Smithsonian Oral History Interview: Michael Simon, Part 4

Note: Because of the length of this interview, it has been broken into parts.

Oral history interview with Michael Simon, 2005 Sept. 27-28, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Simon, Michael, b. 1947

Simon discusses studying at University of Minnesota with Warren MacKenzie; the counterculture and chaotic atmosphere at the university in the late 1960s; moving to Athens, Ga., after college to open a studio on Jerry Chappelle’s farm; his first pottery sales; obtaining conscientious objector status and working at a hospital in Athens; the influence of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada on his work; developing shapes and expanding his repertoire; being inspired by Korean folk potters and by other Asian pottery; teaching at the Penland School of Arts and Crafts and being influenced by fellow potters there; art fairs in Atlanta, Florida, and elsewhere; using various materials for his pots, including Georgia kaolin and grolleg; applying for a fellowship at the University of Georgia, where he completed his Masters of Fine Arts; seeing Mark Phariss pots in the summer of 1980, which compelled him to build his own salt kiln, which changed subsequent work dramatically;
his marriage to Susan Roberts in 1992; experimenting with images on his pots, including fish and bamboo; getting a large commission for dinner plates from the Nakato Restaurant in Atlanta, Ga., one of the citys oldest sushi restaurants; visiting the Freer Sackler Galleries and being inspired by Chinese Yangshao pottery from the Neolithic period; the influence of Persian jars on his work; the success of his pottery sales with Ron Myers; going to Cortona, Italy, to teach pottery for the University of Georgia;
teaching at a school in Santiago, Chile, exploring the countryside, and learning Chilean pottery techniques; the writing of Michael Cardew and its influence on his work and career; what constitutes a typical work day and what motivates him; and the community of American potters and the support he has received over the years. Simon also recalls Angel Lillo, Laurie Samuelson, Gib Krohn, Mark Pharis, Wayne Branum, Sandra Simon (née Lindstrom), Earl McCutcheon, Shoji Hamada, Cynthia Bringle, Ron Myers, Andy Nasisse, Robert Briscoe, Michael Cardew, and others.
This interview is part of the Archives of American Art Oral History Program, started in 1958 to document the history of the visual arts in the United States, primarily through interviews with artists, historians, dealers, critics and administrators.

Interview (cont.)

-and then I have been lucky enough to do a couple of other-I went to one workshop at Haystack [Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, ME]. A woman came-were you there? Was that the-Mariana-
MR. SHAPIRO: You went to Chile, right?
MR. SIMON: Mariana Domique [sp].
MR. SHAPIRO: Oh, no, to Venezuela, or was it to Chile?
MR. SIMON: No, it was Chile. Yeah, a woman that came from Chile, who worked in a community studio in Santiago, invited-or they as a group invited me-to lead a workshop there in Chile, in Santiago, the following year. That was the year that Susan and I were married. It was 1994. And, you know, it was a lot of fun, and I remember I did a public lecture at the American Embassy, and I was like the prince of pottery. [Laughs.] It was terrific, a lot of fun.
They were very nice and really sophisticated. They just sent me a book. They printed a book from their little school, the people that worked there-some nice photos, a beautiful book. The woman that runs the school is Ruth Krauskopf, and she is a beautiful, marvelous woman. They took me to the countryside and a little town called Quinchamali, where people were making earthenware with a little fire under little dung piles.
I saw a woman fire her week’s worth of pottery in about 45 minutes with about five buffalo chips. It was unbelievable economy-and the pots were pretty hard, surprisingly hard. I swear there was not enough fire there. I don’t know how it dried a dishtowel, much less fired a pot.
Anyway, they took me to the vineyards, and, oh boy, it was just a marvelous trip. Unbelievable-Chile is very beautiful. And they have a big-they actually have a big pottery store there in Chile.
What were some of the other questions that you were thinking about, that we talked about before we started this morning?
MR. SHAPIRO: We were talking about things that you’ve read that have been moving to you. You were talking about Warren’s writing, and Michael Cardew.

MR. SIMON: Right. Oh, gosh, yeah. Let me see if I have that. Well, the Cardew stuff, the Michael Cardew writing that’s so good is in this book [Michael Cardew. Pioneer Pottery. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1971].
This is kind of an example of the difference between Ron’s work and mine.
Well, the Cardew stuff is-here’s my marks from when I was writing the text. I made little marks in here. You know, this is how far I got on one platter, I think. [Laughs.] I can’t really believe I got that far. But there are the little marks.
MR. SHAPIRO: What did it feel like to write that text on your pots?
MR. SIMON: Do you remember this, that article?
MR. SHAPIRO: I’ve got it here, too.
MR. SIMON: The text that I wrote?
MR. SHAPIRO: I’m talking about the text you wrote when you took Cardew’s writing and put it on your pots.
MR. SIMON: Oh. I was just-I mean, it felt like a pain in the ass, to tell you the truth. I’m sorry to say that, but I was trying to figure out how-think about the surface of the pot. I tell you, there was not much of a mysticism or metaphysical connection between putting Cardew’s text on a plate. I kind of liked that, but I was struggling to get the text on the pot and have it look the way I wanted it to look on the pot. I was trying to get this to where it would open up a whole realm of surface work for myself, easily done but, I hate to say, but poignant. And, you know, I say easily done; you never get that. But I don’t really mean easily done like it’s cheap; I just mean something that I could do, and do over and think about it going into the future. So I just envisioned in my mind how I could keep doing this.
It’s like they have this thing I’ve heard referred to in some of the-it’s called writing. It’s holy writing, or some kind of writing, that it’s like you’re a medium for the supernatural, and the writing comes through your hand. You know, you just hold the writing instrument and it’s going through your hand. And I saw some examples of this. There’s a man down at Sandersville [sp].
MR. SHAPIRO: Is this like a-
MR. SIMON: Automatic writing, it’s called.
MR. SHAPIRO: Outsider?
MR. SIMON: Yeah, it’s kind of like that. And it’s kind of like also speaking in tongues or that kind of thing. Yeah, it’s outsider, right. This guy is one of the outsiders. And he does a lot-it’s called automatic writing. And he just picks up a pencil, and he’s got a piece of paper, you know, and he does automatic writing. And it’s beautiful. I don’t know how to explain to you.
MR. SHAPIRO: And it’s a narrative text?
MR. SIMON: It’s a narrative text, but no one can read it. It’s not words.
MR. SHAPIRO: Oh. Okay.
MR. SIMON: But it looks like script, but it’s not. And it’s in rows. [Laughs.] Well, it’s nice. And somehow I just thought that that’s just what I need, because it’s the shape, because it lets me put a surface on, but it’s a shape. It’s the same thing that, in a way, that’s what I got down to. That kind of came from the same desire, what I call a woven pattern.
And really, to take you back to the shape, I was just making all those little lines. It didn’t have anything to do, really. I mean, you could pick that apart and you’d say, well, shit, you know, that’s just like bad weaving; there’s nothing good about it. But somehow I thought, and in the best cases, it did do it. It took you in there to the clay.
But the writing was-the reason it was a pain in the ass was I could never get a tool, really, that would let me go around curves, let me make a nice mark.
MR. SHAPIRO: You get those little birds.
MR. SIMON: Yeah, and you’d make a little bird and it means too much, and you make a nice curve and it disappears in there. I don’t know, I wasn’t getting it, and I finally just gave up. Well, I shouldn’t say it like it was a surprise. There are a lot of things like that, where you just don’t quite-you can’t work it out in your medium, in my little stuff of stoneware salt glaze, with the tools that I had. I wasn’t going to get the look, or didn’t quite have it yet, you know.
MR. SHAPIRO: To be continued?
MR. SIMON: Maybe next year I’ll get led back to it by a backdoor method or something, or else someone else will do it and I’ll figure out if it’s the way that I could do it. A lot of times that happens. I steal things. I’ve stole a lot of things. I’ve used a lot of things. For the first five years, anything I could glean from anything, I just tried it. I didn’t care too much.
MR. SHAPIRO: And the writing that you did yourself, you said it was always very difficult, very painful?
MR. SIMON: I thought it was hard always to-my words weren’t enough to say what a pot, you know, to describe what a pot does or something. I had a hard time writing about pottery. You’re always asked, as potters-and I guess artists in general-always asked to make comments, it seemed to me, like every time you’re in a show or every time-there’s a lot of situations like that. Every time something is published, they would like a statement, a statement of intent or a statement about your work. And it’s sort of painful. It’s always painful. And it’s obvious that it’s painful not only for me, but it’s painful for just damn near everybody, you know. The statements hardly ever add up to the work being done. It can’t, really. I mean, it shouldn’t. It’s always a little bit behind.
This was a little thing Glen [R.] Brown wrote, and I thought that-Glen Brown’s an art historian, and I felt like I liked having an art historian write about my pots [Glen R. Brown. “Michael Simon: Between the Universal and the Personal.” Ceramics Monthly. v. 51 no. 9 (November 2003), pp. 36-40].
MR. SHAPIRO: When you were asked to do that lecture at the university, and you decided to talk about the evolution of your pitcher over a long period of time, how did that opportunity come to you, and how did you decide on that approach?
MR. SIMON: Well, my friend Andy Nasisse teaches at the University of Georgia and has taught there his whole-he’s retired, just last year. And he just asked me if I would do it. He had been setting up situations where he would have people come-he was using workshop money, he said. They would have people come to the studio. They were given a certain amount of money each year to have visitors come in and work. I told him I didn’t really want to work at school right then, and he said, well, how about if we just do a lecture at the museum? I think that’s the way it came about.
They have a nice program at the university where they have-they have six or eight every year of artists come, and they’re paid to do one lecture in a pretty nice hall. And it’s been a good program. Helpful, I think. And they’re generally well attended.
Well, so it was frightening for me to think about doing a lecture, and it’s not something that I ordinarily do. When I was doing workshops, it was easy for me to talk about the work, especially while I was doing it. And it’s somewhat more difficult to do a lecture in a big hall with people, where you’re not really talking to people, but you’re just talking in a big room and trying to describe-really having to use the words, because my words aren’t very specific, or they aren’t specific enough sometimes.
Anyway, it was just a situation that made me somewhat nervous. So I wanted to get ready. I really prepared for that lecture. And one of the things I wanted to demonstrate was the evolution of the work. In fact, I think that was the title of the lecture [“Discussion of Work through Slides and Pots.” Georgia Museum of Art. 1999]. And I wanted people to be able to see what a potter did. I wanted to use a simple shape, you know, where I thought it would be obvious, the changes in both consideration and technique and everything like that. I happened to have some slides-pictures from way early and, you know, all the way through my work time. And I just used them, went through it step by step, and used that to explain what my concerns were at the time and how they developed through the time that I was working. It worked-
[Audio break.]
MR. SHAPIRO: This is disc three, Michael Simon interview.
So you found Warren’s writing-it must have been after-
MR. SIMON: After being a student, yeah.
MR. SHAPIRO: A student-that you discovered his writing to be particularly-
MR. SIMON: Well, I just think Warren’s writing is clear; Warren really believes in the culture. That’s one thing about Warren, you know, he is very positive. He really believes in civilization. I mean-[laughs]-that’s nice about him! He likes to participate. He’s really engaging. He tries to understand everything. I think a lot of people have gotten the idea that he’s kind of narrow-minded. And that’s not the case. He is big. I mean, he sees a big life. And knowing that, I suppose, gives him more value; because you could say, you know, how many times is he going to make that bowl? Because it looks like he’s making the same bowl. But that’s really not-the reservoir there is-he’s working from a big-standpoint of a big scope.
MR. SHAPIRO: You certainly see it in the range of the work of his students.
MR. SIMON: Gee whiz, yeah. I was given this. This is great.
MR. SHAPIRO: That’s Studio Potter?
MR. SIMON: Oh, it’s an interview.
MR. SHAPIRO: An interview. Studio Potter from 1990.
MR. SIMON: Well, I could never finish telling you how important Warren has been to me in all the time I’ve been working. And I went through a time where I kind of had to shuck off his voice in my mind. I had to find my own way of doing things. I had to find my own reflection, kind of, in the work. I had to find out where my bottom line was, what work was going to be acceptable to me-or, I don’t know how-I don’t really want to say acceptable, but what was going to be my profundity, what was going to be my gravity. I had to have a basis, and it had to be mine. It had to be a place where I could operate. And it was necessarily different from his, as it is for any student with any teacher, I think.
But it was a long process of understanding, and understanding the possibilities, and understanding the things that he represented. I didn’t come to him as an apprentice; I came to him as a university/college student and left there as the same thing. I mean, we had a final critique. That was the end of that talk.
MR. SHAPIRO: So that time that you went up and made pots in his studio, that was probably after his wife had died.
MR. SIMON: Oh, that was much later. That was mid-’80s. Well, in terms of Warren, when we first moved down here, to Georgia, we would go back to Minnesota because both of our families were there. We would go back every year-maybe even more than that, if there was something going on.
So we would see Warren most of the time, I think; we’d most of the time go out there. And then it became crucial to go out there. The relationship developed, you know, after we were gone from school.
Sandra wrote him, you know, began to write him. And Warren is a fantastic correspondent. He will write you back immediately. I swear he will just-if you write him a letter, he will answer, I think, the next day. It’s amazing responsibility. He’s very good.
I remember him writing-he wrote some great stuff. He said it’s the simpleness [sic] now that he really had to have and that he knew that-he knew there was a risk of just being boring, but he said that he had to have the clarity, that there wasn’t anything else that was-you know, that he could find. So he has always been a guide.
MR. SHAPIRO: Did you read Leach a lot at some point? Was The Potter’s Book [Bernard Leach, 1940] important to you?
MR. SIMON: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Read all those books, yes. Not in school, though, not undergraduate school. I don’t know why. Where was all the reading? The only thing I remember doing in undergraduate was looking at American Craft, and that doesn’t make much sense to me. I don’t remember reading much.
When Sandra and I finally started reading, it was about four years later. And that was when we got The Potter’s Book and then consequently read all the Leach books and then read-when did Cardew’s books come out? Pioneer Pottery came out-it was in the late ’70s-
MR. SHAPIRO: Seventy-six or something like that-somewhere in there.
MR. SIMON: Yeah. We got it right away, I remember.
MR. SHAPIRO: There’s that section on geology that always blew my mind.
MR. SIMON: [Laughs.]
MR. SHAPIRO: He got so far into that.
MR. SIMON: Well, he does-there are some things in this book-this whole section called “Product,” I think, is all about it. And there’s one page in here that I don’t know if I’ll be able to get through if I read it. It’s just so good.
MR. SHAPIRO: Do you want to read it?
MR. SIMON: Well, no, frankly, it’s too much. There’s just too much. It’s so good, though. It’s about six or eight pages.
You know, he speaks like this: “The Western potter who finds himself committed to work of this kind will still encounter difficulties and obstacles.” [Laughs.] Like he is not a Western potter, you know. He’s-you know-oh, God, it’s so funny.
Let’s sum this up. And he really does sum it up. And it was flabbergasting to read this, for me, the first time, because I thought, like, “Jesus Christ, this is what our life is, isn’t it,” because it was perfect.
MR. SHAPIRO: There’s that part where he talks about potters who want to make small pots and big pots and, you know-
MR. SIMON: Yeah. Yeah.
MR. SHAPIRO: -that it’s fair to want to make tableware and gallery ware and-
MR. SIMON: Right, right, right.
MR. SHAPIRO: I found that very encouraging.
MR. SIMON: Yeah. And he does say that, but at the same time I think he’s using it to make a point. He said that it’s important that the potter is the one that makes the decision about what is made; you could make it, you have to make what you want to make, and we have to be the ones leading the way; that you can’t expect-that if you’re making pots for the public, it’s just not going to work out, because they don’t know what you know. And I thought that was really good.
Well, it’s great, powerful stuff. It’s nice to see good writing. We need good writing.
I have to think that our pottery culture-I remember the last few years I was doing workshops, I would say that I thought that now that the American pottery culture was the best pottery culture in the world now. And I guess I still think it’s true. I mean, this is probably 10 years after that thought, but-
MR. SHAPIRO: What are the elements that bring that together?
MR. SIMON: Well, it’s pretty wide-ranging. I mean, there’s some real good pottery being made. There’s some just really good pots being made, I think. And it seems to me it’s better than the pottery that was being made in the ’50s, that it covers that ground that-maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe it’s not quite fair. But I was going to say that it covers that ground, but it also covers a lot more ground. It’s expanded, definitely expanded, since I started.
MR. SHAPIRO: So it seems like the younger potters come in at a higher level skill and sophistication.
MR. SIMON: They come in at a higher, wider-and with a wider base. I mean, good grief, they’re really-I think they’re really, really smart.
And there’s also-I think that even though there’s not nearly enough, I think that the support systems are better. It seems to me to be a little bit wider.
Now I can’t really tell, because compared with those first 10 years of working, the last 10 years have been so much easier, because I’ve had people coming to me for my work-I mean, all but about 10 percent of my pots are sold when I make them. And I can say, “Well, this one came out better than that one,” but it doesn’t really matter very much where they come out, you know. There was someone that wanted to look at them, and that was a lot different than it was the first 10 years, when, you know, it was difficult. It was difficult to get people to look at them.
MR. SHAPIRO: So you’ve always kept one pot out of every kiln, which is unusual.
MR. SIMON: [Laughs] Well, I didn’t always, but I started doing it sometime in the mid-’80s. And that was because I got to a point where I didn’t even have an example of a whole decade of work, not a single example out of the whole 1970s, you know. And I thought, “Well, that’s kind of funny.” I mean, not a good example-[laughs]-not one I wanted to look at. [Laughs.]
And then I thought, “Well, what will happen then,” you know, just drawing it out. It became clear that the biggest thing that you had was the development. Somewhere along the lines, I remember when I started to think this, too, sometime about early ’90s, I thought, you know what the story is here, is you’re not going to a point where you’re going to say, “Well, look at all these pots that are just marvelous.” But what you’re going to be able to do is say, “Look where you were and what you went through and where you got to,” or something like that. It’s not linear, but there is development. There was development, and I knew it all the way. I could tell that-especially if you had two years, and you look back two years ago, you could always-you knew that you just accumulated. You had things that you’d understand and you didn’t have.
MR. SHAPIRO: Like a snowball.
MR. SIMON: It was better. It seems pompous to say it was better, but it was better. It was somehow more encouraging, or it was wider; it meant more.
MR. SHAPIRO: So your typical work schedule, you would have a certain amount of pottery you’d want to make in a given day? I had heard that; is that true?
MR. SIMON: Yeah. Well, it was just a story. I’ve heard this story from many people, and everybody has a different number, and they think about it, and they’re in terms of time. But what I just trying to do was-how was the scheduling?
Well, the first thing, one of the most difficult things, I guess, from way back in the beginning was the discipline of getting in the studio. And as a young person, there are always things that you could do, that would even seem like you were kind of getting ready to work, but they might not have been. There were things that were easier than work or that would-or that you could do without-I don’t know what. But at some point or another, it became clear that I needed the discipline to get in the studio and really make things and to do it for-in terms of a year or in terms of a long time.
MR. SHAPIRO: Did you feel like your background, growing up on a farm, prepared you in some way for the routine of it?
MR. SIMON: Part of it was that thing I was talking about, about how I said, if I keep doing this, by the time I’m 40, it’ll work out. You get breakthroughs-sometimes you’d have slack periods. Like the first winters-it would be after the holiday sales were over. We’d have a little bit of dough. It would be easy not to work most of January. It was cold in the studio. There’s a million other good things to do. I mean, you didn’t have to go in there. So things like that.
As time went by, you just figured out that not only were you not getting in the studio, you just weren’t getting anywhere. You weren’t finding out. All the information was there, and you weren’t going in there to get it. You had to do that. It was just like opening a book. You had to open the book, or having the book wasn’t going to do any good.
So it was just a matter of establishing a discipline of getting in a studio, and so that was where it started out. So, like, I’d say to myself, “Well, you’ve made a dozen. Let’s do a dozen.” And how are you going to get this kilnload made? And how are you going to-and you couldn’t just say, maybe it doesn’t work, and so are we going throw any away? Or how would you do your-let’s make a dozen good ones. [Laughs.] Sometimes you wouldn’t get a dozen good ones.
MR. SHAPIRO: So would you throw a lot of pots away?
MR. SIMON: Well, I’ve seen a lot more greenware than in the early days. Yeah. I didn’t throw very many pots away those last few years. [Laughs.] I didn’t, frankly. But I wasn’t taking the same risk, either, that I did then. A lot of was just, I would think I was going to make an 18-inch-tall pitcher, three inches in diameter, or something like that. I didn’t know the limits. I would just put myself in places I couldn’t possibly succeed.
Well, so anyway, I think part of it was just to make sure that I would keep getting work done. And that fit right into mingei, too, fit in the right into the potter’s economy and having it be not so conscious, so that the days you went in there-you didn’t just go in there when you felt like going in there. You went in there when you felt good and when you felt bad. It was your life. You just went in there.
And it became obvious. I don’t know if it was just short-term, or maybe it took one or two years, and you could say, “Well, there’s development going on here, and you don’t want to miss it. So if you don’t want to miss it, you go in there.” And if you don’t go in there, it doesn’t develop. It doesn’t develop in your brain. It doesn’t. I mean, you’ve got to think about it, and it doesn’t hurt anything to think about it, but it doesn’t make it work. You have the physical sense, and the clay tells you the truth. It processes the truth, kind of. You have to be able to take it through all the steps, or your thinking-all your thinking in the world won’t really help.
So why would you decide on 12 a day? It was a number. I just wanted to get somewhere where I could-and I could have said, “Well, I’m going to put in a big day’s work, and that’ll be it.” Well, that was okay. That would have been fine. I wasn’t going to argue with it, but somehow that way I would know when I was done. And then-that was nice.
And, you know, if things were going really well, I wouldn’t necessarily stop. I didn’t have to stop. It helped me get a couple more kilnloads out; that was good.
MR. SHAPIRO: Once I heard you refer to a pot as a kind of an argument.
MR. SIMON: Oh, gosh.
MR. SHAPIRO: Does that ring a bell?
MR. SIMON: I don’t remember saying that.
MR. SHAPIRO: Are you saying a pot argues for certain solutions?
MR. SIMON: Oh.
MR. SHAPIRO: And in a way, a pot is kind of like an argument for the way-for a point of view, for an answer of-like it has a structure of an argument almost. I mean, you didn’t say that, but-
MR. SIMON: Gosh.
MR. SHAPIRO: -you said, you know, there are parts of this pot I would argue with.
MR. SIMON: Oh.
MR. SHAPIRO: Or that-like, I have no argument with.
MR. SIMON: Oh, yeah, I see what you’re saying. Well, that’s kind of a manner of speaking, I guess. Well, there are pots that succeed some places and, you know, other places you wish they’d tell you what they meant, or wish they would-or, you know, they weren’t telling the same story.
MR. SHAPIRO: Yeah. And this other story that I was thinking of is at Haystack; Bunzie Sherman once asked you, she said, “Michael Simon, were you ever a production potter?'” And you said, “Bunzie, what the hell do you think I’m trying to do?” And she said, “You are an artist-A-R-T-I-S-T.” Which, to me, kind of begged the whole question of how you think about yourself.
MR. SIMON: Yeah.
MR. SHAPIRO: I mean, she said-
MR. SIMON: Did I say-what’d I say then? Did I say anything?
MR. SHAPIRO: Yes. I think you said, “What the hell do you think I’m trying to do?”
MR. SIMON: Yeah, yeah.
MR. SHAPIRO: Which to me meant there is no-in your mind, there is no-
MR. SIMON: Difference.
MR. SHAPIRO: Yes. But I-
MR. SIMON: Well, in her mind, there was a difference.
MR. SHAPIRO: Yeah.
MR. SIMON: But I think there was no difference. Sure, you can say there’s an intent-if you don’t believe that pots are going to carry yourself, then I mean, why would you invest yourself in them if you don’t even think they’re going to? And if you think they do, then how can you not give all the attention that it takes?
I had a lot of good teachers at the University of Minnesota. One of them was Robert [J.] Poor, who was an art historian. He taught Eastern art-taught Chinese particularly-art history, which I took a lot of because he was such a great teacher. But people would ask him before his tests, what should we do? How much do you want us to write? He smiled, and he would turn his back and he’d say, “Water seeks its own level.” [Laughs.]
He was a great teacher. I had some great teachers at the University of Minnesota. It’s flabbergasting how lucky I was to go in there. And it was so peculiar to go there. I think Mark Pharis-he’s so serious to our American clay world. Seems to me he is. And then-and Randy, you know, made so many good pots, and Wayne Branum-I suppose he’s my favorite potter. I just love his pots.
MR. SIMON: And he became an architect.
MR. SHAPIRO: He’s an architect.
MR. SIMON: Right. He’s an architect, but he was always a good potter. He and Mark were sidekicks in undergraduate school. And they were always together, and they fired salt kilns together. And Wayne made great pots then. He’s just always made really nice pots. And now I think they’re just better than ever. But it’s actually not the pots-he made all those little house pots that I think are not his best pots. But his other stuff does refer to architecture often. But, boy, he has nice pots. I always liked his surfaces, too. Well, I like him, that’s probably-it’s hard to tell. Endearment is dangerous in terms of evaluation.
But anyway, they were all there. We were all there like kids. It was pretty amazing. I just can’t get over it. I was so fortunate. I know where my brother is. The rest of my family-I know where they are, you know, and my life has ended up so different from that-
MR. SHAPIRO: Were you the only person to go to university in your family?
MR. SIMON: I was the only person since my grandfather, who went to college.
MR. SHAPIRO: And was that-
MR. SIMON: In my mom’s immediate family, I mean. My mom had eight sisters. So some of them-the families are a little bit different, depending on who they married, but there wasn’t much value given to education. We have the term “redneck” now, but they weren’t-I don’t really think of them as redneck, or-you know, it wasn’t the same. We were quite poor-I mean, farmers. But there wasn’t much value given to education. It surprises me, you know?
MR. SHAPIRO: So were you encouraged by your family? Who encouraged you to go to college?
MR. SIMON: No, no one really did. No one did. I pretty much made a decision on my own. I wasn’t even encouraged because of-
MR. SHAPIRO: Did Angel Lillo encourage you?
MR. SIMON: No. Not really, not really. We didn’t have a-I mean, I was a high school kid. We didn’t have a personal relationship, you know? Not really. Well, maybe he did. I mean, he might have. You know, he might have said something like, “You should study. You should go study.” But I don’t-I can’t remember that. But because of moving, I kind of got lost in the counseling shuffle in high school, too, and I-you know, I was never really put on a college preparatory program or anything.
MR. SHAPIRO: Was it obvious that it was an option-for you personally, was it obvious that it was an option for you?
MR. SIMON: It was something that I can say that I hardly ever thought of when I was in high school.

[Audio break, tape change.]

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles and Interviews, Featured Artists

Thank you for visiting Jane Street Clayworks!