Name: Leanne McClurg Cambric
Current Location: Homewood, IL
Education: BFA, University of MN- Twin Cities 1997, MFA, Louisiana State University 2002
Preferred Art Medium(s): Porcelain (but I have a fair amount in Earthenware and Stoneware)
Children (ages and genders): Two boys 3 and 7, 1 son Rocket, stillborn would be 8.
Website address(es): www.leannemcclurg.com
What is your background (where are you from, education, important details, where are you know, etc.)?
I was born in southern Oregon but moved to Anchorage, Alaska when I was 5 and stayed until college. I grew-up around artists and craftsmen, people who were DIY everything, live off the land, and knee deep in nature. My Freshman year of college I attended Weber State University in Ogden, UT because I received a music and art scholarship but I transferred to the University of MN my sophomore year and lived there for 7 years. I loved the Twin Cities, I was surrounded by so many fabulous potters. I was fortunate to have a great group of peers, and I was thrilled by the music scene at the time. Outside of academia I’ve worked mostly in special collections libraries and museums, and with a long list of funny side jobs, fish slimer among them..
I moved to Baton Rouge in 1999 to attend LSU. I was swallowed up by food, music, culture, and community and stayed there for 13 years teaching full time at area colleges and Universities, making work, and eventually starting a family. The disastrous economic crash of 2008 cost me my job, I was laid-off from Higher Ed in 2009 when I was 8 months pregnant. I went back to adjuncting and ended up starting a short-lived community pottery studio business called Red Hot Center for Clay. We left Baton Rouge in 2012 because I accepted a tenure-track position at Governors State University in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Was there any part of your formal or non-formal training that prepared you for being a creative maker and mother simultaneously?
I’m not sure anything could have prepared me.
Are there any women that you find to be an inspiration for you as an artist/mother?
I’ve learned different things from a handful of distant glances and conversations of other artist/mothers who were older than me such as Lisa Orr, Kate Blacklock, Denise Pelletier but truth be told I have learned the most from my peers who have been rocking this artist/mother/professional life (all-be-it exhaustingly). I recently co-wrote an article on the subject with Beth Robinson and Kari Radasch but I could give a longer shout-out to so many others in the field (not to mention outside ceramics) who I empathize with.
Mikey Walsh and I had and have had volumes of discussions about the trials of the whole process from trying to conceive, to high-risk and old mom pregnancies, to the loving brutality of being a mom and still making show deadlines, academic life, and studio time happen. Others who I watch or commiserate with some of whom you have included in your spotlight) are , Erin Furimsky, Jeannie Hulen, Edie Tsong, Haejung Lee, Shoko Teruyama, Yoojeung Park, Liz Lurie, Kelly Connole, Andrea Keys Connell, Jen Allen, Emily Schroder Willis, Shanna Fliegel, Lindsay Oesterritter, Liz Smith, Aysha Peltz, Meredith Brickell, Merrie Wright. That’s a good list and I make a point of calling them out because the whole idea of being an artist and mom should be normalized. I want to say thank you to everyone on that list for helping me, sometimes from afar, to let me know it’s ok, you are not alone, these people understand the struggle.
Can you talk about how you balance your role of artist and the role of mother?
Did you take time off after the birth of your children? With my 7 year old I had been recently laid off and I was collecting unemployment at the time of his birth. I also had c-sections with both boys so I took the 6 weeks off post surgery but I was back at teaching and being in the studio in a few months. Both boys were born in October and I went back to studio life by December and work in mid-January. I enjoyed going back to work. I’m not sure I’ve would have kept my sanity if I was a full-time stay-at-home mom. I enjoy going to the studio, teaching, and having non-children related conversations.
How did that work? Studio work was actually easier when they were little, they didn’t move so much. Swings, Slings, and Nap Time were key. Now they have their own space in my studio. They both like drawing and painting so they are happy to hang out and create alongside of me.
What about childcare? I get by on very little outside help. My husband has a flexible schedule so he takes off the two long days I teach. We have a M-F daytime only sitter who helps when I have meeting but I try to budget outside obligations, work, and studio time in the spaces that now exist when the boys are at school. Our 3 year old will start full-day preschool in the fall and it will usher in a new era of having entire days to myself to work in the studio. It’s been 8 years of balancing boys at home during the day with studio time. I will never understand why artists would home-school. I can’t wait for them to go to school so I can go to the studio.
How did you navigate making artwork? It’s more like Carmina Burana, inaudible whispers to roaring chorus, with an irritating repetitive background of Wheels on the Bus and the Family Finger song and a finale of Kendirck Lamar “Alright”.
You are from Alaska, attended school in Minnesota then in Louisiana, and currently reside in Chicago. These places are diverse especially in terms of nature and weather. How have these locations informed your narratives and imagery?
I think there is something very raw and brutal about the weather in AK, MN, and LA, to a lesser extent Chicago. I feel less like I am surviving here against the elements but rather enduring them. We have actual 4 seasons so nothing really settles in to make you as miserable weather wise. It also means I have had to adjust to really changing humidity in the studio. For instance I used a propane torch to help dry things out almost everyday I lived in Louisiana. The narrative work was strongly influenced by what I was experiencing day to day, perhaps my drift away from the narrative is indicative of the weather here.
Your artwork delves into of functional ceramics, sculpture and drawing. How does this work? Is one area (function, sculpture, drawing) more prevalent in your thinking than another? How does each of these ways of making inform one another? Has it changed over time? What are the advantages/disadvantages of working broadly while honoring your own ideology?
I’m terribly undisciplined and selfish when it comes to art making. What I mean by that is I make what I want, when I want, and I don’t care much if it makes sense to others. It’s a problem on some level professionally because I move around a lot in terms of thoughts, tangents, experiments and how I spend my time. I wouldn’t recommend it to others as a good model for how to have a career as the viewing audience, galleries, buyers, like a little more consistency than what I thrive on. I am completely in awe of people who can stick with an almost singular style or idea for a long period of time.
At the heart of how I see myself is a potter. I spent many years training to be a competent thrower long before I hand-built pots and it is at core of my practice. But it is within the realm of the hand-built pot that I define myself. I’ve been using soft slabs and pinching for close to 22 years now (cough!). And almost from the beginning I was also drawing,making furniture, printmaking, doing installation work, sewing, making sculptures. While I work in short and long orbits with it all, most of what I do has been in close to the same family for a few decades. I recently just ended a cycle of working heavily with narrative and imagery and have gone back to non-representational work. A return to a style of work that I last made about 15 years ago. You just have to know me longer to see how it all plays out. So far I don’t paint on canvas or otherwise, I don’t care for glass, and I don’t like metal much (casting or welding it) but we will see what the next 22 years brings, I might surprise myself.
How did you arrive at your installations as a solution for displaying functional works?
Early on, before I took up ceramics at all I worked in installation and space. I joke a little that I went backwards from contemporary trajectories, I was a multi-media installation artist and then became a potter. So with that, perhaps even the first show of ceramic work I was in, I built colorful plywood shelves that hung on the wall. I really enjoy thinking about spaces for the pots to rest on the wall. Usually the pots come first and then as I am working on them I think of spaces or narratives that they would fit into.
What does this display do for the ceramic objects and what do the ceramic objects do for their surrounding visual display?
Is it more about experience or about making a viewer work to find the pots and thus perhaps take more time with the work? Or both?
It is a historical reference that just keeps taking steps farther and farther down an inventive path. There was a time when a woman’s dowry was in her collection of dinnerware, displayed openly on the wall or in a hutch that was very visible and important wall space. Those spaces in my mind are echoed in how I think of display. For instance, in my home most of my pottery collection is displayed in some way on the wall, either on an open shelf or in a cupboard. I just take that arrangement much farther when the works are on display in the gallery.
You wrote a wonderful piece for the Studio Potter Winter/Spring 2017 volume dedicated to the theme of Women in Ceramics. Can you talk about your writing titled Successful Women Do Have Children? What was the catalyst for this piece?
I think I just get tired of the sexism of hearing people tell me that you have to choose career or family. I just know so many awesome Mom/Artists who are doing it and Kari, Beth, and I have pretty much come through this experience at about the same time.
What did you learn through the process of your writing?
I hate writing but I do it anyway. I hate reading what I wrote after I’ve written and edited so many times. It’s a real labor for me. But, that said I’ve written 3 articles for Studio Potter mostly because I feel the need to be part of the conversations had within our community. Writing helps me learn about myself and it’s a good feeling to engage with others through the process.
What advice could you give mothers of young children as the think about their studio practice and maternity?
Don’t underestimate your ability to be anything and everything you think you can be and simultaneously lower your expectations about hygiene right now, it will be easier in the long run.
Are there any projects, hobbies, or activities (ex. Running, knitting, tea connoisseur, arts organizations, volunteering, etc.) outside of your artistic practice that you feel passionately about? What are they? Do you find them feeding your practice? If so how?
I love working on my house. I do a lot of remodeling projects and I find a good deal of satisfaction thinking about solutions to problems we live with and forging ahead. I could probably work housing/ remodeling construction everyday and be pretty happy.
Anything else we should know?
Good Grief. I am able to speak more about the role grief has played in my life now that I have had some distance. The grief is completely intertwined with my role as mother and artist as it mostly revolves around the stillbirth of my first born in 2008. I have had many conversations with other artist moms, many in the ceramics field, about the emotional exhaustion of losing children to miscarriage and stillbirth, or to the grief of years of infertility. I can focus on the present and talk about how I balance studio, boys, and academia but there is shadow around all of it that is about the echo of the journey to get here. I can still cry at the mere mention of my lost son but I don’t avoid it. I’m ok talking about death. I try to speak about it more publicly because when it first happened I felt like no one was able to talk about it with me and it was a tremendously isolating experience. I only knew of one other couple who might know what I was going through and I did not know them well at all, I only knew them professionally and it was such a raw experience. I had met Liz Lurie and Pete Beasecker when we were all in Art of the Pot 2005 (an Austin based Studio Pottery tour and sale.) They were knee deep in grief at the recent loss of their daughter. While at the time I could not yet relate to what they were going through, they were filed away in my brain as the visual of an immeasurable amount of pain and loss. When we met we were, talking about pots, enjoying the beautiful May Austin with dancing and music and good food, pottery, and being struck in the face with their hollowness of Mother’s Day.
A few years later when my son was stillborn I could not get them out of my head. I reached out to them because we had these two really powerful things in common and to me it meant we knew something about each other that no one else did, we new stillbirth and ceramics. Our ceramic community is filled with these layers and networks that allow us to not only know each other better but to help us understand ourselves. I didn’t know how to be a mom artist and so I looked to my community. I also did not know how to be a grieving parent artist but I watched Liz and Peter work through it from my side of the world and knew somehow I was going to as well. It has taken us years to get to a space where we can even talk about it with each other but I get it and they get it and we share this space in the community.
I had a student when I was running Red Hot Clay, who was in her late 70’s. She had taken a pottery a few years back and her friends encouraged her to come take some classes. We got to talking one day, as you do in the studio, and we both revealed to each other the story of our lost sons. Her son had been hit by a car when her was 5 years old, crossing the street from her parents house to her father’s office. It had been almost 40 years since his death. She had 7 children in total and there was not a day that went by that she did not carry the grief of the loss of her son. Americans deal with grief by not talking about it, like it’s too hard to say out-loud. It’s a hard conversation but it is an incredibly isolating experience to not feel allowed to talk about it. So Saundra and I talked about it. We’ve spent so many hours talking about it and parenting over the years and we’ve done with clay under our fingers. I even taught her how to sculpt a portrait of him from a photograph and it was one of the more powerful teaching experiences I’ve had.
In my recent studio work I have being making wall shrines with urns. The urn is black stoneware and embraced by a wood stylized tulip form. The wood piece hangs over top of the urn and is used to cradle and protect the urn on the wall. These are dark objects to make compared to the joy of a cake stand but the funerary pieces help me process the amount of grief I’ve experienced in the last decade. They also have a social undertone as they are particularly influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement. As the mother of two bi-racial children I see their lives so easily snatched away based solely on racial prejudice and fear. The urns are in memory of any mother who has lost a child, in any senseless circumstance.
I’m not trying to be the face of stillbirth, or miscarriage, or struggles with infertility, or when your child dies, or any other sucky thing that comes along with striving to be the best parent in a sea of imperfection. But, I absolutely want to acknowledge the unimaginable trauma and pain all of this parenting can take on you. It helps that we make art, or at least it helps me to make art. It’s how I deal with it all. It has been important for me to share with others the valuable role of being an artist while experiencing grief just as much as being an artist parenting. I experience my life through a studio practice and it’s not always pretty, or consistent, or rational but it is honest.
Finally, just for fun. If you were to make a playlist today what would be your top 5 favorite songs? Too hard! I’m doing 10.
UGK. One Day
Peaches. Fuck the Pain Away
LCD Soundsystem. I Can Change
Outkast. Morris Brown
Nina Simone. Little Girl Blue
Willie Nelson. I Never Cared For You
Morning 40 Federation. Washing Machine
John Coultrane. Love Supreme
Janelle Monae’. Lettin Go
Missy Elliot. Work It.