Switching to Clay Life Blog

I’m trying to switch over to another blog.

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IMG_20150905_131138_540  newkiln

When I was studying Sculpture at PNCA, in about 1996, I inherited my grandmother’s ceramics shop. I had not known her well. What I remember about her is that she had a handkerchief full of bling that she kept in her bra so that she could change the rings she wore on every finger throughout the day. When she did so, she would sing “diamonds are a girls best friend”. She was a large woman with an even larger personality. I had only met her a few times, but it appeared that I was showing aptitude of some sort and I thank Grandpa John for thinking of me to accept her supplies. Grandpa John had also given me my first commission a few years earlier: A really…hideous…figure sculpture which my mom has now. (Mom, please take that thing off the mantle. I’m begging you. Those breasts are like chameleon eyeballs searching for predators.)

I was sharing a 1 bedroom apartment at the time (I had the boarded up dining room) so, as the boxes began to arrive, I sorted, donated and place things into a storage unit. I donated glazes, molds and decals to my school. They were an ironic time capsule or cherubs and florals that would surely be gleefully twisted by fine art students. For myself, I kept Vera’s brushes, clay tools, sketchbook, vintage rhinestones and glitter and…the kiln, which had arrived in 3 huge boxes. It has moved around with me for these past 19 years. Vera’s kiln (circa 1972) has lived again for the past three years in my studio and it’s been a good little work horse. The only problem was that I was concurrently being spoiled by having a new digital kiln to use at the University where I was teaching. The differences in quality could not be ignored. I have finally replaced ol’ “Vera” with “Vera II”. Feel free to congratulate me. I also got a cell phone and a 21st Century car this year.

The changing of the kiln is influencing the work I’m making. My work has always revolved around family and the individual. My last body of sculptures featured accumulations of various materials I had collected (or inherited) placed on the blank canvas of a single figure. This is “Gift”, plaster over armature, and Vera’s doilies. It’s about 46″ high.


It may seem like I am being irreverent with my heirlooms but I don’t see it that way. Making art from this material is my highest expression of respect. It’s not like when I cut up Mom’s wedding dress for the crinoline so that I could dress up like Madonna…

Below is a detail of a piece called “Vera”. It’s the hemline and feet of the figure. I’m not very happy with the figure or the photos so this is all I’m going to show of it. Ceramic with chandelier crystals, rhinestones, paint and resin. It’s about 23″ high.


You can see the rest of this body of work at www.vickilynnwilson.net

I find that my new functional work is inspired by the same kinds of textures that I associate with family, inheritance and memory. At very least, a piece like this is damn near channeling Vera:


I have a really weird relationship with the memory of my grandmother. She was not known for her kindness, especially to my mother. I think most people look for connections and belonging and I have always longed for more heritage and feeling like I was connected to my lineage. Vera was an unlikely place for me to find that. I can’t deny my love of glitter, rhinestones and, indeed, real gemstones. Sparkle is my other middle name. I have a flair for the dramatic and a temper, though not so much as Vera. I have wound up in the same career and what is really trippy, is the newspaper article my mom gave me a year ago ( as I contemplated a leap to the full time studio and from the year I was born, no less). It’s about her teaching! It described her as a “mean teacher” who gets results because she doesn’t put up with sloppy, crude work. I laugh to myself every time I read that line. (Former students of mine, hollah!) She also defends the use of molds in ceramics. I. LOVE. MOLDS. I make most of my own molds and I use them differently than her, but that’s a fairly specific connection. So I will leave you with this little gem from the December 29th, 1974 edition of the TODAY newspaper. The original can be found on the glaze cabinet door in my studio:vera_ceramics001

September 2015: Fresh Start

Day 1: Life After Adjunct

I have been transitioning from an Adjunct Professor of Art into a full-time Ceramic Studio Artist for several months now. The day has finally come when grades have been submitted, keys have been handed in, my office and supplies have been moved back home and studio work begins in earnest. I’ve been thinking about this work for so long I just want to burst. It may not seem very exciting. I made coffee mugs all day, but I made all day. I made things I like with my hands.


I even made an impromptu sculpture that I was very pleased with.

There are people out there making a living from their studio work. If they can do it, so can I.

You will have questions, I’m sure. Who am I talking to? Good question. I will have questions. I may use this space to ask and answer my own questions in a way that may reach others. I think the teacher in my heart (who has just settled down for a nap) needs an outlet to continue communicating.

A busy week around the garden

As things move along in the garden, the plan changes shape. It has to, improvisation and flexibility are crucial here. The shed being created by the Oregon Tradeswomen (I can’t thank them enough) is so adorable, it is bound to be a focal point of the garden. Over the Fall and Winter months, the plan is to have a landscaping and organizing effort around the shed in particular and start developing the garden outward. We are still short of wood for building the garden beds, so they won’t all be appearing at once. Using everything we have on site, first, will help us make a plan for what kind of donations to ask for in the coming year. As it stands, there is a need for more untreated, unpainted cedar pickets and lengths of 2×6 or 2×12 cedar. We are sure to need more cedar 4×4 posts, too.



This week’s thank-you’s:

Pieper Café-I was really hungry when I picked up this lunch for the Oregon Tradeswomen. The smell of those sandwiches was totally making me salivate! The ladies really appreciated your show of support, Pieper Café, and I appreciate your good energy and suggestions as well. Also, I am all about the Vanport sandwich! I love fruit on a turkey sandwich!


Lily Day Café– This was the third time that Lily Day has brought some of their deliciousness to the garden. I heard that they were savory pastries-some with pine nuts and spinach and some with tomato and cheese. I wouldn’t know because they were GONE by the time I heard Lily Day Café had come by the garden. This is all I saw:


Truly a testament to tastiness!

Mittleman Jewish Community Center and neighbor Jennifer-Right at the height of my wood panic and Craigslist scouring I received an email from neighbor Jennifer about a dumpster full of cedar at her work. Luckily I was able to jump right in the truck and go to it. Thank you, Mittleman Jewish Community Center. Your renovation plans included removing the men’s sauna. This is a great deal of nice cedar and it’s going to make fantastic raised bed boards. I’ll be sure to post pictures of the transformation.  Thanks also to Linda from MJCC who helped me get to some of the wood out and who I could tell felt much better that the wood would be used again.


Neighbors Mace and Paula-After all of the vandalism hub-bub from last week, we’ve all been overlooking the broken glass that still lay in the street. Thanks to neighbor Mace for cleaning that up. Thanks, also, to neighbor Paula who thought of the garden when she had extra dirt and straw.

The GLEAN show opens at Disjecta this coming Friday from 6-9

Please join me for an artist reception next Friday:
The GLEAN project opens at Disjecta August 16, 6-9
The show runs August 16-Sept 8

For the past 6 months I, along with 4 others, have been artist-in-residence at the Metro Waste Transfer Station (aka the dump). We have each created a body of work from 98% (or better), material which was salvaged from the transfer station.

Visit the GLEAN blog at
Disjecta, 8371 N. Interstate Ave, Portland
Gallery hours: Friday through Sunday, 12-6 Phone: (503) 286-9449Image

This piece is:  “Fasces” (male).  Candle wax, grape vine, sticks, coconut fiber, steel rods, and aluminum hardware cloth.


I grew up with diamonds in my pockets

Ok! Who gleaned the bridal undies? I came in today and there they were! I thought they looked nice with this pile of mattresses in the background.

I also found this lovely little trooper clinging to one of the building columns:

So-down to business now. I think perhaps the interview process for the GLEAN residency should include one more question. “Are you a pack-rat or do you have hoarding issues?” I, well, I do. I don’t actually know if that makes me more or less suited for this type of work. My last show, Cumulus, explored the theme of hoarding because it is on my mind a lot and I am often confronted with space issues. Throughout my life I have often had dreams of homes full to the ceiling of things. At different times in my life I have interpreted it differently and I am currently in a constant battle to streamline. Nevertheless, I removed 350 lbs from the Transfer Station today…happily.

I need to talk about my dad for a minute. Each time I glean, I go right for the broken glass. For years, when a car got broken into in the neighborhood, I would collect the broken auto glass. It goes back to my childhood and, as I stared into the broken glass ocean today, I thought of dad.

Dad did auto salvage and towing. I grew up with broken glass. Because of my dad, I understood recycling and the impact of our junk on a different level. I got to go to the junkyard, carry hand fulls of auto glass in my pockets (pretending they were diamonds). I was in love with that claw that bit the cars and picked them up. I have no fear of materials and I always thank dad for that. It was clear that he preferred to teach his son things like welding and pulling apart cars, after all Jr would follow in his footsteps, but I worked for and valued his attention, especially once I got to college and I knew my work made him proud. It makes me smile when I think how he would have reacted to hearing about this program. It would be one grunt, kind of a “ha!”. Then he would kick back in his chair and look dreamy for a minute. Then he’d say excitedly, “Hey, Vic-ya know what you should do?”

I guess that is why I had to bring home these three 2×8′ panels of safety glass. I really have no idea how they are going to fit into this work but I felt emotionally attached to them. I saw an employee dragging one into the garbage pile and he said it couldn’t be recycled (which made me want it more). There were several of them. I stopped at three, sighting the rule of design that says groups of three are more interesting than 2 or 4. Toward the end of my day I found three pieces of plywood cut at exactly the same dimensions. Kismet!


I think I have gleaned enough for a while, now. I’m going back tomorrow but just to sort out a few “maybes”. Nothing new! I hope anyway. Here are a few of the textural scores I brought home today. In case you’re curious, that image that looks like a bee box with beeswax in it…yup.

Testing, Testing…does this thing work?

My first trip to Hazardous Waste was quite a haul and I have been testing the products I brought back to the studio. Here is most of what I gleaned on that first trip.

I gleaned the cabinet from the side of the road in my neighborhood. I have to separate my residency gleanings from the rest of my studio to avoid cross-contamination with things I have gleaned elsewhere.

My tests don’t look like much yet. I’m just answering questions like, can Shellac, Varathane or Polyurethane be used as a binder for casting? Seems like yes on a small scale but I’m not sure if it will work on the scale I’m envisioning. I’ve got a pretty clear picture of the installation as a whole but I’m looking forward to discovering the individual textures and processes. I got four cans of expanding foam on that first trip. I was really surprised that they were there, completely unopened, until…the first can I tried. The plastic nozzle broke off while I was attaching the extension…so, no good. The second can I opened worked but seemed like it had no pressure or perhaps that it was plugged. It trickled out slowly. I used what I needed for the test and then set it down on the studio floor. When I returned in the morning, it had turned itself into A BEAUTIFUL SCULPTURE!

One of the best things I brought home from Bay 1 was a pile of blue fabric. I later discovered it was 9 continuous yards of blue Velour. Mmmm


The fabric was unexpected and it was an inspiration. It will surely be making an appearance at the show.

First Gleaning

Yesterday I gleaned for the first time. I spent the first two hours in Hazardous Waste. Nice people. I realized through my conversations with them that they are true environmental advocates-and not just the kind who say “Hooray for the environment”. They live it every day. I got to go through 5 large bins of construction and house related products, leaving with  185 lbs of cement, caulking, spray foam, polyurethane, paint and glue. These are “no-brainer” necessities for the work I’m about to do. I was stunned by the numbers of unopened containers, as well as by the financial cost represented in these bins. I was happy to learn that a reuse group called Golden Harvesters does redistribute some of these items and that Habitat for Humanity uses some of the construction material. It is a really good idea to separate out anything remotely usable when you are taking things there. There are so many avenues of reuse being employed there.  (Below are 3 of the 5 bins I went through)


The really fun part is in Bay 1. It was Monday. I’d heard that it was mostly business and construction debris on those days and that is ok with me. The weekend is when individuals unload their treasures most often. I kind of like the construction debris. I was drawn to the broken glass and rubble piles. It occurs to me that I’m probably not even looking for the fantastic-thing-that-is-still-usable -and-I-can’t-believe-they-threw-it-away. When I found those things-and I did-St Vincent DePaul or the Rebuilding Center were standing by to receive them. I wound up taking things like packing peanuts, broken glass, Polystyrene and carpet padding-things that were in no short supply! Those feel like important things to me. I feel like I want to document the texture of the place. I already have a pretty solid vision of this installation and that statement is compatible. I left with a total of 220 lbs. I don’t think I’ll be back for a while though, until I’ve tried some processes out to make sure they work. When I got home, I took a long nap.


Learning the Ropes


GLEAN:  I’m taking part in an artist residency program for the next 6 months. 5 artists will be creating artwork from materials gleaned from the Metro Transfer Station. The work has to be 99% or better created from waste. There will be a show at Disjecta that opens August 16, 2013. If you’d like to follow their adventures as well, check out www.gleanpdx.org
Below is my first post:

Well, hello there. It seems like just the other day that we were getting our orientation at the Transfer Station. That’s because it was. I learned some things. I learned that about 38% of what goes to the station is sorted back out and re-purposed. I learned that a truckload of Styrofoam can be melted back down into a lump the size of a basketball and then made into other things.

I learned that behind Bay 1 of the Transfer Station (the place where most of us part with our excess), there is a line of workers at a conveyor belt, sorting and looking for things that can be recycled or reused. I learned that, despite working around garbage chaos and noise all day, all of the employees (of the Transfer Station and of Recology) seemed excited and proud of the work they do. I especially like James, the Operations Supervisor for Recology -what a gregarious dude!

I also was reminded, because I used to know this, that beautiful birds (Falcons) are employed at the station to chase off the slightly less beautiful birds (Seagulls) who become a hazard and a nuisance to the work flow.  Their boss is called the Falconer.

I also learned that all of the garbage from Portland, up to Seattle, and over into Idaho gets dumped in a landfill in a place called Arlington, out in the Gorge.

I left the Transfer Station feeling better about garbage than I usually do, though. It was the end of the month and the place was fairly cleaned out. There was less to see than I have seen on previous trips there-when I was adding to the pile. Out of sight, out of mind I suppose. And isn’t that the biggest problem of all?

As a sculptor I try to reuse as much as I can but some processes make waste. I struggle with it and I have been asking myself questions for a long time. Why do we put art into the world?  That seems to be the easiest one to find an answer for from an artist’s point of view. But, what if no one likes or wants it? How many painting class nightmares and “so…What is it?” sculptures are already buried in the landfill? I know a few of mine are there. Even if I like what I made enough to keep it, where can I put it? When I run out of spaces, where will things go?

A proper end

I am thrilled to share a 5 minute documentary of the Cumulus installation. It is amazing that what took a year to conceive and three months to create can be summed up in 5 minutes. I’m so thankful to PCC Media for taking an interest in the show and making such a quality production. I will always cherish this footage. Beside a few animals, and the feelings and knowledge that are left with me, there is little else of the show that remains.