ELKTON — For a paper to “speak” to Mary Roach Bailey, it has to have character — some sort of print, pattern, color or texture that sets it apart from all the rest.
While in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City in the 1970s, Bailey collected papers from street vendors. But she said she didn’t have the time to do anything with them back then.
So, Bailey stowed them away until 10 years later when she attended an art exhibition by Laurie Anderson at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, where Anderson had woven together the New York Times’ headlines about the Watergate scandal into a piece for the show, according to Bailey
The exhibition jogged Bailey’s memories of her time as a Girl Scout weaving sit-upons out of newspaper — large, woven, placemat-like squares that one could sit on around the campfire. That’s when she finally decided to put to use the papers she had collected over the years.
Now, Bailey will be presenting some of her paper weavings alongside pottery pieces by Brett Thomas in their First Friday opening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. July 5 at The Palette & The Page. The show will also feature musician Jon Luther and local author Karen Leppert, who will be signing her two romance books, “Then & Now” and “Always.”
The Cecil County Arts Council will have their own First Friday show, with the opening reception of a mother-son exhibition titled “Visual Embrace” which will feature photographs by J.P. Henry and his mother Jane Ward. There will also be an open show, called “Listen to Color. There will be music and light refreshments provided.
Woven and worldly
Bailey’s mother and grandfather were both artists, but she initially became interested in the business side of the art world since her father managed advertising for a company. Her father would bring home creations that the company’s graphic designers would make, which later led Bailey to go to school for communications design.
With her background in design, Bailey found herself drawn to the patterns and textures of different papers.
Bailey has traveled around the world from India to China and France to other locales, and she has accumulated an abundance of papers along the way.
“Paris is a great place to buy paper. You can get it on the street. They have whole stores devoted to paper,” she said, adding that Barcelona and Washington, D.C., have also proven to be good spots for finding interesting paper.
After collecting materials, Bailey said her process of planning her paper creations is a “visual meditation” of sorts.
“I let the paper really speak to me ... I start out on the floor with the papers all around me and start putting colors together,” she said.
Bailey has done series about subjects such as the sky, sea and clouds, though she said her pieces in the First Friday show don’t necessarily have an overarching theme, rather they provide a cross section of the works she likes to do.
One of Bailey’s paper weavings incorporates a photograph, article and quotes by one of her favorite authors, John le Carré, who wrote “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” among other mystery books.
She said she is a fan of his books because of “the intelligence of the woven story.”
“It’s very intricate, detailed and precise,” she said. “Then at the end, there’s that perfect denouement, which is very much like weaving paper … I think he’s a precisionist and so am I.”
With the upcoming First Friday exhibition, Bailey is looking forward to people discovering an art form they may not be familiar with.
“I’ve taken on this odd interest in weaving paper,” she said. “Most people don’t know what it is and I just think it’s a different kind of art … If you’re into color, you might enjoy it as much as I do.”
Food for thought
When Brett Thomas discovered trenchers in college, he was intrigued by the history behind them.
Trenchers, as Thomas came to find out, were medieval dishes used to serve the poor, he explained.
“Earlier in medieval times, the wealthy would have fresh bread made for dinner,” Thomas said, noting that the wealthy would typically eat the tops of the loaves because the bottoms would often burn while baking. “They would eat the top of the loaf out of the bread, pour all the leftovers into the loaf, and serve that to the poor. That was considered a trencher. Later on in medieval times, they actually made a vessel crafted out of wood, metal and things like that, that they would put leftovers in that vessel to feed to the poor.”
While trenchers were traditionally used to serve the poor, Thomas has elevated the dish-ware into something that all can enjoy — both aesthetically and functionally.
“My vessels are rather huge and chunky, but I also like to use them as functional pots through traditional history,” he said. “They’re very contemporary on the edge of function and art. I love the fact that they can be functional as well as an art piece.”
Thomas, who teaches at Cecil College, leads a class called “From Kiln to Kitchen,” where he and his students experiment with crafting various vessels and then plan meals around the tableware.
“A lot of my vessels are flat and concave,” he said. “All different kinds of foods have been served in them.”
On the road
Though he creates his trenchers in a gas kiln, Thomas is also trained to work with raku kilns.
Raku ware, which is traditionally used in Japanese tea ceremonies, requires a different firing process than other pottery, according to Thomas.
“Raku is a fast-firing technique,” he said. “We fire the kiln up to 1,850 degrees in a matter of 20 to 25 minutes. Then we take the piece out when it’s red hot at that temperature and smoke it in combustibles, and that changes the color of the glazes.”
In contrast, when using a gas kiln, Thomas fires pieces over two days and lets them cool for three days — a slower process in which he said the clay reacts differently than when making raku ware.
To pass on his knowledge of raku, Thomas started his own company in 2005, called Mobile Raku, where he travels around the northeastern United States to bring classes — and his own kilns — directly to students.
“I was teaching raku and more and more people wanted to learn the technique from me,” Thomas said. “I didn’t have enough space in my studio to host so many people, so driving to the schools and colleges and people’s homes allowed me to do that.”
Thomas designed and built two kilns on an industrial cart which he transports in an enclosed trailer — making sure to consult a fire marshal to ensure the transportation is safe and legal. When he gets to the lesson site, he pulls the kilns out, sets them up and the class can be firing pottery within 15 minutes, he said.
So far, Thomas has gotten to travel as far as northern New Hampshire, southern Virginia, and out west to Pittsburgh. Now, he’s considering a drive down to Florida next year, where he said there is a strong interest in raku.
Compared to other pottery techniques, Thomas said he likes how involved the artist is throughout the raku process.
“It’s a technique that’s involved from start to finish,” he said. “In some learning environments, you make the piece and then it sits on a shelf and then you glaze it and you’re not really connected with the firing part. You’re connected with the making part, but most often somebody else fires your pieces. [With raku] they’re involved with the process from start to finish.”
Whether its raku or another technique, Thomas said he enjoys getting to pass his pottery knowledge to students.
“I truly enjoy teaching beginning classes and working with students that are interested in taking a class … The potter’s wheel is a spinning tool and it can be very intimidating. I teach the techniques to control the clay to have successful pots sooner than later,” he said.