monthly/ceramic-art-and-artists/ceramic-artists/clay-culture-tradition-change/

Zurkonic Blog Interview with Maggie: http://www.zurkonic.com/blog/2018/3/26/maggie-connolly-artist-interview


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