If you've met with me in the last two years, I may have told you about my new art-making philosophy: I only make one new artwork a year.
This might not be the case for all artists, but when I'm not in the studio, I feel bad! I feel guilty for not culturally producing, guilty for not putting in the work that art-making requires, guilty for lacking rigor and experimentation, guilty for not selling work or making money, it goes on.
And the reality is that, as an art-ministrator and writer, I have relatively little time remaining to put into artworks. I'm not a maker by nature, it's something I work diligently at, and my projects are always planned years in advance, in order to allow me to troubleshoot them fully before they make it into the world.
In 2018, I had the pleasure of repeating "The Menstrual Cup Project" in Montreal (more on that later), but began the year with a new project entitled "One Year."
The premise is simple, inspired by ceramic's history of use and function, and recent projects like Jeni Hansen-Gard and Lauren Karle's Cups of Conversation and Ayumi Horie and Nick Moen's The Democratic Cup. I slab-built a simple coffee set, a pitcher and two cups, and left these on a table during the opening of the exhibition "Centered," my first curatorial project at the Lewistown Art Center that highlighted Central Montana artists and their global connections.
Participants were invited to sign up for a coffee date with me, every day that the Art Center was open, on hour before it opened. As someone who isn't a morning person, this project challenged me to wake up in service to others for a month, to make them coffee and comfortable, to ask questions and host.
March 2018 marked "one year" of my living in Central Montana, undoubtedly the hardest thing I've had to do. As a rural area with a low population, folks could immediately pick me out as "not from here," but I lacked that specific kind of sight, and assumed that most folks were from Central Montana, not an outsider like me.
The "One Year" project sought to connect me with my community in new ways, and each coffee date began with: How did you come to be in Central Montana? and I was shocked by the responses.
First, the majority of my participants identified as women (like Sandy (left) and Rosie (right)), and very few of them were from Lewistown originally. Many had moved for marriage, but just as many had moved for work.
Secondly, folks were excited to share their history, whether it was centered in Lewistown or not. I heard stories about breaking horses as a young girl, meeting the Poet Laureate Richard Hugo, earliest concerts, highschool hijinks, and tragic loss.
An hour wasn't enough for the majority of the conversations we had, although the pitcher perfectly held two cups of coffee for each of us. I was struck by how quickly the familiarity of ceramics, dishes, and ritual can set participants at ease, how difficult it is to wake up early consistently, and how diverse and multitudinous the Central Montana experience can be.
Mary Callahan Baumstark is a maker, writer, and researcher with an M.A. in Contemporary Art, Design, and New Media Art Histories from OCAD University in Toronto, Ontario. She is interested in trendspotting in contemporary ceramics and organizing socially engaged or activist projects. She is the current Resident Art Historian for the Socially Engaged Craft Collective.