We had the good fortune of connecting with Brenda Jones and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brenda, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I grew up in southeast Kansas and moved to Colorado a number of years ago. Growing up in the heartland with a military dad I learned a lot about discipline and self reliance. At the same time, I am a child of the 60’s and 70’s. As many women of my age can confirm, the career options laid out to girls in school and the media of the time were basically teacher, secretary, and nurse. Roe v. Wade happened when I was in high school, many women still recited marriage vows which included the phrase “love, honor and obey”, and women often were refused a bank account unless a male signed for them. Advertisements when I was growing up portrayed women primarily doing cooking and cleaning tasks as well as dressing up to serve the husband a refreshing cocktail when he came home from work. We’ve all seen those ads. Board games and elementary reading textbooks (think Dick and Jane) showed girls in pristine, clean dresses watching on the sideline as their male counterparts rode bikes, played baseball, climbed trees, and pulled frogs from ponds. I believe my parents were concerned that I did not embrace the expected female role and wanted to pursue a direction in the arts, focusing on ceramics. An unspoken compromise was reached with a career in art teaching. I will say it turned out to be a fantastic ride, getting to meet wonderful and diverse students, teachers/colleagues, friends and artists in many corners of the world. I now maintain an active studio practice focusing on ceramics and fiber arts. Additionally, I continue to do art teaching through Think360 Arts. My ceramic pieces are fairly large scale dress forms that incorporate surface narrative examining roles women take in society. Fiber pieces are found papers, treated with wax and sewn together as large scale aprons, sometimes up to 12 feet long, that also examine women’s roles and expectations. I think my background has always influenced my desire to stand up for women’s rights and responsibilities and I do that primarily through the art that I make.
It would be unfair, I think, to not give a shout out to my family. My husband, two sons, and dog have always supported me in my artistic pursuits. In fact, my dog is sleeping at my feet in my studio as I write this. I also want to give a nod to my brother as growing up I was always the rebel, thus causing a seemingly never ending stress and anxiety at the dinner table as my parents summarized what I did that broke the rules yet again.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Among other places, I have a number of pieces in Abbey Lane Gallery in Creede, Colorado. Occasionally, I work in the gallery as well. When customers come in, they don’t know me or that I have pieces in the gallery. I often hear them say that they have not seen work like mine and that it is different. I am excited to see people connect with the work, want to know more about it, and then, of course, purchase it. It is great fun to see someone love the work and want to take it with them. My work is sculptural ceramic, generally large scale figurative dress forms. I tend to want people to first engage with the surface, whether it is the imagery or the movement of the form. Then, I like to see what interpretation and story they bring to it and walk away with. I think in some ways, that is what might be more unusual about the work. A viewer can easily just be happy with the initial visual of it, but they can see their own experiences in it as well. I think my work can be seen as decorative or nostalgic, but it also has a deeper story. In fact, I have heard viewers say things like, “That reminds me of watching my gramma cook peach cobbler in her kitchen when I was growing up.” It’s so much fun, then, to have a longer conversation stemming from that initial reaction.
I didn’t come to creating ceramic forms that work overnight. I had a college ceramics teacher whose mantra was “the answer is in the work”. I have come back to that almost every day since then. Earlier I mentioned that my dad was military and I can say that I saw that idea of committing to work and getting things done in him, too.
I get up in the morning, go for an hour swim at the local pool, then come home and spend the day in my studio. I could sit at a table and puzzle about how to make a form twist a certain way and ruminate over the possibilities, but as my professor said, you have to just do it. I guess I think you can’t wait for it to happen someday, you just have to try it and work it out. It may look overwhelming and impossible, but you just need to start working. Just start. I often try something someone told me won’t work. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails, but that failure is so important. It always adds information to the story and solution. It is a critical part of getting the end point. Although I have a pottery wheel and throw some, I don’t do it much. But I can throw functional work fine and I taught many students how to throw. I used to hear students complain about not “getting” it the first few times. Some would want to give up. I strongly feel the answer to that well thrown bowl, or practically anything else in life, is in the work. So the first 40 thrown are lopsided or fall apart? That 41st bowl works and it is because of the previous work put into it and the learning from the failures before. It didn’t come from sitting and thinking about it. Or even spending the day looking at YouTubes to figure it out.
I do want to say, though, that I tend to be impatient and for that reason, very possibly irritating to other people. I don’t want to sit around and think about doing something. I want to jump in and try to make it work….now. That’s why the first time I whined my husband into helping me wire my kiln without reading instructions (because, “It can’t be that hard, can it? Other people do it”) and besides, I need it right this minute, we blew a fuse and everything sparked and smoked. I suppose a balance to jumping right in would be a tiny grain of patience and perhaps watching possibly one or two YouTubes.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
First of all, we have to come hang in my studio for a bit and make some art. I believe it is a respite and a very calming place. But, after a while there is probably not enough vitamin D there, so we would have to take a southwest road trip and stop at the weird roadside attractions. We’d wind our way along the Arkansas river past Canon City and check out the Royal Gorge as well as the funky tourist sites there. We’d make a stop at the Orient Land Trust near Villa Grove with the summer migratory evening bats as well as the Sand Dunes and the nearby hot springs. We’d wind our way over to Pagosa Springs after taking a little side trip to Creede to see the galleries and a Repertory Theater show. Then, on our way to Durango, we’ll visit Chimney Rock and watch the sunset. Mesa Verde, Cortez and the Crow Canyon Archeological Center are next with a stop at Hovenweep National Monument. Head back to the Million Dollar Highway and risk the drive up to Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We’ll probably bring our own food, but make a quick stop at Locavares in Alamosa or Three Barrels in Del Norte along the way.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I am so lucky to have met so many people through teaching and making art who have supported or guided me along the way. I’d definitely have to give a lot of credit to my art teacher in high school who was a mentor directing and encouraging me. Teachers can have a tremendous impact. On the flip side of that, I have to say that the students in my life have always been an inspiration to me. I have genuinely been blessed by them as they have unknowingly, I think, taught me so much. Throughout the years I have seen how they think, what makes them excited, learned from their struggles and successes. They have all made me a better person. More recently, I am lucky to have some wonderful cheerleaders in my life. When I am in doubt about what to do, they provide direction and affirmation. I belong to a clay group of women, Mudclub, who loved and worked with a wonderful Denver clay artist, Marie Gibbons. These are such caring, creative, and supportive individuals. Although I now live on the front range, my close friends down in the San Juans, including the book club there and gallery owner are so encouraging. I want to give a shout out to my family and their unending patience. My husband, two sons and their families, and dog have always supported me in my artistic pursuits. In fact, my dog is sleeping at my feet in my studio as I write this. I also want to give a nod to my brother, as growing up, I was always the rebel, thus causing a seemingly never ending stress and anxiety at the dinner table as my parents daily summarized what I did that broke the rules yet again.