Favorite Handmade Item – Michal Ann Carley

It really is all about the stories. It always has been. And maybe I’m not the best story-teller out there, but every week when I get to introduce you to another one of my friends – another one of these people that I am honored to call a part of my tribe – I get to tell you the story of how I met them, and how they’ve become such an important part of our community, and subsequently, the story of our store. Because, at the end of the day – that’s what Gather is – ours.

So, this week I get to introduce use to Michal Ann Carley. Michal Ann moved here from Wisconsin a few years back. She came into the art scene in Bloomington with a BANG! and never looked back, and I will always admire that about her. We first met after I submitted my resignation to the Arts Alliance of Bloomington . . . she actually approached me in the Post Office to get the nitty gritty behind the organization. And ever since, we’ve been making lunch dates and sharing stories. Michal Ann now sits on the 4th Street Festival Board, is a member of By Hand Gallery, sits on the board for the Bloomington Open Studios Tour, the Limestone Symposium (and honestly, so much more), and is a blacksmith and glass artist. More than any of that, she is a wonderful speaker and brilliant writer (just wait, you’ll see!), an easy listener, an avid art Lover and educator, and my friend. What follows is a recollection, my dears, of one of what I imagine to be many of her favorite handmade items . . .

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It’s likely most makers come from a long line of makers and we find instilled in us an enormous respect for the aesthetics, the precision and acumen of the hand, and a certain nod toward the pursuit of self-sufficiency that was taught to us by our forbearers. That being my experience, I live surrounded by objects made by both my kin and dozens of others similarly inspired.

Today I share the humblest of examples though they are exquisite in sentiment: three small—larger than demitasse—cups that my mother built of clay on a potter’s wheel in her tiny basement studio. These thin-walled and handled cups are inelegant and rather crude despite their delicacy. Their columnar form is abrupt, their colors are earthen, and their miniature size belies utility. My mother would sit at her wheel, start with a small lump of quite wet clay that she pancaked, and pulled up these clumsy shafts in under several minutes. She made dozens of tests each time she embarked on a series with new glazes and these were the carriers of her tests. A number of formulas were mixed based on her and her local potter friends’ experiments, predating, of course, the predictability of printed color catalogues. The laundry room–cum studio walls were lined with these variously colored, 4” high mugs, each with a handle so as not to obfuscate their potential utility. The glazes were patterned in striated layers of subtle tonal and chromatic shifts, passing matte over reflective or thin over dense. Sometimes the glaze was thick and viscous as a chunky mud and built up as an accretion that was fitting for the large Japanese-inspired sculptural forms that mother slabbed out and built by hand.

In my home, these little items sit in a neat row on a shelf, just as in her studio. They serve no function nor are they displayed as works of art or craft. Their display is not nostalgic, yet they provide a palpable presence of mother and her ongoing study of an aesthetics captured in the vocabulary of her Prussian pragmatism.

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