Bozarts Gallery & the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Bozarts Gallery is owned by Annette Trefzer & Mickey Howley and has helped several New Orleans expatriates find a sense of community post-Hurricane Katrina.

Bozarts Gallery on Main Street in Water Valley, Mississippi

“Katrina Fatigue” is a common complaint among Hurricane Katrina’s survivors who lived along the Gulf Coast, particularly in Mississippi and in New Orleans. People died, became physically ill, suffered mental breakdowns, lost beloved pets and irreplaceable artworks and property as a result of the hurricane.

Bozarts Gallery owners Mickey Howley and Annette Trefter (back row, far left and far right, respectively) with three Bozarts Alliance artists (from left to right): Pati D'Amico, William Warren, and Katrina Geenen

Bozarts Gallery owners Mickey Howley and Annette Trefzer (back row, far left and far right, respectively) with three Bozarts Alliance artists (from left to right): Pati D’Amico, William Warren, and Katrina Geenen

Ten years after the hurricane, despite the painful memories, three artists and two gallery owners gathered on August 26 at Bozarts Gallery to talk with me. The artists were Pati D’Amico, Katrina Geenen, and William Warren.  The gallery owners were Annette Trefzer, PhD, who teaches English at University of Mississippi, and her husband, Mickey Howley, who directs the Water Valley Main Street Association. Even though Trefzer and Howley own Bozarts Gallery, early in the conversation, Geenen referred to Bozarts as “our gallery.” Through the artist cooperative, called the Bozarts Alliance, a sense of community has been created.

Bozarts Alliance, which has 15 members, including D’Amico, Geenen, and Warren, is described on the gallery’s website as:

[. . .] a supportive network of artists and gallery owners dedicated to discussing new ideas, collaborating on projects, and supporting one another. Members of the Bozarts Alliance have freedom to choose the gallery projects they wish to explore, collaborate on shows and projects, schedule annual shows, and pursue curating opportunities with the Bozarts Gallery owners.

The Mirror Gallery is reserved for Bozarts Alliance artists to exhibit year-round.

The Mirror Gallery is reserved for Bozarts Alliance artists to exhibit year round.

Artists Pati D’Amico and her husband, William Warren, were among those who returned to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  Prior to New Orleans, they lived in Providence, Rhode Island, for 22 years where they started an event similar to an art crawl and were involved in an artist cooperative.  In New Orleans, they ran the Waiting Room Gallery in Bywater for 11 years. Geenen says they were pioneers in that neighborhood; however, after violent crime in New Orleans increased in mid-2006, they began to consider leaving the city they loved. They moved to Water Valley in June 2008 and helped to start the Water Valley Arts Council the following year. Warren is the co-director of the arts council. Their experience with and knowledge of artist cooperatives contributed to the founding of the Bozarts Alliance.

Katrina Geenen had hosted a Brazilian music radio show for 25 years in New Orleans. Her show was one of the last, if not the last, show that was broadcast prior to Hurricane Katrina’s making landfall. After her radio show, Geenen drove the back roads — all lanes of the interstate highways were flowing north away from the coast — from New Orleans to Gulfport to pick up her mother from a nursing home.  They moved to California and lived there until Geenen’s mother passed away in 2010. Geenen had exhibited at D’Amico and Warren’s gallery in New Orleans, and got in touch with them in Water Valley.  D’Amico told her that there was “a burgeoning art scene” in the Valley. Geenen moved there on April 10, 2010; D’Amico remembers the exact date.  Like her friends, she found the housing in Water Valley to be more affordable than in New Orleans and was able to buy a house.

Two weeks before Hurricane Katrina, Annette Trefzer and Mickey Howley, former New Orleanians who were living in Water Valley, purchased the circa 1880s building that is now Bozarts Gallery.  Their time during the first couple of years after the hurricane was divided between Water Valley and New Orleans helping to clean Howley’s mother’s flooded house. (Howley tells the story of a chest freezer at his mother’s house that had floated up to the ceiling after the levees broke. The freezer wedged itself over the door and blocked the back door from opening. They stabbed a hole in the bottom of the freezer and “liquid putrification” spilled out. After that, he says, nothing fazed him.)  Trefzer says that fate stepped in because if they had not purchased the building in Water Valley, they might have returned to New Orleans to help Mickey’s family.

“The fact that you bought the building—fate made you buy the building—gave all of us somewhere to go,” said Katrina Geenen.

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“Powerhouse Collaboration: Dressed in Oxford | Undressed in Water Valley” is on view through September 19, 2015. Figures depicted in artworks in the Water Valley show appear in their birthday suits. In Oxford, they must be clothed.

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Artworks in “Undressed in Water Valley” are installed on the exposed brick walls and on walls separating the front half of the gallery from the Mirror Gallery.

My time in Water Valley was too short to get the full stories of the artistic production of Pati D’Amico, Katrina Geenen, and William Warren. What I heard and saw is worth telling, and I’ll be going back on September 19, 2015, for the annual Art Crawl. So, stay tuned.

Many thanks to Annette Trefzer, Mickey Howley, Pati D’Amico, Katrina Geenen, and William Warren for sharing their time, art, gallery, and memories with me.

Water Valley

This will be a quick, brief post about my delightful time in Water Valley this afternoon. I’m going back in the morning to Bozarts Gallery.

Yalo Studio & Gallery is under the narrow, white awning. At the B.T.C. next door, I ate a delicious plate lunch special of sausage, cabbage, corn-on-the-cob, and marinated tomatoes & cucumbers.

Yalo Studio & Gallery is under the narrow, white awning. At the B.T.C. next door, I ate a delicious plate lunch special of sausage, cabbage, corn-on-the-cob, and marinated tomatoes & cucumbers.

I had the good fortune to meet Coulter Fussell, artist and owner of Yalo Studio & Gallery, and Mary Lapides, who founded the Pinehurst Artist Residency.

A hand-painted sign by William Warren decorates the door of Yalo Studio & Gallery.

A hand-painted sign by William Warren decorates the door of Yalo Studio & Gallery.

On view at Yalo Studio & Gallery was a beautiful exhibition, called HOT BLIND EARTH, of ambrotypes, sculpture, and other mediums by J. R. Larson, who was the summer 2015 Pinehurst Artist Resident in Water Valley.

This is an installation photograph of J. R. Larson's HOT BLIND EARTH exhibition at Yalo Studio & Gallery. For better images of the artworks, go to jr-larson.com.

This is an installation photograph of J. R. Larson’s HOT BLIND EARTH exhibition at Yalo Studio & Gallery. For better images of the artworks, go to jr-larson.com.

Installation shot of HOT BLIND EARTH by J. R. Larson.

Installation shot of HOT BLIND EARTH by J. R. Larson.

I also met with five artists & gallery owners who moved to Water Valley from New Orleans. Pati D’Amico and William Warren welcomed me into their studio and home. After seeing their work, about which I’ll write more later, we met gallery owners Annette Trefzer and Mickey Howley as well as artist Katrina Geenen at Bozarts Gallery. I’ll tell you much more about them later and will try to retell some of their stories of Hurricane Katrina and of life now in Water Valley.

Bozarts Gallery is owned by Annette Trefzer & Mickey Howley and has helped several New Orleans expatriates find a sense of community post-Hurricane Katrina.

Bozarts Gallery is owned by Annette Trefzer & Mickey Howley and has helped several New Orleans expatriates to create a sense of community in Water Valley after surviving Hurricane Katrina.

Michael Ashley

As I mentioned in previous posts, I interviewed Michael and Laura Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery in Tupelo in early March, 2015.

Michael Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery

Michael Ashley of Ashley Studio Pottery

Michael Ashley makes pots to be used and to be experienced, not in an abstract way, but in a daily-life way that brings us to notice the food that we’re about to enjoy or to feel the warmth of the hot tea on a chilly evening. In 2005, he went to Taiwan as Artist in Residence in the Masters Ceramics Program at Tainan National University of the Arts. He took few belongings with him and lived in a small room with basically one suitcase and a tatami mat. He recalls making some pots when he arrived, to add to his small collection of pots from his friends and purchases in Tainan.

I sort of lived with them everyday, and they became my friends and I understood them in a different way because I was actually using them and I hadn’t really used pots before. [. . .] I think that’s one of the biggest things I learned in Taiwan was making and using handmade objects sort of everyday and I realized that it was something I wanted to do no matter where I was.

Prior to moving to Tupelo, Michael and Laura traveled together for school, to attend workshops, to teach, or for other work. Michael, who is passionate about cooking, said he paid attention to the cultural differences among regional foods, music, and climates, as all of it affects what he does. For example, he talked about a recent gathering they hosted in Tupelo:

We had a crawfish boil this weekend, and I want to make some big pots with the right kind of foot and just fill it with crawfish and have the corn on the top of it. You know, you don’t have crawfish whenever you’re in New England. You have clams and shrimp, so you have other things, but there might be a different idea associated with it.

A footed pot by Michael Ashley

A footed pot by Michael Ashley

Michael sums up his artist statement with one sentence: “Make something, use it, and then make more.” He explains:

That’s really kind of a credo that I’ve adopted, that I make something, and then I go cook, and I use it, and I put something in it, and I see what that does. Not necessarily just from the standpoint of, well, it’s too heavy or it’s too light or gravy looks good in this or potatoes look good, but more about just taking the pot and putting something in it and then making another pot. That’s pretty important to me, actually. I think not just because I get information from it, but [. . .] you know, I think it does something to me inside. Like if you’re a musician. [. . .] I just get fuel for the next thing by using pots.

 

Laura Ashley

Beth interviewing Laura Ashley 3-3-15_photo by M Ashley

Laura Ashley (left) being interviewed by Beth Batton on March 3, 2015. Photograph by Michael Ashley.

Most of this post is excerpted from my interview with Laura Ashley at Ashley Studio Pottery in Tupelo in early March, 2015.  At the studio, Laura and Michael Ashley design, create, and sell ceramic wares for the house and table.  They also teach classes there.

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A vase by Laura Ashley

Laura also is executive director of Gumtree Museum of Art. After having grown up in Tupelo, Laura earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics at the University of Mississippi in 2010. She talks about leaving Mississippi for graduate school:

Whenever I decided that I was going to be an artist, I sort of resigned myself to following the wind, I guess, or, following the jobs is more like it, because I knew that it was going to take leaving a place to learn from other people, especially the teachers that I wanted to learn from. They were not here.

I went to New York State College of Ceramics in Alfred University. It is a graduate program very, very specific to ceramics and also glass. [. . .] There’s a lot of material knowledge there that’s available to artists, which is really great. [. . .] It’s a very big program. There’s six faculty [members] as opposed to maybe two or three in the typical sort of art program. And so I got a huge range of opinions and thoughts from. . . and also technical knowledge from these sort of giants of the ceramic art world.

After graduate school, Laura spent a year at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia as Artist in Residence. Working in an urban experience taught her a lot and was enjoyable, but required working in a tight space with others and being as efficient as possible. “You know, again, there’s the whole issue of kiln firing and we were working in old city Philadelphia.”

She describes the transition in her work after graduate school from conceptual based tableware to focusing more on “functional, archetypal vessels that people can use in their homes and want to use”:

My work changed whenever I left graduate school to go to Philadelphia because all of a sudden, I wasn’t making work for the gallery per se anymore. [. . .] I wanted to sell to a specific person who would then take it and assimilate it into their domestic space. My pots at that time had a lot of ego attached to them: they had their own personalities, and it was almost as if they didn’t need you. You know, they had a very specific aesthetic. They were sort of a finished thought, and they didn’t need to travel to a domestic space to complete the concept. They were done. [. . .] I think I changed toward making more functional, traditional shapes and work when I went to Philadelphia and even more so when I came to Mississippi.

Glazed stoneware canisters by Laura Ashley

Glazed stoneware canisters by Laura Ashley

Being back in Tupelo, she says,

It’s really interesting, especially, you know, you leave maybe a place not knowing exactly who you are and what you’re going to become and then you come back and that’s completely changed and you have a path and sort of a purpose. I felt like it was time to come back. I think Mississippi is a really great place to be, especially to be an artist. I’m finding that I’m drawing a lot of inspiration just from being back home and feeding off that.

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Michael & Laura Ashley

Ashley Studio Pottery

Michael and Laura Ashley in the showrom of Ashley Studio Pottery, Tupelo

Michael and Laura Ashley in the showroom of Ashley Studio Pottery, Tupelo

The visual arts in Tupelo got a boost with new residents Laura and Michael Ashley.  Tupelo is Laura’s hometown, and she grew up learning art at the Gumtree Museum of Art, where she is now executive director. She and her husband, Michael Ashley, established Ashley Studio Pottery in the Renasant Center for IDEAs in downtown Tupelo in 2014.

Before returning to Tupelo, Laura was Resident Artist at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Michael was Visiting Artist and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.

I interviewed Laura and Michael Ashley in their studio in early March, 2015. They were moving that week, it was rainy and quite cold in north Mississippi, and they were dealing with getting the heat on in their new place.

So, it was a cold, dark night when I got to their studio. They fixed green tea, which I drank from a cup they had made. It was the perfect size, weight, and thickness when I held it.  It was the kind of cup I would imagine drinking tea from if I were ever to go to the countryside in Japan.

In a later post, I’ll write about them and their work.

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Pots by Ashley Studio Pottery on display