Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Kept my fingers in the clay", ceramist C.C. Bookout

C.C. Bookout at Riverhead studio
Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
Let us start with unraveling the mystery of the initials - C.C. in C.C. Bookout - they stand for Calista Coe; the nickname was given her almost the moment she was born. Calista, a name passed through the family tradition, means "the most beautiful". The Greeks celebrated Callisto, the nymph of Artemis, who, by the most unimaginable set of circumstances, ended up in the skies as Ursa Major (Great Bear/Big Dipper).

Teapot by C.C. Bookout
Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
C.C. Bookout's life may not be as convoluted as her namesake's, but it does revolve around beauty and unpredictability of the art medium she chose for herself.

C.C. studied psychology at Skidmore College, as she intended to become a social worker. Eventually she became a nursery school teacher, a profession she enjoyed greatly.

For her first pottery classes she traveled from Manhattan, where she then lived, to the Brooklyn Museum; later continued taking classes at the Riverside Church for a couple of years. She was advised to do nothing else for two years but practice throwing pieces until they would look like what she imagined them to be. C.C. attended many advanced workshops including one at the Great Barrington Pottery where she studied Japanese throwing techniques with an apprentice of Richard Bennett. One class given locally by Joyce Michaud lead C.C. to a Masters Certificate program at Hood College in Maryland, where she studied under many famous potters.

Small vase by C.C. Bookout
Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
C.C. opened her own studio first in Islip, NY, and then in Riverhead, NY, where she moved on one Christmas Eve in the 70s (arrived for the closing with a van full of stuff and spend her first night sleeping on a mattress on the floor). Riverhead then was a farming community, the road that lead to her house was a true farm road. The couple was resourceful and built or adapted a lot of the studio equipment themselves. The base of her wedging table is made of an old dining table found on the side of the road. Her spray glazing is done in a converted shower stall. Her pots are kept moist in an old fridge. She had a gas kiln built on her property, but had to stop using it a few year back. She now fires her work in Watermill or upstate in Cold Spring, NY.

Bowl by C.C.  Bookout
Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
C.C. prefers high cone firing and works with porcelain clay to ensure strength. She makes functional and decorative pieces in many styles. She throws on a wheel, creates slab pieces, likes coil building. She mixes her own glazes and adjusts them to each type of clay and kiln. She prizes wood kiln firing with all its potential and unpredictability. She is particularly fond of the large scale sculptures: organic forms, hands holding things, head shaped planters, or female figures with titles like 'Making Strides', 'Standing Firm', 'Going Forward'. They have a strong connection with the fertility and most are intended for gardens, her own included - C.C.'s husband, Henry, is an avid gardener.

Tall vase by C.C. Bookout
Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
Let us conclude with some remarks on beauty and unpredictability of the wood kiln firing much preferred by C.C. at this stage of her artistic journey. In wood kiln firing the shining surface on the pieces comes not from the high silica glazes transformed by intense heat into glass, but from the ashes present in the condensed air of the kiln. Clay must be ready to accept it. The amount of heat generated by the burning wood, the mixture of chemicals and organic matter in the kiln, never the same, produce unique pieces every time. And this is what makes them so unpredictable and ... precious. C.C. is willing to take the risk.

Photos from C.C.'s studio in Riverhead, NY:

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