Monday, June 16, 2014

Goodbye Hairy Potter

I am fond of pointing out I don't have an artistic bone in my body, and I fear to say it out loud but my wife doesn't either, so when she found herself taking pottery classes to encourage her students I wondered what was happening. She was discovering one of the nicest people, a great artist widely recognized yet completely unassuming and kind. She struggled to make a -bowl? -plate? - ashtray, perhaps, alongside her bad luck students and though she never did become an artist (unlike some of her students) she did learn to revere the man who gave freely and willingly of his time.
She burst into tears upon reading of Jay Gogin's untimely death.
Such was the effect of a thoroughly decent man who loved pottery and his wife and his job at Florida Keys Community College. The president of that institution made the requisite nice noises about the full time professor's passing but I am ready to bet the iconoclast who preferred potting to college politics will not be replaced. Gogin had a full time job in the part time world of academia subscribed to by the President of the college and he took full advantage of his fortunate full time position to teach and share his untidy passion that constantly burst its banks. He was not a faculty member, he was a teacher and I can say this, if he made my wife believe she could pott, ever so briefly, he was endowed with that rare spark that made him unique. The world would be a better place if there were more Hairy Potters and fewer conventional mannequins going through the motions.
I never did pott with the hairy potter, and quite likely he could have given me the confidence and joy my laughing wife got from rubbing mud with the great man. But I do get to enjoy his work every evening when I go to work, and his public art is celebrated, not on my minor blog, but on the city's Art in Public Places page:

Jay Gogin's Tile and Ceramic Fountain at Key West City Public Safety Building

From the Key West Citizen this glowing acknowledgement. Key West seems poorly set to encourage roots here for future artists in paradise like the great Jay Gogin who touched so many hearts.

Artist Jay Gogin, Key West's 'Original Hairy Potter,' dies
Jay Gogin, who put the Florida Keys Community College Ceramics Department on the map with his "Mud Pi" fundraising dinners, has fired his final kiln.
The self-proclaimed "Original Hairy Potter" died Thursday at the Lower Keys Medical Center after suffering from liver and kidney failure for about a week.
He was 57.
Gogin coined his own nickname as a self-deprecating homage to his trademark lengthy beard and hair.
The amiable instructor harbored a lifelong passion for Raku ware pottery -- a yen he enthusiastically shared with generations of FKCC students during his near quarter-century professorship there. Gogin's slightly eccentric, yet genial disposition over time transformed him into one of the town's larger-than-life characters.
Visiting district school students of all ages also benefitted from Gogin's knowledge and fervor for teaching. This was particularly true during the trying, post-Hurricane Wilma period in 2005 when the college opened its doors, and instructional budget, to students of low-lying area schools dealt a devastating blow by the storm.
Gogin's easy smile and friendly demeanor were a comforting and familiar presence at gallery openings and other artistic happenings around Key West, where he was regarded as a prolific, generous and influential figure by his colleagues and fellow travelers in the town's creative community.
During a pinch pot-making session with Poinciana Elementary School students in 2005, the ceramics maestro happily noted the number of familiar faces in the room.
"Several have parents or even grandparents who have worked with me here," Gogin said at the time. "They're having a blast with it and so am I."
In 1997, Gogin and his wife, Robin, founded "Mud-Pi," a casual college ceramics club/faux fraternity. The next year, the inaugural "Mud-Pi" dinner was held at the Gogins' Key West home. These legendary gatherings became an annual tradition with patrons carrying off the attractive, hand-made bowls in which their meals were served. The proceeds were used to help fund educational trips to the ancient Japanese pottery village of Tokaname, another of Gogin's exciting initiatives.
In time the Japanese visits became a kind of ceramics cultural exchange program, bringing many students from the Land of the Rising Sun to the United States -- often for the first time.
In 2000, the Gogins renewed their marital vows in Japan.
"When the [Japanese] students come [to Key West] they love it, although it's a real shock for most of them who haven't traveled outside of Asia," Gogin said in a 2001 interview. "Women especially find that they have more freedoms here."
Before long, the Gogins were bringing "The Wind From Key West," actually an elaborate "Mud-Paella" dinner, to Tokaname, where Gogin also made many friends. There, too, diners were left with ceramic souvenirs from the visiting Key Westers.
Gogin was born Jan. 14, 1957, in Pewaukee, Wis. For a time he attended a seminary, considering a career in the priesthood, before happening upon ceramic art.
His career in pottery took off at the age of nine when he defiantly created his first piece to prove to his skeptical parents that his lengthy hair wouldn't prevent him from becoming a potter.
As a young man, Gogin began showing his work at small Midwestern art festivals, where his unique, Zen-inspired technique quickly gained him a following. Soon this translated into international gallery exhibits and sales. His ceramic masterpieces can be found in numerous public and private collections throughout the U.S. and in more than a dozen other countries.
Gogin met his wife at the yacht club in Stevens Point, Wis., in 1982. Together they moved to Key West in 1990, where Gogin began teaching a ceramics course at FKCC. The class and its teacher were an instant hit, and the program soon expanded to include ceramics for beginners, Raku, wheel throwing, ceramic mural design, and Japanese wood-firing.
At the center of it all was Gogin's immense talent and natural ability as an instructor. He hosted visiting artists from around the globe, began leading cultural and educational trips to Europe, and organized numerous workshops, exhibits and fundraisers
Along with the overseas excursions, the Gogins and "Mud-Pi" set out to enhance the awareness and appreciation of ceramic art in the community. Dozens of intricately crafted ceramic sculptures, pots, wall murals and water fountain urns were created, which helped shape the zeitgeist of the FKCC campus.
Similar works can be found around the Keys at locations as varied as the Key West Public Safety Building and the Kathy's Hope Serenity Garden at the nonprofit Samuel's House. Gogin even crafted custom beer tankards for the members of a social club he helped create at Finnigan's Wake pub.
Two years ago, longtime FKCC supporter -- and Gogin student -- Michael Dively showed his appreciation of Gogin's inspiration by ponying up a $25,000 endowment to establish the "Jay Gogin Excellence in Visual Arts Award" at the college.
Each spring, in perpetuity, a promising FKCC student artist will receive $1,000.
"I still remember with fondness my ceramic classes at FKCC," said Dively, a former Michigan legislator and college professor. "This award recognizes Jay's creativity, energy and commitment to his students -- and the impact Jay's artistic creations have made at the college and around Key West."
Another of Gogin's students, Thivo Foster, who now lives and works in Miami Beach, was heartbroken at the news of his passing.
"Twenty years ago my husband and I were always in the Keys as snowbirds," said Foster, who specializes in Nerikomi pottery, another Japanese ceramic discipline. "One year, I signed up in ceramics classes at FKCC, where I met Jay Gogin. I joined his 'Mud-Pi' and continued to support it while we were back home in Cleveland. We moved to Key West, instead of California as planned, thanks to Jay and the ceramics department in FKCC. From then until now, Jay is always in my admiration as a wonderful artist and a best friend who was always there when needed. Jay Gogin's passing is a big loss to [the] community and the FKCC students."
FKCC President Jonathan Gueverra on Saturday released the following statement:
"The word legend is often overused or misused when we describe certain individuals. To say that Jay is a legend is no exaggeration. His finest qualities extend beyond his artistic and creative abilities. Jay's kindness, his generosity and his willingness to share and to serve simply because these were the right things to do will never be forgotten. Through his artistic expression we will all continue to benefit.
"On behalf of the entire FKCC community I say thank you to Jay Gogin for his almost 25 years of service. I especially want to thank his wife, Robin, who is equally generous and allowed the rest of us to be a part of their lives."
Gogin is survived by his wife Robin, two brothers, Glenn and Greg, and his mother, Glorida.
A celebration of Gogin's life will be announced at a later date.

Key West In Summer Gray

I love summer in the Keys, but there again I love summer pretty much anywhere in the Northern hemisphere. I lack the normal human capacity to enjoy seasons, snow, short days, and all the cozy romantic nonsense of being housebound in winter. As Cheyenne and I squelched down Elgin Lane we passed a young woman sitting on her porch putting on running paraphernalia. She asked the formulaic question, and even though I know I'm supposed to reply "Good. How about you?" In the monotone preferred by recorded answering services I cannot, and I blame Aspergers for this, not the devil that resides on my shoulder; no I cannot use the stupid rote formula that generates the automated response, no matter what daft thing I say, "Fine thanks." People are so used to the automatic exchange they give that answer no matter what devilish thing I say.
This one didn't, to her credit. When I said, in response to how was I doing, that I was getting soaked her eyes lit up and she said, yes isn't it great, such a refreshing break in summer, her dog prancing after Cheyenne like a teenager around a plodding babushka. That's one of the things I like about summer here, rainy season is when it's hot. I have lived in places where the weather conspires against you and freezing winter rains reduce the lovely fresh green summer to an icy muddy mush all winter long. To be rained on to no visible effect is glorious. Crocs to wade puddles is all you need to cope with sudden summer downpours in the Keys. Plus the cool fresh rain slakes a dog's thirst. Perverse headless animal.
The struggle continues to turn the gray drab military housing in Peary Court into an exciting community fully integrated into the surrounding neighborhoods. From what I have heard some of the surrounding neighborhoods have grave concerns about being integrated with a community that will be manufactured and that will be struggling to prevent Peary Court from becoming a shortcut for drivers seeking to avoid the jams that form on Truman and Palm Avenues. Meanwhile the developers keep cutting their cloth to create the maximum possible density the city will allow...renting here increasingly seems like a short and shorter term proposition. I like the sign "old town living." It's not at all any of that but truth is no longer a requirement anywhere in public life.
In talking with Gary last week I stumbled across an idea made concrete inasmuch as contemplating the workplace of the future I lamented the gradual disappearance of those things that give people like me the ability to keep chugging along, job security, benefits, planning and the future of young people seeking work seems very different. He, the father of two daughters in college, made the point that perhaps that is the world they seek. Just as we upended our parents views on what was just and proper so they too are doing the same. It would be nice if he were correct, because I feel the doors of job security, pension planning, benefits and all the rest of it slamming shut behind the departing ranks of us baby boomer workers. Brave new world, I wish them well.
Which thought allows me to turn away from a future filled with different work ethics and employment insecurities to indulge in that nostalgia which looks back at what makes a good and memorable summer, contemplation especially promoted by drizzle, outright rain, absence of sunshine and color. My memories of summer involve light and heat mostly, with smells and noises in walk on rĂ´les.
Summers at boarding school at about the latitude of northern Maine meant daylight was strong enough to read by at eleven o'clock at night, and I remember getting out of bed in a dormitory filled with three dozen young scholars to sit on a third floor windowsill to read a novel by natural light. England in summer is an extraordinary place, as green and lush as a jungle, filled with the sounds of insects, and a twilight that takes hours to fall and rob the countryside of daylight. Talk about shades of's the best thing about northern latitudes, that endless twilight, like a very slow deliberate and totally self aware descent into unconsciousness. I miss that as day shifts to night in the Keys faster than you can pour a cup of tea.
In Italian summer holidays by contrast twilight was short and sharp and signaled a retreat to bed for the workers harvesting food all day. It was the long hot silent afternoons that I remember as the best part of summer. My mother was a great believer in afternoon naps and she would take me to bed and wrap a maternal arm around me as she drifted off. I would wait till her breathing got deep and regular as it always did, allowing me to slip out of her anaconda grasp to an afternoon of limitless freedom. My friends would be sleeping so the village was mine, all mine, a silent life sized Lego village, a blank canvas for three hours wherein I could win wars, take epic journeys and slay all manner of fearsome dragons under a baking Mediterranean sun. The sounds of summer in Umbria are crickets, more properly known as cicadas, rubbing their legs together in an endless mating ritual that is the sound track of summer in my mind.
And now I'm all grown up to all appearances yet I still have summer afternoons to myself, long hot tropical days with my only companion Hobbes the Labrador to conquer new worlds and play endless games of Calvinball.

And we don't have to stay indoors when it rains as my mother is long dead, with all her neurotic Italian health concerns about rain and arthritis and bronchitis and I don't remember what, none of which enabled her to live as long as I have. Nowadays I don't care if the twilight lingers or not (it still doesn't at these tropical latitudes) because Calvin grew up and Hobbes gets to sleep the evenings away in a coma of old age as I spend my nights playing telephone hide and seek with intoxicated adults who ought to know better.

It turns out I am reliving the enchanted summers of my childhood quite by accident. How odd.