Studio visit is a Q&A with a local artist. Here, Melissa Merli chats with Sally Walsh, an artist who creates watercolors and pottery and whose work was included in the recent 'Three Ways to Get There' show along with work by Cecil Bilbo and Phil Strang at the Indi Go Artist Co-Op in downtown Champaign.
Q: What do you teach at Richland Community College?
A: I teach art classes; it really depends on the semester. I've been teaching art appreciation, and I really like that a lot. Whatever they ask me to teach.
Q: Are you full time?
A: No. I wish I was.
Q: How long have you been making art?
A: Oh, my. Thirty-plus years. I was the art teacher in Farmer City before they cut art from the curriculum in 2003, and I've been at Richland since 1998.
Q: Are your degrees in art?
A: I have a bachelor's degree in art education from Eastern Illinois University and a master's in art education from the University of Illinois.
Q: What do you specialize in and why?
A: Watercolor and pottery. For me, the pottery is relaxing therapy. I don't teach pottery at Richland. I just take the class there over and over.
Richland has an agreement, I guess you'd call it: If you teach a certain number of classes, you can take a class tuition-free. I take advantage of that opportunity — it's a wonderful opportunity.
The ceramics teacher, Shirley Kramer, is very good. Every time I take a class from her, I learn new things. That's my treat for myself. I like to throw on a wheel — that's my therapy.
Q: How did you get started on watercolors?
A: I just like them. If you compare them to oil paint, watercolor dries faster, so that makes them portable.
Q: Do you do plein air paintings?
Q: Are you from Farmer City originally? How did you get started in the arts?
A: I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. My grandmother was an artist. My dad was an artist. My mother was a musician. They weren't professionals, though. They had careers that earned money.
Q: Do you make functional pottery mostly?
A: I like to make pottery I can use every day, and I do use it every day. So the pottery I make, we have in the kitchen. It goes into the dishwasher and microwave. If a piece gets broken, oh, darn, I have to make another one.
I'm very interested in the aesthetics of pottery. This bowl is a good example. When you hold it in your hand, it feels very balanced. It doesn't feel heavy. The inside contours should match the outside contours, and it should feel very balanced. It should not feel heavy.
The one thing Shirley Kramer taught me, and I never knew it before, was a bowl has no bottom. It's a continuous curve. A lot of people will make a bowl with straight sides and a flat bottom — that's not a bowl, in the purest sense of the word. Well, what is it, then? I guess you could say it's a dish. But it's not a bowl.
Once you fine-tune the art of throwing, there's the aesthetic of a balanced piece. Some shapes are just much harder to throw than others.
Q: How did you get involved in this three-person show at the Indi Go Artist Co-op in Champaign?
A: Quite by accident. Call it a serendipity. I met Cecil (Bilbo) about a year ago at an educational retreat at Allerton Park in Monticello. Richland, Parkland College and Heartland Community College in Bloomington all sent delegates.
They divided us into teams to discuss different educational issues. He set up a Facebook page so we could continue to discuss the issues.
Several months ago, he sent me an email: "You want to have an art show with me and (Phil Strang)?" Yes.
Q: Do you ever show or sell your work in Farmer City?
A: No, I have never done anything like this. Down at Richland, we have an annual faculty show, and I show in that.
Here at Indi Go, I have learned a lot about downtown Champaign in the past few days. I love the way the city has sculptures all around and last Friday night was so cool. Music and people everywhere! What a tribute to the arts!
This has been a fun experience and a real self-esteem booster to sell a painting. Everyone has been nice — now if only there was free parking somewhere!