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