Interview by Elyse-Krista Mische
Paige, you’ve had a long-standing relationship with Arrowmont. Tell me about how you first started your relationship with the school and what kept you coming back?
I think that it was a combination of 2 things that led me to Arrowmont. First, my college professor, Lee Benson, at Union University told me about Arrowmont. Second, a fellow classmate of mine had done the studio assistantship one summer. I think seeing someone I knew participate in the Educational Assistantship program at Arrowmont made me think it was something I could do too. I applied and came for the first time as a work study in 2009.
I kept coming back because I really enjoyed the community, the diversity of the people, and the opportunity to expand my skillset through clay classes that explored techniques that were foreign to me. My undergraduate classes provided me with a strong foundation for the basics of ceramics and Arrowmont expanded and built on that foundation. I returned as a work study in 2010 and in 2011 as a studio assistant. I hadn’t returned since 2011 but I kept in touch through relationships that I had formed during my time as a work study and studio assistant. Between undergrad and grad school, I was a studio tech at Union, I maintained a relationship with Arrowmont by encouraging students to apply to Arrowmont, and I like to think that I helped them to also have a relationship with Arrowmont in some way.
Please share a bit about yourself; where are you from and what is your background in the arts?
I’m from Frog Jump, Tennesse (laughs). I didn’t have any formal art education until high school really, but being creative was something I always did through drawing and building clubhouses. After having art in high school I realized it was something I could pursue in college. I studied ceramics at Union University for undergrad and participated in the educational assistantship program at Arrowmont and internships at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass Village, CO. Between undergrad and grad school I served as the studio tech at Union for 4 years and taught adult and children’s clay classes at Mudslingers Studio in Huntingdon, TN. After that, I had the opportunity to go to grad school at the University of Florida in Gainesville for ceramics.
What type of work were you making during your undergraduate and graduate years?
In undergrad, I was making strictly object-oriented sculptures of brightly colored ceramic houses that were whimsical in nature. There was a transition that happened in my work during the 4 years that I took off from academia in between undergrad and grad school. My work began to develop while I was the tech at Union and an intern at Anderson Ranch Arts Center. At that time, my work became less object-oriented and more installation based. I began to utilize the ceramic multiple while still maintaining the imagery of the house but in a more minimal way. After that, I began exploring different media and that really began to take off even more in grad school. Then I began to introduce wood and concrete as integral materials in my work.
Since grad school I have tried to be less dependent on the image of the house and I began to strip it down to less literal interpretations of concepts of home and security. Now I am using American building materials like wood and concrete and images of smaller domestic objects like doors and pillows. They are still literal representations but not as directly tied to the physical house image.
What kind of work did you want to make coming into the residency and how has your time at Arrowmont influenced the direction of your work?
In this residency, I wanted to begin making works that were more manageable to install, ship, and store. As an artist using multiples and making large work, this has been a problem for me in my practice. I simply couldn’t keep all of my work from graduate school because of the scale of it. So I wanted to work on figuring out those practical things. I also wanted to work on some of my grad critique comments that I never had the opportunity to address. Like building things to serve as a pedestal that made sense for the work rather than using a white cube. I think of the pew piece, He Answered Me, as a big stepping stone for me to get off the pedestal and to use something so representative of the church and my faith in Christ because I never really used symbols that pointed so directly to my faith in my work. As a resident, I became more confident in making that connection for the viewer in my work. I know it is just the beginning but, I am excited to continue making direct connections for the viewer through images and forms that are informed by my faith in Christ and Biblical worldview.
Describe your work in one sentence.
My work is basically about human’s search and desire for permanent or eternal security in the midst of a transient world. It is about how my faith in Christ provides that permanent sense of peace and security for me. It is my hope through sharing my story and perspective that the personal will become universal.
Let’s dig deeper into what drives your creative process. Can you give me a rundown?
It began with this internal desire to make something, to be using my hands. Now as I have developed as an artist it becomes more and more about a desire to communicate commonalities – challenges, desires, motivations, etc. – that we as humans share through the perspective of a Christian worldview.
You have a few forms that you frequently use, can you talk more about the symbolism behind the pillows, pods, and doors?
I’ve learned that as an artist my understanding of the use of these symbols typically develops over time but at this moment what those things mean to me are:
Pillow: I have thought that the pillow cast in concrete represented my faith in Christ, however, I now believe that the concrete pillow represents God. It is through my relationship with God that I find rest, but He is unchanging. I am learning now that my faith waivers at times, but God is consistent. I think I discovered this through the piece that I made, Do Not Fear. Rejoice! I will talk more about that piece in the next question.
Pods: They could be perceived to be eggs, seeds, or pods, all of which are representative of an individual being. In my latest work, I have identified that individual to be me because I ultimately view my work as a visual manifestation of my personal search and journey through life.
Door: It’s an invitation to have an opportunity. In the latest piece I made with the doors, Wake Up, O Sleeper, they were supposed to be perceived as bricks. So there is a conflict between something being a potential door to an opportunity and something that has been closed off.
Describe your favorite piece that you’ve made while at Arrowmont.
My favorite piece was Do Not Fear. Rejoice! It was the piece with the life-size concrete pillow that was supporting the miniature scaffolding for several reasons. First, I like it formally. I like the tension that is created in the precarious scaffolding supported by thin sticks. Second, I enjoy it practically because it is a very methodical process to create the grid-like cubes which is very parallel to my love of making ceramic multiples. It is also structured but gives me the freedom to be spontaneous in the space. I feel as if I am just playing just like when I built tree houses as a child. The grid-like scaffolding cubes are structured and act as building blocks to build a bigger piece that is more organic. Third, I like it because I feel like I am on the cusp with this piece of
figuring out how to effectively communicate what I am trying to say. At one point I think it talks about the tenuousness, transience, and fragility of our existence, but it also at the same time communicates aspects of faith. According to the Bible, Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I think that somehow the tenuous structure of that scaffolding is on the verge of beginning to communicate that. Then supporting the whole structure is the concrete pillow – God or Christ, the Cornerstone.
How has your experience at Arrowmont been, do you feel this experience has aided you in the achievement of your goals?
I have been super honored to have the experience at Arrowmont. It has been wonderful. I have enjoyed so many facets of the residency and I believe that my experiences have definitely helped me achieve my goals in becoming a better artist and educator. The teaching component, gallery work, and an opportunity to talk about my work to the National Workshop instructors and students all increased my experience in those areas and helped me be even more confident in them. I think another thing that really challenged me that I didn’t necessarily expect has been the relationships and conversations I have been able to have with my fellow residents. Having the opportunity as an emerging artist to be working alongside people who are at a similar place in their own career has been so valuable. I have learned so much from my fellow residents from how they manage their own professional practice (website, diligence in documenting work, applying to shows, etc).
How does Arrowmont play a role in community education and supporting artists and craftspeople?
On so many levels beginning at the community level and the Art Reach program. It really gives young students in the area the opportunity to experience the art. The National Workshops also gives people who had careers in completely different fields the opportunity to come and learn more about art when they didn’t get to at a younger age. Arrowmont helps give people who haven’t been able to fill their creative urge the opportunity to do so. It helps college students gain exposure to professionals in the arts through the Educational Assistantship program.
Rumor has it that you’ve enjoyed your time at Arrowmont so much that you are staying on after the residency? Fill us in, what does this next year look like for you?
Yes this is true! I am super excited to announce that I will get to stay at Arrowmont on staff. This next year I am taking on the role of Administrative Support Coordinator. In this role I will support the work that happens in the Marketing and Development Department. I know that this will be a big learning curve for me because I have never worked in an administrative role. My experiences working in the arts have always been behind the scenes in the studios as technician, assistant, or teacher. But I believe working in this role will help round out my skill set in a way that will help me accomplish my dream of teaching and building an art program one day. I do not exactly know what that will look like or how it will happen yet, but I am excited to see how it will all unfold.
I think I can say I have naively gotten where I am today in the arts by listening to my mentors and taking one baby step at a time. Often times, not knowing how everything would unfold. Somehow each experience has always built on the previous one and led to the next opportunity. I feel fortunate to have been a part of the programs that Lee Benson, Lori Nolen, Doug Casebeer, Bill Griffith, Nan Smith, and Linda Arbuckle have built. Maybe from my experiences with these people and their legacies, I will be able to do the same one day. I have learned so far that the programs I have experienced were built through time, working hard, and building relationships in community. This is my dream – I just do not know how long it will take me to get there. In the meantime, I will just do my best to “show up,” make art, build relationships, and enjoy the ride!
Learn more about Paige and see additional examples of her work on her website, paigeward.com.