Q&A: Lisa Kurtz, A Potter Who WIll Open a Retrospective Show Benefitting Alzheimer's Tennessee, Honoring her Mother, at the District Gallery

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Can you tell something no one knows about this show?

One of the pieces in the show, a small hand-built basket, I made one week after having brain surgery six months ago. [Although, I don’t think anyone who knows me well will be surprised about this.]

Will your first professional pottery be in the show?

Yes, I even have a piece from my very first clay class, in college, in this show. It’s not for sale, though, I am keeping it for my son Walker, who is getting ready to start art school (Savannah College of Art and Design) in a few weeks. I thought it would be a nice pot for him to keep drawing pencils in. There are also pots from when I was in undergrad, graduate school and when I first got out of graduate school and was starting my business, Highland Pottery. There are pots from pretty much every stage of my clay career.

Who taught you the art?

Tom and Ginny Marsh were my first pottery instructors at The University of Louisville in Kentucky. Ginny was my very first teacher. They were both artists, potters and teachers. In addition to teaching me about pots, they taught me about the similarities between clay and life. Their high standards of quality in clay and respect for the medium still inspire me today in my work to do the very best work I can. I feel lucky to have had them as my teachers.

Have you ever taken a break from pottery in all this time?

I have taken two breaks from clay in my life since I started making pots. The first was when my three children were very small. At one point I had a studio, but it was in a room that was upstairs over our garage. I didn’t have any running water up there so I had to carry water up and down. When my third child, Claire, was born I just couldn’t go up and down those stairs. I took a little break and painted again for awhile. I had painted before I made pots. The second break I took was when I had both my knees replaced four years ago. I did therapy for three months and so I didn’t make any pots during that time or plan any shows for that whole year When I started working again I just made whatever I wanted to make. Without any show or order deadlines, I did a lot of experimenting with new work and glaze testing. I was really glad I took the time off to just play and work on new ideas.

What’s your proudest accomplishment with this art?

I’m the proudest over the fact that I’m still doing what I love to do. A lot of people major in art and then quit later on. I’ve had lots of other jobs, but I’ve kept at making pots all these years. It’s not an easy thing to keep doing, especially once you have children. When I’m not making pots I feel like part of me is missing.

Biggest future goal?

I would like to teach college level ceramics. When I had my surgery to remove a brain tumor, I didn’t know if I would even be able to make pots again. The tumor was pressing on my motor sensory line in my brain which is what controls all your motor function. When I first woke up and saw that I could move all my fingers and toes I was ecstatic. As soon as I got home from the hospital I was making pots on my couch—not recommended, but it worked for me for a few weeks until I felt up to getting back in the studio! I think I would be a good role model for young potters because I have kept making pots no matter what.

Has pottery changed in your day—is it still the domain of hippies?

I don’t think pottery was ever just the domain of hippies. I kind of considered myself one for a little while but starting in 1977 I was really on the tail end of that era. I think pottery appeals to many different types of people today because it is “hand-made” and it is useful. In our society today, this is really important because everything seems to be made overseas. I love the fact people think what I make is beautiful and that they can also use it in their everyday life. That is the basis for all my work. Oscar Wilde said in a lecture given in Dublin (The Value of Art in Everyday Life), “I have found that all ugly things are made by those who strive to make something beautiful, and that all beautiful things are made by those who strive to make something useful.” He said this way back in 1885, yet I think it holds true today.

Whose idea was it to do the show as a benefit for Tennessee Alzheimer’s?

This show was my idea. It was something I had to do for myself at a very difficult time in my life. I believe it actually helped me recover so quickly because I put it on my schedule. The idea had been brewing for a few years, but I had been really busy. When I found out I had a brain tumor, I had two things I still wanted to do: have a show to benefit Alzheimer’s disease and have a retrospective show. Alzheimer’s, because my mom had been suffering for it for the past seven years and so many people I know have a family member with this disease. A retrospective, because, as an artist, it is just something you want to do when you get to a point in your career. I had been saving pots from each stage of my work to include in it my whole 36-year career. With the help of a dear friend, neighbor, mentor and very wise woman, Sylvia Peters, I was able to start planning this show before my surgery. She introduced me to Jeff and Denise Hood at The District Gallery and they were gracious enough to host this show at their beautiful gallery. Another dear friend, Eileen Fuller, helped me pack up all the pots I had been saving all these years in case I wasn’t able to do it after the surgery. I even sent out postcards before the surgery because I wanted to make sure it happened—no matter what. This show is also celebration of my mom’s life. Before she had Alzheimer’s she was a constant supporter of my life in art and the first to help me promote my work. I chose Alzheimer’s Tennessee because it’s a local organization dedicated to helping families with education, support and research. To me, after going through this with my mom and my family, I feel strongly that the local organizations that help support the families of the Alzheimer’s patients are the most needed.

What will your mom think of the show?

My mom’s disease has progressed to the point that she is not able to attend this show. I believe that she would be thrilled to know that the show was in her honor. She would be very proud. I am also very proud of her and of my dad. He has suffered along with her at every juncture of the disease and he has recently had to put her in an Alzheimer’s unit in Kentucky, where they live, because it was in her best interest to do so. That was very hard for him. My dad is able to be at the show with me. My surgery was successful, the tumor was removed, and I am able to continue my life working in clay. For all of that, I feel so blessed.

For more information: TheDistrictGallery.com and alztennessee.org

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