Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mike Fagan and Suzzann Macleod

Suzzann Macleod and Michael Fagan
Today's visit takes us to Magic on the Mesa, the studio of ceramicist Michael Fagan.  This year, Mike will be joined by photographer and sculptor Suzzann Macleod.  Mike and Suzzann will be showing the second weekend of the art tours.

Mike Fagan with a pot, still hot from the pit fire
Fagan is a southern California native, born in Englewood, CA.  He and his wife Cyndie lived in La Quinta before moving to Yucca Valley a year and a half ago.  As Fagan eloquently puts it, "we traded the high life and low country for low life and the high country and are the happier for it."  Fagan and his wife are avid collectors of American paintings and pottery from the first half of the 20th century.  It is Mike's love of the simplicity of the Arts and Crafts movement in the country that inspires him.  Fagan never thought he had talent to create art on his own.  In fact, his move to begin making pottery began when he found he couldn't afford to collect the pottery of the Arts and Crafts movement, so he decided to make one of his own.  That vase became the first in a long line of clay vessels.  Fagan has been making pottery for about 7 years.
When Mike and his wife moved up to the high desert, he was able to learn about traditional pottery making techniques from Tony Soares.  Even though Mike learned techniques from Soares, he has developed his own style.  He claims the pots tell him what they want to be.  Fagan digs his own clay, processes it at his studio and makes the vessels using traditional techniques:   by pinching and with a paddle and anvil.  The rock or anvil is on the inside and the stick is used to pound on the outside to shape the clay around the rock.  Once the pot is completely formed, Fagan will pit fire it.   The colors of the finished pottery come from different colored slips rather than glazes.  ("Slips" are just watered down versions of the same clay used to make the pottery, and the color comes from different minerals in the clay itself.)  I was fortunate enough to be there when Fagan removed two vessels from the pit fire.  This is always an exciting moment in the process of making pottery.
Mike, lifting the cover of his pit fire.

Hot out of the fire.
The straw bale studio

Fagan loves the process of making something using only earth, fire and water.  He considers playing in the dirt a zen experience.  He talks about coming full circle - he played in the dirt with toy cars and trucks as a boy, and now that he is retired he is once again playing in the dirt, making pottery.  To fire his pots, Mike will use dead Joshua Trees from his property, various hardwoods, and sometimes even charcoal.  Fagan adds caliche to the clay to get the red color many of his vessels have.  (For those of you unfamiliar with caliche, it is a desert gardener's bane - a concrete hard layer of calcium carbonate found in the desert that is nearly impossible to dig through.)  It is a pleasure to meet an artist who literally uses the desert to create art.

Suzzann Macleod, holding one of her sculptures.

Suzzann Macleod is another California native.  She was born in Redlands, while her family was visiting an aunt who lived there.  (They lived in Joshua Tree at the time.)  Her father, a civil engineer, worked in the Salt Mines, and liked to race cars on the salt flats.  Her family vacationed in Northern California, and in 1964, Macleod moved with her family from Joshua Tree to Smith River, California, which is near Redwoods National Park.    In Smith River, her family had a seven acre farm.  She learned how to can food from her mother, who was a nurse and a veteran of WWII.  Her father loved the fishing near Redwoods National Park, and she remembers he used to smoke the salmon that he caught.    Macleod is a descendant of the Keys family; her mother is the eldest Keys daughter.  Suzzann is writing a Keys Ranch cookbook, and she and her brother are in the process of creating a film documentary about the Keys Ranch.

When she was 12 years old, Suzzann was given a camera for a vacation the family was taking to Crater Lake and Yellowstone.  That was the beginning of her life as a photographer.  Most of Macleod's work is now digital, but she still uses film, especially for black and white photography.  Many of Macleod's photographs are of the rusted cars on the Keys Ranch.  She worked for Joshua Tree National Park for a while, giving tours of the Keys Ranch.  Many of her photographs from the Ranch and the park were taken while she worked there.  (Who better to give tours of the Keys Ranch than a descendant of Bill Keys himself?)   She continues to take photos in the Joshua Tree National Park and surrounding areas.  Macleod is also interested in macro shots.  She has a love of texture and patterns.  She photographs the designs found in peeling paint, rusted old cars, and in particular, the glass in old cars that have sat out in the intense desert sun.  The abstract qualities of this sun-baked glass hold her interest.

Suzzann is also a sculptor.  She has worked in bronze, copper and steel.  She had a friend up north who had a foundry, and the first time she saw the melted metal, she was hooked.   She loves to weld, and hopes to have some smaller metal vegetables for the art tours.  Suzzann uses recycled metal and found objects in her metal sculptures.  She is planning to have framed prints of her photographs along with note cards and unframed prints.  You will also be able to look through a catalog of her other photographs.
Macleod's bronze and copper pea pod.

This is the first year on the Art Tours for both Suzzann Macleod and Mike Fagan.  Your visit to Magic on the Mesa is sure to be a rewarding one.

written by Karine Swenson

1 comment:

Jmac2day said...

These Art pieces are Beautiful. I am definitely, making this showing one of my stops on my next visit to Southern Calif. The photos are Magnificent !
-- James Donald -San Francisco, CA