Eclipse 2017

Like millions of my fellow Americans, I watched Monday’s eclipse with fascination. I live in South Central Iowa, and my dad, who is an amateur astronomer, drove down from Minnesota in the hopes of seeing it on its path of totality.

The night before the eclipse he sat on my couch, scouring weather sites for forecast information. He looked as far west as Grand Island, NE, and as far east as Nashville, TN. Ultimately, he decided we should leave my house at 5am and drive to Columbia, MO, the town closest to my house along the path of totality. From there, we would stop to look at the forecast again and drive east or west along said path until we were in a spot with clear skies.

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It’s 5am on eclipse day!

Prior to this week, neither of us had ever seen a total solar eclipse. We were excited! But not half as excited as we will be in 2024, now that we know what an amazing experience it is. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true.

A lot of the fun of the eclipse was the build-up. We stopped at McDonald’s in Columbia to grab a bite and check the weather. The forecast looked as good as anywhere else within a couple hours’ drive, so we went to the airport, thinking we would find:

  1. other people
  2. access to open skies and
  3. (importantly, since we got there at 9:45am and the eclipse started around 1pm) a bathroom.

First, we had to stop at Walmart to buy cheapo lawn chairs because in our obsession over checking the weather, we forgot to bring some. We saw LOTS of people walking out of the store carrying them, to the point where I wondered if they’d be sold out and we’d have to sit on the ground!

At the airport it was hot and humid, but everyone’s spirits were high. We chatted with the people near us – a family from Branson, MO, a couple from Brainerd, MN, two young women from New York, and a family from Dartmouth, MA, where I went to graduate school – small world.

I brought glow in the dark bracelets, the kind you break to activate. I bought a tube of 20 at the Dollar Tree, so we had a *few* more than we could use. After offering them to our new neighbor-friends, I walked around the parking lot and gave them to families with little kids. Many of the younger kids seemed confused as to why I was handing them a glow in the dark bracelet in the middle of bright sunshine, but they accepted them happily.

The bracelets did work!

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Bracelets glowing during totality

As the eclipse drew nearer, the skies began to cloud over. We worried that we were going to miss it. But, lo and behold, shortly before 1:00 a nice gap appeared in the sky right around the sun. We were blessed or lucky – either way, the entire parking lot full of people was grateful! Airport personnel went around with extra pairs of eclipse glasses and everyone shared food. We were offered water, pop (including Sunkist, which was a deliberate purchase, according to Lachelle from Branson!), sandwiches, and moon pies (another clever purchase by Lachelle).

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Moon pies

Our spot was excellent. We were within a hundred yards of the line of dead center totality. That means we had a long time to look at the eclipse, though on the video I state that “it felt like 10 seconds.” I’m not even going to try to describe the eclipse to you. I don’t have the poetic chops to do it justice. I failed utterly in describing it to my husband. It was only after he watched my reaction to it (on video) that it looked to me like he understood how amazing it was. I almost cried when I took my glasses off (during the peak), and I still almost cry every time I watch the video! So… even though the video is pretty embarrassing – I had no idea I was so, um… vocal – I’m going to share it with you, too. I hope that sharing my amazement will inspire you to catch America’s next total solar eclipse. April 8, 2024.

Check how far you’ll have to drive in 2024 using this map (plan a vacation around it if it’s a haul!): https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/map/2024-april-8

See you there!

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Prairie: Traces gallery talk

Howdy. For those of you who missed it, here is the text from my gallery talk about Prairie: Traces, my latest piece. Yes, I am one of those people who writes out their entire speech! I’ll copy/paste it as it was written (to be delivered in person) so you can get the full experience. Hee hee!

If you want to see the piece first, please visit my vimeo page: https://vimeo.com/141752197. I’ve also posted a photo strip at the bottom of this entry.

If you would be so kind as to leave a comment or hit the “like” button below, I’d be forever grateful, as it will help with my final report for my grant. Thank you!

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Thank you for coming tonight. My name is Amy Uthus and I’m a local artist. I earned a BA from North Dakota State University in art and English in 2007. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and I earned my Master of Fine Arts in ceramics in 2012.

I’ve shown widely across the United States and I’m grateful to Ted and Shari and the Wesley House for the opportunity to show Prairie: Traces here this fall!

I currently maintain an independent studio practice, making things and selling them, as well as teaching and doing private commissions. I have prior experience at a variety of studios; I was the Artist-in-Residence and Education Coordinator at RDG Dahlquist Art Studio here in Des Moines from 2012-2014. I’ve also been an International Student Resident at the International Ceramics Studio (Hungary), and an Artist-In-Residence at Guldagergaard International Ceramics Research Center (Denmark).

In 2014, I was awarded an Alumni Achievement Award for early career success from the North Dakota State University Alumni Association. Prairie: Traces was made possible in part by a grant from the Iowa Arts Council, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Prairie: Traces is made of porcelain and steel. Porcelain is a white clay that is translucent when it’s thin. As you can see in the photos and in the actual piece here, light passes through the porcelain. Natural sunlight creates a different effect than halogen lighting. Sunlight creates a really crisp, focused circle, as well as the parabola of light across the top of the panels. Halogen lighting creates a fuzzier, wider circle and no parabola of light across the top. The piece was designed with natural light in mind. Ideally, this piece would sit in front of a large south-facing window.

However, we don’t have a south-facing window here, so I’m showing it with halogen lighting. The movement of the light is the same, though. I have the lamp hooked up to a telescope star tracker. The star tracker is a machine that rotates the light at the same speed of the earth’s rotation on its axis. Normally this machine would be used for astrophotography – you would attach a camera to it instead of a light, and then use it to follow the stars, taking really long exposures of things in outer space without getting streaks and blurs. So, if you watch the light tonight, it will travel slowly across the piece from left to right, just as it would facing south in the sunshine.

One of the most frequent questions I hear basically boils down to, “Why did you make this?” There are several ways I could answer that question. I’ll discuss the two reasons that seem the most important to me – the prairie, and time.

This piece contrasts unyielding steel and fragile porcelain while harnessing and focusing the natural elements of light and time. The fragility of porcelain and the unforgiving hardness of steel remind us of life on the prairie: a delicate, subtle beauty belying incredible natural dangers. By distilling light and time into a single entity, we are reminded of the major roles each play in life on the Plains.

Traces’ connection to the land is familiar to Iowans, who live surrounded by growth and sky. The shapes of the porcelain panels are reminiscent of aerial views of farmland, and the texture of the panels references flowing river water.

I photographed this piece out on the prairie. It’s the largest piece I’ve ever made, but in the photographs scale is tricky to decipher because the space is so open. I love vast spaces. They’re comforting to me deep inside. I assume other prairie-raised people feel the same, and one of my goals with this piece was to allow people in the heart of the city to escape to the plains momentarily, without ever leaving town.

I had the opportunity to study abroad in grad school. During that time, I met up with a friend from high school who was currently living in Germany, in Istanbul for a few days. One of the most compelling things I saw there was the impact of human touch upon the architecture.

This subject has made its way into a few different pieces now, but I keep revisiting it because it was so fascinating to me, a girl from ND, where we’re lucky if a building is one hundred years old. Some of the buildings in Istanbul are 1500 years old!

When you have a structure that’s that old, some parts of it are naturally going to start to fall into some sort of decay, no matter how good the upkeep is. What was curious to me, though, were the places where people have inadvertently caused the erosion. In those places, the degeneration of the building’s original form didn’t seem like a loss.

For example, when you pass a marble column and absently let your hand trail around its corner, you don’t usually think you’re leaving a mark.  But if thousands or hundreds of thousands of people over one and a half millennia do the exact same thing when they walk past that exact same column, all of those casual caresses add up.  The stone corner becomes soft, rounded and smoothed into a new shape by nothing stronger than human skin. We don’t usually think about a random touch here or there affecting anything.

When you stop to think about it, how many little actions do you do each day, that you think don’t have any effect on anything in the future? I know I routinely spend moments of my time on things that I think don’t, or can’t possibly, matter 5 minutes from now. But what about 5 days from now, or 5 years from now? Or 500 years from now? It’s hard to say if any of my absentminded or unconscious actions will be present in the future in any way, shape, or form. My second goal with Prairie: Traces was to get people to stop and think about time. To think about how we spend our time, and how our actions can unexpectedly affect the future. I decided to do this by making time visible, through the circle of light traversing across the porcelain.

Does anyone have any questions?

Prairie: Traces by Amy Uthus Porcelain, steel, sunlight, time. 7' x 7' x 24".

Prairie: Traces
by Amy Uthus
Porcelain, steel, sunlight, time.
7′ x 7′ x 24″.

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Please respond below. I like to hear responses to my work and ideas, even if they are different than my original intent. Thank you!

Sentinels Portfolio

Hello everyone! A quick update – I’m in the middle of my first big public art project, a suite of pieces for the Williston, ND, community library. The project is called the Sentinels Portfolio and it is comprised of 3 large ceramic vessels (each 40″ high and 26″ wide), two 24″ x 36″ color prairie and sentinel photographs, one 3′ x 6′ panoramic sky photograph, and the only weaving I’ve ever made – an 8′ high x 12′ long nature tapestry. Here are some photographs!

To watch a video on how the Sentinels (the clay vessels), please visit: http://amyuthus.com/606874/sentinel/

Untitled-4  Untitled-7Untitled-9Untitled-3  Untitled-5Untitled-1  Untitled-2

Studio News

Hello hello!

A quick update on how I’ve been occupied lately… (lots of photos at the end)…

Much of my time has been devoted to a project for a lovely local woman, Katie Geraty, and her company, Stone Bone Wood Cloth. For the past year and a half, Katie has hired me to design and fabricate prototypes of small porcelain bowls for her. The bowls are finally ready to launch, along with two other products (custom tassels and bracelets), and… not to be conceited, they are quite beautiful. 😉

Katie launched a Kickstarter campaign yesterday to get her business off and running. Click here to visit her page. It would be awesome if you were willing to help support her endeavor, because by supporting her you will be supporting local artists (me included!). She doesn’t mention this in the Kickstarter page, but did you know Katie was told she could have these bowls manufactured in China for pennies on the dollar? She chose instead to hire me to produce them, and she is paying me a very fair wage to do so. I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of business practice I can get behind. Creating these vessels for Katie has allowed me to keep pluggin’ away in my studio, and I’m grateful to her for the opportunity!

Here’s a synopsis of Stone Bone Wood Cloth:

“Our mission is to create beautiful objects, hand-made from stone, bone, wood or cloth that are as unique and individual as each of us; objects that remind us of who we are, or want to be. 

None of us really needs or wants more stuff…unless it has some personal meaning or resonance. At the SBWC website individuals will be able to go into a “workshop” and co-create an object that has personal meaning. Co-create means taking a base product – a vessel or a tassel – and adding elements that make it uniquely your own.”

Check our her page and make a donation today! If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter: You can remain anonymous during the donation process if you’d like. Donors can also choose from various rewards (bowls are some of the choices) and no donations are collected unless the project is fully funded within 31 days.

Some photos (of making the vessels, teaching, and other studio happenings). Click on any circle to open a photo viewer.

New Work!

Howdy!

I’ve been working hard on photographing a backlog of work from this summer. Here are a couple of finished images. I’m going to post a link on my facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Amy-Uthus-Artist/101902445002) when they’re all uploaded to my portfolio site. If you haven’t already “liked” my facebook page, doing so is the fastest way to stay up-to-date on all the latest news… and there are some big changes on the horizon!

Slip cast Dixie cup (sagger-fired porcelain), charred wood. 2014.

“Dixie”. Slip cast paper cup (sagger-fired porcelain), charred wood. 2014. Not yet for sale (is going to be entered in upcoming competitions.)

Untitled. Slip cast, sagger-fired porcelain and charred wood. 2014. $250.

Untitled. Slip cast, sagger-fired porcelain and charred wood. 2014. Not yet for sale.

"Impetus". Translucent porcelain boat (1 5/8"x 3/4"x 1/2"), charred wood. 2014. Not yet for sale.

“Impetus”. Translucent porcelain boat (1 5/8″x 3/4″x 1/2″), charred wood. 2014. Not yet for sale.

I was really hoping to get all the pictures done today, but I realized (after shooting all the pics, of course) that I had my white balance set incorrectly. So. I have to reshoot a bunch of them tomorrow morning, when the natural light comes back to my east-facing apartment. That means I get to live with this setup in my apartment for another night. Yippee!! 🙂

Stuff EVERYWHERE. Ugh. Clutter makes me feel like a crazy person!

Stuff EVERYWHERE. Ugh. Clutter makes me feel like a crazy person!

You’re Invited!

uthus

Sentinel

Large-scale ceramics and photography by Amy Uthus

Opening Reception: Friday, July 18, 2014: 7-10pm*
Gallery Talk: Monday, July 21, 2014: 6pm*

July 18-August 10 @ Viaduct Gallery
Des Moines Social Club
900 Mulberry Street
Des Moines, IA 50309
515-369-3673

Gallery Hours*
Monday – Friday: 10am – 6pm
Saturday: 10am – 5pm
Sunday: 12pm – 6pm

*All events are free!

Come check out Des Moines… you just might want to stay (forever!)

Hello there. Happy 4th of July! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Mine was great. I’m going to tell you a little bit about it in this post,  where I’ll also fill you in on all the fun stuff happening in Des Moines this summer. I’ve been pleasantly surprised (much like I was when I visited the Art Center) at the number and quality of things to do and see here. I’m not gonna lie – I’m writing this post mainly to try to lure my east coast friends into moving here, or at least visiting!

Let’s start off with some factoids about Des Moines. We’ll start with something easy and then move into some lesser-known tidbits. Are you excited? Ok. Hold on to your pants.

*Des Moines is the capitol of Iowa.

*Des Moines has a skyline. With tall buildings, not tall stalks of corn. (I did not know this until I drove into town last summer.)

*Des Moines’ metro population is around 560,000.

*Des Moines is home to Meredith Corporation (publisher of Better Homes and Gardens, among others).

*Des Moines is home to the Drake Relays, an annual track and field event that draws some of the best athletes in the world. This year the Relays hosted 23 Olympic gold medalists. The city was pushing for a bid on the 2020 Olympic trials (not sure if we won or not).

*Des Moines’ downtown is entirely walkable by sidewalk (duh). However, if you hate the outdoors, you can always use the 4 miles of skywalks, which connect almost all of the buildings and parking garages downtown (map here). There is also a free shuttle that runs every 10 minutes, in a loop from one end of downtown to the other and back. I’ve been in the skywalk once. I think the weather here in the winter is pretty nice. I only scraped my windshield 3 or 4 times all winter (this is purt near miraculous to a ND girl)! The average temp in the winter is 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ok, did you get your fill? I did. A little more than I wanted, actually… let’s talk about what to do here now!

I was telling you yesterday that I’ve been pleased with my decision to live downtown. I really like the location. As an artist, it’s a treat to be able to walk through a world-class sculpture park every single day (John and Mary Pappajohn park). I also live close to the main public library, which was recently renovated (2006) and is architecturally beautiful, with its sleek lines and coppery facade. There is a good deal of green space in front of the library, on which various activities are held.

Last week, that green space was home to the main stage during the Des Moines Art Festival. This free event is huge – they block off two of the major streets downtown and fill them with artist booths, vendors, and other businesses from the community. One of the coolest ones was Habitat for Humanity – they built an entire house over the weekend and then carted it off for a family in need.

Different musical acts play on the main stage throughout the festival, and it’s free to pull up a lawnchair or blanket, plop down, and listen to your heart’s content. The biggest name they had this year was Aaron Neville. I was quite sure I’d never heard of him, until he started singing. I’m so bad at remembering musicians’ names 😦 As soon as he opened his mouth, I realized I knew almost all of his songs well enough to sing along (in my head, of course… singing is not one of my talents!).

Anyway, the Art Festival is juried, and competition for a spot is stiff. I read that they typically have 1100-1200 applicants, from all over the country, for around 185 spots. Yikes! Needless to say, most of the work shown is excellent. If you can get in, the exposure is tremendous. 200, 000 people come through every year, over a three-day period.

In addition to the live music, art, and food, there is also a film festival – the Interrobang Film Festival, to be precise. This is ALSO free to the public. An impressive number of films were shown, but I didn’t check any of them out, so you’ll have to click here to read about them, if you’re interested.

If the Arts Festival isn’t enough, Des Moines also has a giant Farmer’s Market downtown, every Saturday morning, May -October, from 7am-noon (8-noon in October). There are around 300 vendors at the market, and I’ve heard that crowds can swell to 10,000 on any given Saturday.

Another one of downtown’s biggest annual events is a music festival called 80/35, which was started in an effort to put the city on the map as a fun place to visit. 80/35’s inaugural year was 2008 and it has been a huge success ever since. It attracts upwards of 30,000 people, all of whom are looking to see big names (on the paid, main stage) and up-and-comers (on myriad free stages). Talent they’ve booked in the past has included the Flaming Lips, the Roots, Avett Brothers, Ben Harper, Death Cab for Cutie, and many others (those were the ones I vaguely recognize; like I said earlier, I’m terrible with names!). This year the headliner is the Wu-Tang Clan. I have heard of them!

(Here is the schedule.)

Anyway, it just so happens that my apartment faces the green space in front of the library. It also just so happens that the main stage is on that green space, directly facing my building. Consequently, I have become very popular at work as of late. Ha! I cleaned my toilet tonight, just in case I have company! Everyone in my building gets a free ticket for both days (Friday and Saturday). I think this is so they get us out of the building… if we’re at the party, we aren’t going to complain about the noise, right? Pretty smart!

I’m looking forward to seeing what this event is all about, and I’ll do my best to blog about it sometime next week. To finish up my narrative: I’m starting to feel at home here. I really like the area, events, weather, and people, and I’m going to do my best to figure out how to stay here once my Artist-in-Residence contract is up.

There are a couple of other things I want to tell you about, but this is getting long, and my bed is starting to look very inviting. I’m going to switch to list mode. Every $ = 10 bucks (approx.)

Nitefall on the River: live music in the Simon Estes outdoor amphitheater, Wednesday nights startings at 6pm. $$+

Jazz in July: live outdoor music, rotating locations, 4x a week. Free

Yankee Doodle Pops: DSM Symphony Orchestra, fireworks, Capitol lawn, for the 4th of July and New Year’s. Free

I went to this and it was fun! Crowd was estimated at 100,000 people, but it felt welcoming and was family-friendly.

Des Moines Metro Opera: various shows and events. $$$$

Iowa Cubs baseball (Chicago Cubs’ farm team): various days and times, fireworks after Friday evening games. Sundays, bring 3 canned goods and receive a free general admission ticket. $

Jasper Winery: summer concert series; live outdoor music every Thursday from 6-9pm. Free

Free Flicks: DSM Parks and Recreation, movies outdoors on giant screen, various days, 9pm. Free

Dancing at the Lake: Learn ballroom dance at Gray’s Lake, every Thursday 7:30pm. Free

Yoga in the Park: Gray’s Lake, every Saturday 9-10am. Free

This is just a fraction of the many, varied, things to do in Des Moines this summer! Come on down! Hope to see you soon…

(Community Calendar)