Q&A: Grace Gish, Participant in Community School of the Arts’ Side-by-Side Program

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Grace Gish, 16 (on left), works with potter Peter Rose as part of the Community School of the Arts’ Side-by-Side Visual Arts Apprentice Program. The program, with executive director Jennifer Willard, was chosen as one of 50 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Finalists by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities and its partner agencies. Awards will be announced in June, and Gish’s work and that of other students and adult artist-instructors will be on exhibit at Bennett Galleries (5308 Kingston Pike) June 1-5, with a silent auction June 5 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

When did you first start thinking of yourself as an artist?
I have been creative for as long as I can remember—always thinking outside the box. My mom always said I wasn’t aware there was a box.

Are there other artists in your family?
No. My mom had worked with pottery before but she never expressed that to me until I started the apprenticeship. She does a lot of music but I wasn’t gifted with that—I was gifted with guitar, but it’s not my favorite thing.

When you were younger, were you good at realistic drawing?
I’ve tried but it’s definitely not my strong suit. When I was younger I just drew dogs and got better from doing that. That was the one thing I always did and I never branched out until I started with Community School of the Arts when I was 12.

What were some of your early experiences with CSA?
I worked with a different artist there my first two years, just basic learning—how to draw shapes and stuff. Then I worked with Ms. Jennifer on mixed media. We started with canvas and then we got maps and laid them on the back, put paint on top of that and kind of layered with paint and gel and more pieces of paper.

Is it awkward at first, working directly with an artist?
No, Peter brings a lot of knowledge and life experience to the table that I would not otherwise be exposed too. And he has a good sense of humor and makes learning easy.

Can you remember anything funny that’s happened with the apprenticeship?
He gave me a piece of toast with, I don’t remember what it was called from Australia—Vegemite? It was kind of like jam and tasted like Worcestershire sauce. It was so nasty. He was so happy that I swallowed my one bite because he said most people don’t.

What are your further education plans?
I am probably going to do the Tennessee Promise and go to Roane State or Pellissippi for my first two years. I’ll probably study marketing and I’m also considering truck driving.

Are you getting exposed to the business side of pottery?
I’m just there when he is working with clay. We set up a three-hour session and he gives me instructions and then does his own thing at the same time he’s watching me and giving me pointers. He really wants me to be independent and learn it for myself.

How far could you take pottery?
As far as the Lord allows.

Does the pottery experience interact with your faith at all?
Definitely. In Sunday school, we were talking about the verse from the Bible, Isaiah, 64:8—”But now, O Lord, You are our Father. We are the clay, and You our potter. And all of us are the work of Your hand.” You just want God to mold your life. There will be rough trials, almost like pottery being put into the fire. But you will come out stronger like the pottery comes out harder and doesn’t break. That was an instant fit for me.

Has Peter ever given you good advice?
He tells me, “Always look into all of your options.”

The nonprofit Community School of the Arts provides free instruction in all the arts to children who would otherwise not be able to afford it. For more information: csaknox.org

Rose Kennedy came to Knoxville to work as an editorial assistant on 13-30’s Retail Appliance Management Series and never saw a reason to leave. Her “so uncool I’m cool” career among the alt weekly newspaper crowd has led to award-winning articles on Dr. Bill Bass and the Body Farm and cyber-bullying at West High School, and treasonous food columns about preferring unsweet tea and feeling ambivalent about biscuits.

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