SUPERMUD MEMBER PROFILES
Michele Godwin - Instructor
For this next Supermud Member Profiles, Scottie Twine spoke to Michele Godwin, an artist in several mediums and one of Supermud’s teachers. Michele has been working in clay for ten years, but her creative growth has been life-long. Born in Baltimore but growing up in Harlem, Michele was interested in art from an early age. She took her first art class in 6th grade; by the 8th grade she had become an art major and was already sure enough to inform her mom she planned to be an artist. Her mom’s warning that “it’s a hard profession” didn’t deter Michele in the least.
Along with a basic academic curriculum at Harriet Beecher Stowe IS 136, she was exposed to painting, drawing and printmaking. She loved the art classes and still has the first linoleum print she did that year. “Some of the things I now teach about painting and drawing to 6- to 12-year olds in an after-school program I learned in junior high school.”
At The High School of Art and Design, along with academics students were focused on a career in commercial art. There Michele learned more about illustration and graphic design, as well as color, theory, drawing, painting and sculpture. She particularly liked illustration because “the teachers gave us practical, technical information,” and she chose it as her major. Illustration was her major again at the School of Visual Arts, where her courses included printmaking and silk screening and where, for a time, Michele considered a career as an animator.
Work in the arts during and after college included summers as a camp counselor at the University Settlement, apprenticeships at The Children’s Art Carnival and at the Met, and learning about teaching art to children at Doing Art Together. Michele also volunteered at the Dieu Donné Papermill, where she also later became an artist in residence and would print onto her own handmade paper.
After graduating from Visual Arts in 1983, a friend suggested Michele go to the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, a professionally-run, community-based print shop started by master printmaker Robert Blackburn. She volunteered there while expanding her own body of work, with the added bonus of meeting some of the artists she’d studied in her art courses.
Michele received awards from both the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation for her printmaking. After this public acknowledgement of her work, Michele decided it was time to get her Masters in printmaking, which she completed at City College in 2002.
Michele’s work continued to expand - literally. She had minored in sculpture in college and began creating very large wood cuts – 22”x30” and 32”x40” and impossible to use in a printing press for obvious reasons. She’d create prints by applying ink to the wood cut and transferring the inked image using the back of a spoon onto paper that had been laid over the carved wood. In fact, the wood cuts were such substantial pieces themselves that Michele hung them as sculptural elements alongside the prints she’d made from them.
She also began to work with fabric, stuffing pieces to make them three-dimensional “sculpture.” These, too, started as larger pieces but limited work space has meant the fabric pieces are now smaller and Michele stitches on them with embroidery thread, backstitching on and around the images. Muslin is her fabric of choice; Michele likes its unfinished edges and its tan color, which reminds her of a piece of paper or a blank canvas.
So where does cIay fit into all this? It turns out that it was pure serendipity that led Michele to Supermud. A woman getting her Masters in ceramics at City College saw Michele’s interest in the work she exhibited as part of her thesis and suggested Michele “try ceramics at a place called Supermud.” (Michele never did know how a teacher who lived in New Jersey knew about the studio.)
Michele’s earlier foray into ceramics during grad school hadn’t left her enthusiastic – she just didn’t click with the teacher. But Michele visited the studio and began work study at Supermud in 2004, taking classes from Carmen, Marsha and Peter. This time, she said, “I was ready, and learned a lot more. Sometimes you go to a class and you’re left alone and have to find out what your body tells you, how the clay works. And sometimes you get instruction. But even then you have to figure out how to feel the clay on your own.” This good combination of clear instruction and being left to find her own way with clay made a difference, and she also enjoyed the community.
Eventually Michele was hired to help manage the studio on scheduled days, and a few years ago she began teaching. She likes to teach, to show students the basic skills (“pulling cylinders is like practicing scales, it’s the foundation of most things”) and introduce them to the potential of the medium. She helps them learn when to follow instructions and when to follow their own instincts.
As for the full breadth of her art, Michele is still trying to figure out where clay fits in. She sees herself as a printmaker but now she has this other skill in ceramics – and they’re very different. But she wonders if there’s a way to combine the two. “All the skills I learned in printmaking and drawing can apply to clay. You can draw in clay, you can paint on clay, you can carve in clay. That’s what makes it unique. ”
Michele’s approach is to continue to develop her art and see where it takes her. She starts a project by drawing what she wants to make, a practice instilled by her illustration background; she found this frustrating when she was learning pottery because “I could draw better than I could make pots.” That’s not a problem anymore!
No matter in which medium she’s working, Michele takes her inspiration from nature, considering herself “an urban person who’s supposed to be more in nature than I am” here in the City. But she lives across the street from a park and eagerly watches the seasons change. Flowers and leaves twine throughout much of her work, showing her connection to the earth.
Now, these years later, she speaks of communicating with the clay, how sometimes you must tell it what to do and how, other times, it speaks to you and you must listen. She has let go of some of her early perfectionism and says, “You have to trust yourself that the piece is okay the way it is and that you can do it again – which is the nice part. It’s important to know when it’s simply time to step away and come back to it later, or know when to just leave it alone. You need to be patient. Sometimes it’s all about timing – when things are too dry, when they’re too wet. It’s learning that you can control some things and not others.”
Ah, just another reminder that what we learn when we work with clay is true for so many other things!