A conversation about art and design with Amanda-Hollomon Cook— artist, potter, and director of East Fork's newest department.
Trying not to burst at the seams because we have exciting news! If you’re scratching your head wondering what the Small Batch Studio is exactly, let us explain. This spring, we launched a new department at East Fork that's tucked in the corner of the production floor and headed by potter and artist Amanda Hollomon-Cook. We did a full interview with them to talk about their art practice, the goal for the Small Batch Studio, and some very, very special projects.
McKenzie: Hello! What’s the first exciting project you are working on as the Director of the Small Batch Studio?
Amanda: Hi! It’s a process-based, material and sound focused installation at The Black Mountain College Museum (BMCM) exhibition. You could say it’s a collaboration between me, East Fork and a sound artist named Jenn Grossman.
I’m making these hollow columns with ram dies and using the molds we use to make pottery as sculpture, and there will be recorded sounds of the factory reverberating in the columns. Jenn will do all the recording, then she and I will go and put the whole thing together and have the day to play around. I sent her sketches of my ideas and she’s really excited about it. It’ll be cool because the wires will be on the floor, which will be a nice juxtaposition against the clay tools. There are no pots, no pottery, no clay.
M: Kind of like everything but the clay?
A: Yeah. I think it’s gonna be really awesome Jenn seems really cool, and Caleb, the curator who lives in New Zealand does as well. It’s been a little funny working together with a 14 hours time difference.
M: So, some projects in the Small Batch Studio are more Amanda Hollomon-Cook as artist and some are more Amanda Hollomon-Cook as East Fork's Small Batch Studio Director?
A: Connie and I are just starting to navigate what exactly the Small Batch Studio does and doesn't do. We’re trying to keep it open to take on things like the BMCM project, which is more of a conceptual art project. I have funding from BMCM and I’ve been working on it outside of work, but it’s still a collaboration with East Fork, too. But, then obviously making pots and doing collaboration with companies like Counter Culture is all East Fork.
M: How cool. What is the Counter Culture project?
Counter Culture is a specialty coffee roaster based in Durham. For Counter Culture I’m working on making special 8oz mugs. I’m also going to be doing a prototype size espresso set that will go in two of the tasting rooms. It’s a small project to kinda test the waters for a bigger project.
M: Is that a goal for the Small Batch Stdudio? To test out smaller projects to see if they could get bigger?
A: Totally. If a very aligned restaurant that we’ve been in conversation with wants to do something specific or special, they’d be able to do that through the Small Batch Studio. The project that went to Los Angeles in early May was some hand-thrown stuff I made here for a pop-up shop with Doen, a clothing company. Apparently they did very well, so that’s cool!
M: That is cool! Any other cool projects coming up?
A: I just made a bunch of small, differently shaped vases for a dinner Connie hosted at the Hunker House, and a big run of pots for kids to sell at the Echo Park Craft Fair.
And right now I’m making Equality mugs, which we do every year to raise money for Campaign for Southern Equality. Little baby ones. And making one-off vases with stripes. They look really cool! I used wax to make pinstripes of negative space. I’ve only done two to see if it worked—and it worked!
M: Ooo striped vases sound stellar. That’s fun! Is it nice to have your own little zone?
A: Yeah, I like it. It’s nice to be around the hustle and bustle of things, but stepping over my threshold feels quite calm.
M: What are you working on in your personal practice right now?
A: Painting and drawing is ongoing. Lots of photos. I’ve been taking a lot of photos of azaleas during the small window that they bloom. I’m hunting for another camera as well.
I’ve also been airbrushing clay. I’m in a big testing phase. It seems to work best on raw heavy-weight canvas because it will absorb quickly enough. The only issue with it is that the clay is kind of translucent when you airbrush it, so it’s very difficult to fix mistakes. It’s a lot of preliminary sketching.
M: What does your process look like for that?
A: Well, I like to paint outside. I work weeks and weeks on thumbnail sketches until I get one that I think is pleasing. I’ll go and start it, and immediately feel it’s wrong, but it’s funny because I’m extremely frugal so I start beating myself up about wasting material. You can always figure out how to reuse things, but you can’t use tons of paint layered underneath the painting. But, a lot of times all the things you can’t see made the things you can, and I have to remember that that’s important.
M: Absolutely. It can be good to value process as well as product, which sometimes exists as physical “waste”.
A: Yeah, Thomas and I had this conversation about when he’s making bread. He feels he’s just facilitating it, and I’ve been thinking about the theory of that and realizing that a lot of times when I’m painting, it will start with a sketch, I’ll realize it’s wrong, then I find my brain turned off and I’m standing really close to it and I don’t even step back. These are 5x5 or 6x6 canvases. I’m standing two inches away, airbrushing, and when I step away I realize, “Oh, this section needs fixing and this section needs fixing,” and the only paintings I like are the ones I’ve abandoned my original intention of and start winging it.
M: It’s almost like you need to warm up your brain in order to turn it off.
A: Yes. I’ve found that I’m trusting my turned off brain more than my over-analytical, self-conscious one.
M: That’s beautiful. It reminds me of the "Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules" by Sister Corita Kent and John Cage. “Rule 8: Do not try to create and analyze at the same time. They are two different processes.”
A: Starting with a framework, whether that be for writing or drawing or painting, is, I think, always good. It’s good to see things through, but if you feel this point in the middle where you can go off, doing that can also be an exciting thing.
M: That seems like the definition of total, unadulterated creativity. I love hearing about your process!
A: Thanks! It’s fun for me to talk about these things, because mostly they just exist in my head. But anyway, sometimes I’ll purposefully distract myself when I’m working. When I’m overanalyzing a decision, that becomes a frustrating state. Sometimes, if you just take away all stimuli or put a lot of stimuli around you and work, it serves in a similar way. Those periods of quiet unproductivity are perhaps what’s going to lead to better work.
M: Agreed. But, social media will trick you into believing otherwise.
A: Yeah. You see so much. There’s feelings of envy, feelings of being in this huge sea, there’s space for everyone, but since there are so many people it makes opportunities seem more difficult. But, if someone is making something and you can tell someone enjoyed making it, I’m gonna like it in a lot of ways. I don’t like the whole push for productivity, or the feeling that that’s the only place where opportunities come from.
M: Well, what is opportunity and what’s the goal?
A: Yeah. Getting into an institution or gallery or whatever, well after that it’s like— then what? All I want is to be able to have real life good connections with other people, other artists, make things collaboratively, make things in isolation, have things rooted in real life. I’ve lived a fairly isolated life for the past while, and I’m now trying to navigate my way out of that. It feels really difficult.
M: Yeah. For me the goal is the ritual of process and developing that daily and that is sometimes really challenging.
A: Yeah, I want to be able to work without the influence of other people’s pace and sometimes I work at a really quick pace and that feels natural but sometimes there’s lull times and I need to not beat myself up about it. Just feel ok that those transitions are part of doing this forever.
I finished a painting I was working on yesterday and felt really good about it. It hit every mark. And then later on in the afternoon I working on something else beating myself up about it because it wasn’t right. And it’s like, “How about you just not worry about it?”
M: It blows my mind how easy it is for us to be hard on ourselves and how hard it is for us to be easy with ourselves. But, back to the Small Batch Studio. How long have you been in this new role?
A: Only five weeks. I’m looking forward to more collaborations, more special projects, making gifts for the long table dinner or sending stuff to super sweet customers. Things like that.
M: Aw, I love that. What have been the hardest parts about transitioning into this new role?
A: The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is that I want a role like this to come out of true humbless. Being a person hand-throwing in a factory space is interesting. Some people have associations with that while others don’t at all. The fact that these pieces are priced higher juxtaposed against a product priced lower. My little mugs cost more than our standard mugs.
It’s funny making products sold at an exclusive rate, it feels weird, but at the same time they aren’t priced higher than any studio potter. I’ve just been happy about this position because I’ve worked really hard for a long time to have this skill and to be able to make really technically proficient pots that are tight and correct. I like being able to throw that way. I’m glad that a skill I worked really hard to have, I’m able to utilize.
M: Me too. Thank you.