In Her Words: Martie Geiger-Ho Reflects on Her Residency

October 26, 2018 by

Standing the test of time itself, the charming rural building that houses Women Studio Workshop (WSW) is both a testament to the ethos of this institute, and a haven for artistic exploration and community education. There is a comforting feeling of permanence and security at WSW, which is reinforced firstly by its location in New York State’s Hudson Valley, and secondly by its facilities: historically preserved rooms of beautifully conditioned traditional printmaking equipment, an inviting papermaking facility, a full ceramic studio with subterranean rock walls and a cabin-like hideaway ambiance, and an in-progress new library room for archived and accessioned books and other written and recorded materials.

My main area of concentration is ceramics, but I am also versed in the areas of papermaking and easel painting. Visiting the papermaking studio on my way down to the ceramics studio made me feel as though I was in a place where crafts connected with the natural world. In this space water and earth materials are highly regarded, and in tandem with a certain kind of working rhythm.

Actually, it was this kind of respect and reverence for handmade materials and processes–that require careful planning and execution before an artwork or article such as a ceramic object, sheet of paper, print, or book can be realized–that invoked in me a feeling of connection to these time-honored artforms. At Women’s Studio Workshop there was a certain kind of poetics that seemed to flow between the artists, their studio activities, and the walls of the interconnected buildings.

My five-week residency began on August 27, 2018, which was six weeks after my six-year period of teaching art and ceramics as an assistant professor at the University of Brunei Darussalam. This institution is the national university for the tiny Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, located between the countries of Malaysia and Indonesia on the almost continent-sized landmass of Borneo. In addition to its oil fields the country also counts a major rainforest preserve among its greatest natural treasures.

The timing of my residency was important because the concentrated art-making time allowed me to transition back into some of the work that I was developing when I left my home with my husband in Pennsylvania to work full time in Brunei. Since I was unable to work with glazes because of a lack of materials overseas, I had to work with local clays that I dug by hand. The work I was developing–glazed cone 6 porcelain and stoneware work using common crushed glass and an industrial small porcelain balls used as tumbling medium–had to wait.

This is the research that I continued during my residency. The pre-fired porcelain medium can be used as a surface treatment, either pushed directly into wet clay or brushed on as an addition to slips or glazes. It can be purchased from several different companies that sell it on Amazon in smaller amounts than the volume used in industrial processes to tumble rocks.

I also found that larger balls are sold as gourmet baking pie weights (The snow white porcelain pie weights are placed on raw dough piecrust and baked with the pie shell to keep the bottom crust from puffing up. The balls can be used indefinitely.) Because to my knowledge no other ceramists are using these pre-made porcelain balls in their work I am hoping to turn my research and resulting artwork into a “how-to” article for submission to a well-circulated pottery journal.

The best part of my residency was sharing and learning new techniques and ideas with Ruth, Cheyenne, and Rachel in the ceramics studio. Even after finishing my residency I still feel connected to everyone that I met there. I know that I will stay in touch with the WSW because I know of no other organization that offers so much in the way of encouragement and moral support in addition to a wonderful place to work.