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By Careen Stoll
A visit to Katy McFadden’s studio and garden overlooking Tryon Creek State Park seems like dropping into a forest dreamworld. McFadden makes prints and ceramic sculpture: her interaction with the natural world yields figures in the garden that seem more to have come there of their own will because they found it home rather than placed there by a human with a plan. The figures are sometimes animated with the spirit of another sentient being- a fox, a bird or the creatures of the sea, and standing in groups as friends or fellow travelers.
McFadden spent her childhood playing in the ebb and flow of the tides on the coast of New Jersey. The sense of motion between spaces has deeply influenced her work over the decades that she has been making, teaching, and travelling. Boundaries between sea and land are spaces of constant change, as are the perceived boundaries between animal, plant and human. Her sense of human connection is of a similarly porosity. She says, of travel: “I love to travel because I see the commonality between people as opposed to a difference- the core is the same- we want to be accepted, be loved, have family around us. The things that make us different are just social constructs…. [People can see the] movement in a piece [of art], and can respond to it without an understanding of who your are or where you come from.”
As a fellow clayworker, the author is well aware of the labor involved in creating on the human scale at which McFadden works. I am amazed that such a beautiful and strong but small woman manages to make these figures. Most of them are fired at her studio in a large kiln that runs on natural gas. But she sometimes opts to fire them in a wood-firing kiln, an extremely labor-intensive process. I asked her how she does it, and her work ethic in general. She explains that sometimes she just goes into the studio and rolls out slabs. Then she’s put herself into a situation that’s made it more fertile to create, and the muse comes. About her work ethic, she replies in jest, “I don’t know what else to do with myself”, a re-iteration of an earlier comment that “art transcends the particular, and there is nothing else worth doing”.
Teaching she calls “the left hand”, the one that passes the nourishment of process and understanding to the next generation. Process is revealed as a “point on a line of non-ownership”, echoing her artist statement: “we are voices for a short period of time”. Her classes are explorations of the language of clay process, with the objective that students can translate an understanding of process to any other material. She taught in Cape Cod for years. Now she teaches at Clackamas Community College.
Katy McFadden’s studio is number two on the map. She participated in Portland Open Studios years ago and then took a break. We’re excited that she has decided to open her studio again this year. You can see more of her work at katymcfadden.com.