Thursday, March 24, 2011


New MAH exhibit celebrates the alchemy of fire, clay, and imagination that was the Big Creek Pottery School

Bruce and Marcia McDougal have always thrived on "the excitement of the moment." Ask what this means, and Marcia offers a typically direct and resonant response: "Like the first time your baby smiles at you."

The McDougals' lives as artisans, craftpersons, and local cultural icons have been full of such incandescent moments. Potters, jewelry-makers, teachers, hoteliers, international travelers, collectors of doors from all over the world, longtime proprietors of the Davenport Cash Store and Bed and Breakfast, they have been at the heart of cultural life in Santa Cruz County for close to 50 years. But it's their role as founders of the fabled Big Creek Pottery School, up Swanton Road, from 1968 through 1983, that is currently drawing them once more into the spotlight. The McDougals, their work, and their school are the focus of a major retrospective opening this week at the Museum of Art and History: "Big Creek Pottery: A Social History of A Visual Idea."

The exhibit is guest curated by Karen Thuesen Massaro, herself an accomplished ceramic sculptor, educator, and Santa Cruz County Artist of the Year for 2003. Massaro moved to Santa Cruz from Wisconsin in 1980; she was never a student at Big Creek Pottery, but she remembers seeing enticing ads for the school in "Ceramics Monthly" magazine as an art professor in the Midwest. But it wasn't until she curated the exhibit, "Time and Place: Fifty Years of Santa Cruz Studio Ceramics," for the MAH in 1997, that she met the McDougals in person. Interviewing them for that show, she became fascinated by both the history and influence of BCP. (Read more)

That's Marcia and Bruce today (above), still intrepid, and full of ideas and enthusiasm. Here's a photo from the multi-media MAH show of Bruce evaluating student work hot out of the kiln at BCP, 1970.

The Big Creek Pottery exhibit opens at the MAH this Saturday, March 26, and will be on view through July 17. (Click here for more info.) The show includes 70 pots and some 140 vintage photos, so plan to spend some time and take it all in.

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