Earl and Jacqueline Bell drove back to their home in Detroit a couple of weeks ago after a two week class in the Penland clay studio. They were anticipating an entire drive of debriefing: a thorough review of stories, new skills, and experiences. Just before they left, Earl and Jacqueline joined me on a sunny morning outside of The Pines to chat about their experiences at Penland. As students were preparing to display their work at Northlight, the Bells were packing their car to travel home. They share a relaxed and gracious character. Jacqueline’s even voice carried the conversation; Earl rhythmically interjected with engaging stories and insights.
This was the fifth ceramics class the Bells have taken together. Print & Clay Buffet, taught by Kathy King and Paul Wandless, included a vast range of processes and techniques combining imagery and ceramics. Sgraffito, transfer, appliqué, stamping, screening, and printmaking were some of the processes covered. The quality of work produced under Kathy and Paul’s instruction was incredible; the final collection of class work was an attractive mix of vibrant colors, heightened contrast, and layers upon layers of imagery. The Bells were thrilled to take home the class’s collaborative urn, which they bought at the closing scholarship auction.
The first time Jacqueline came to Penland, she was self-conscious about her lack of an art background, though she was always an appreciator and dabbled in paint. Penland’s community is supportive and inspiring, and her intimidation quickly disappeared. “It’s amazing, the amount of creativity you’re surrounded by,” she said. “The ideas you get from both students and instructors…. They’re very knowledgeable, so you’re getting information on both ends.” Jacqueline finds peace in decorating, and Earl loves to throw on the wheel. Jacqueline took her time this session, creating a few samples for each process. She considers them a three-dimensional sketchbook to carry home to Michigan.
Jacqueline is a retired school principal and was introduced to clay during her school’s open studios directed by a visiting ceramist. Earl began taking classes at the Flint Institute of Art over ten years ago. When they met at Jacqueline’s school, a relationship began to grow along with their interest in ceramics, and they married in 2004. They have been able to witness many changes at Penland since their first class together in 2000. Jacqueline reminisced about stepping out from the car and tripping on the rocky terrain. “The paths were treacherous!” In addition to smoother routes and pathways, they have seen new buildings, studios, and an increase in technology and design used within the clay studio.
The Bells are returning to Detroit to coordinate an event with Empty Bowls, an international project to fight hunger and raise awareness. Guests are served soup in a handmade bowl in exchange for a donation, which is passed to a hunger-fighting charity. (The Empty Bowls project was founded by John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn, who live near Penland).The pottery stays with the contributor, a reminder of the empty bowls throughout the world and our personal ability to help. Mr. and Mrs. Bell will make the bowls and the community– including artists from the Detroit Institute of Art as well as the homeless and less fortunate–will decorate them,. Because Jacqueline and Earl do not sell their work, this opportunity provides a strong purpose and motivation to create.
The Bells intend to continue taking classes at Penland, and Earl would also like to try his hand at a photography class. Penland has become a home and haven for them, a place to revisit and find rejuvenation. Jacqueline leaned in and grinned, “A clay retreat. I tell people I’m coming to a clay retreat.” –photo and story by Emily Breyer