Karen Christine Hibbard

Of Clay, Color, Gardening and Mr Albers

Of Clay, Color, Gardening and Mr Albers

“How long has it been? 6, 7 years, maybe.”

“How is your bog? We looked for it when we pulled up to your house but it was so dark”

“That’s a sad story. It was great, very exotic. I had collected some beautiful rare plants. I made all those trips to the Okefenokee when I was doing my botanical drawings of carnivorous plants, I made friends with the botanists there and they gave me sun dews and other cultivated exotic bog plants. But then we had a few year of drought it was hard to get out and water my bog enough after midnight. One year I went away for a few weeks on a grant, it might have been when I was looking at Walter Anderson’s work, when I came home it was all but gone. I thought the hardier plants would survive, but they were pretty shriveled up.”

“Cool pots, I like the way they work as a group, black and white.”

“You knew I was doing pottery.”

“I remember something about clay ceremonial oil pots.”

“ I thought I was only going to do that and stop but I continued. It was a way to do something during the winter when work made it impossible to do art. I started doing these small jars, following my black and white format. I used latex masks for the patterns. I got really involved in the process. Making them became an obsession. They’re almost alike but not. I’m taking a break from pottery now.’

“They seem to relate more to the color in your life than to the color in your artworks.”

“That may be because I see them as separate form my body of work. More domestic. Thus the black and white, like my house, rabbits, clothing choices.”

“But Black and White is a color choice so it is in a sense all connected.”

“I do some clay work too, I started making tiles for our kitchen project and then kept going, its addictive. I took a class at the Moravian Pottery and Tileworks and took a class at a local arts league to make more tiles. Once I learned the process I thought I could make them anywhere.

“So you made more and did you actually make the backsplash?”

“I did and we’re still happy with it When you visit again you’ll see it, Hint Hint.”

I kept taking the classes, they were more like indepentent studies. I made molds on my porch and the tiles in the pottery studio. Then I was hooked. Going down into the pottery studio is like entering another world, separate from the rest of my life. I did more tiles then lot and hand building. Last year I did a series of landscape tiles that were inspired by hipstamatic photos I took in New Mexico. They’re like nothing I’ve done before, kind of minimal. In each I used two glazes to make the landscape and left an unglazed border, hard to describe. I plan to do more but I have a new obsession. I learned how to throw this year and I really want to master the process. I feel like such a newbie sometimes. I spend an unusual amount of thinking about the pots, but they too seem apart from any other work I do, but I use the pots for photos so it’s all related. One plate came out of the kiln with a huge S crack and I said cool, they thought I was crazy. I was thinking about how I’d use it in photographs”

seed survey

“Are you still gardening?”

“Oh yes. I still have plots in a community garden and there’s my little back yard.

“So, I’ve done my seed survey and ordered mostly greens. I have the calabash tomatoes, fish pepper, lettuce, and bitter melon seeds from Monticello. When we were at Monticello we visited the garden, it’s a long narrow terrace overlooking the Blue Ridge mountains, there were vestiges of the garden from last year and greens that overwintered. The gardener gave me a handful of Texas bird peppers from the dried plants. I had a baggie handy from collecting shells in Florida. She said not to touch the pepper seeds with bare hands because they’re really hot. I like the connection to the past. Did you know that they grew bitter melons as ornamentals in Colonial Philadelphia? I read about Jefferson growing then at Monticello and found a Peale painting of vegetables including a ripe bitter melon split open with those wild red seed pods.”

the back yard in winter

“I do spend a crazy amount of time lost in the garden. Wandering from plot to plot. If I have my camera, forget it! I have a plan this year to really get grow most of the vegetables we eat. Especially greens, peppers, the noodle beans and tomatoes. I find that some things grow better in my back yard in pots, especially hot peppers and certain green. I want to use my backyard better. It’s strewn with pots right now and there’s the green winter compost bin there must be a way to organize it better. I’m going to try not to fill up the yard with house plants, and use more of the containers for crops. And then there are the Xmas trees past. I use them to block a hole in the fence but maybe chicken wire would do the job and I’d get more room. It’s a small yard after all. I’m inspired by all the urban farms cropping up in my neighborhood.”

“Urban Farms?”

“It’s funny, Community gardens used to be the thing but now people are talking about farming. They even have chickens, although hawks and raccoons get them some of them.”

the back plot in my community garden, with mica

“I try to perfect it every year. One year I did a weekly blog about my progress and the community garden gardening cycle. Last year I tried something new with tomatoes. I’ve always been lured by the catalog promises of all these great tomatoes so I started several varieties and when you have 20 plant the temptation is to use lots of them. Last year I grew only Brandywines, and planted only 4 plants. It was my best tomato harvest. But also last year I grew too many turnips and the roly polys got the ones I didn’t harvest right away, and the bitter melons grew over the tomatillos. So there’s always something. Then someone grows something cool that I didn’t think of. One year another gardener grew red noodle beans. Now I grow them every season. They’re abundant, the bean beetles don’t eat them and they look great. They have theses tow feet long deep red beans that grow in clusters.”

“So you grow them because you like the way they look? Do you plan the garden so you can use it for photos or do photos happen because of the garden plan.”

“OK so it’s some of both. But I can’t control what grows in the next plot so there are always visual surprises.”

“You always were cooking interesting things. You had that Indian cookbook before any of us thought about that kind of food.”

“The most exotic thing we were eating then was Pizza with green chiles!”

Texas bird peppers in the garden at Monticello

"What are you teaching now?"

“I’m in foundations, mostly freshmen. I do still teach color theory. It’s different though, there are curriculum requirements that I have to meet. But I do my own mix of color theory. I start with the Albers problems then extend it with other color theories I’ve studied. I try to make them do projects that reflect on the past using their world today. Did you do Albers in school, I didn’t.”

“Albers was the color theory we did. I spent ages doing the exercises with coloraid paper and rubber cement. I remember the smell like it was yesterday. It was like a game. I’d get carried away looking for colors that worked especially well. I still have many of my Albers studies. Do you think it really works.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you know his theory was that if you did all of these exercises. If you did them and explored all of the color interactions in his book, you would achieve a sensitivity to color. It was as though by doing these you were assimilated the color knowledge. Like learning Welsh.”

I’ve been doing a lot of research on Black Mountain lately, a fascinating place.

Wouldn’t it be great to be in one of those places on the edge of some kind of interaction of the arts. Like Black Mountain or Charleston.

Do you think your work would be different, richer or the same. I think we’re all basically who we are no matter how we try to reinvent ourselves. I tried that with Chris then Christine. I guess I’m still Christy on Crisman Street in Forty Fort at heart.

Chris in the art studios Beaver-Arcadia

“When you paint do you actually think about color theory or do things happen because you’ve spent so much time on the theory?”

“I think you work on color theory enough that the work becomes about color. I could spend hours looking at the meditation on a square.”

“My mother-in-law had the series in her apartment. I was amazed and in awe of it at first, they were the real thing. Just there lining one of her walls. She had this very white apartment. Clean and modern.”

“I have my copy of the Interaction of Color from college and a copy of the newer edition. I read some of it now and then. It’s still illuminating.”

“I was at an alumni meeting at Arcadia/Beaver and I went to the art studio. I always have to. It’s always feels the same. The same smells. The printing presses we used are in the same place.”

“And the Albers studies were on the wall”