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Connie Norman

Jim and Shirl Parmentier–Plinth Gallery Artist Interview

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This month Plinth Gallery Artist interview is with Jim and Shirl Parmentier.  The exhibition opens Frist Friday March 4.  If you’re in the area make sure you stop by!

Plinth gallery: http://plinthgallery.

The Parmentiers bring a team approach to their ceramic constructions. Starting with the initial design concept, they work together on all phases of the process, from shaping the forms to the decorating, glazing and final firing of the vessels.  The Parmentiers are recognized not only for their well designed forms, but also for their command of glazes and glazing techniques using wood ash. When fired, these specially designed glazes melt and flow into the carvings and crevasses on the surface to reveal a three dimensional quality.  With this continuity of form, alteration, carving and fluid glazes, their approach to vessel-making becomes a complete statement. – Jonathan Kaplan

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Tell us a little about yourself! 

We have been making our pottery together for 35 years. Our studio is nestled on a hillside in Mars Hill, 25 miles north of the Asheville. The open studio space we work in invites the creativity into our style of work. Presently we are working on decorative work for the home and office. We work as a team in both the design and the making of the pieces. Some pieces pass back and forth and others are done individually.

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 How did you become an artist?  

Jim took a pottery class as an elective in college and became a full time potter after 4 years of teaching high school. I always hand my hands in something creative while growing up and was instantly pulled in to what Jim was doing.

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How would you describe your style? One of the hardest things for artists to do is to stand apart from everyone else. How long did it take you to come up with your own style and signature look?

In the beginning we started with traditional functional pottery. Soon after we began weaving with strips of clay and developed a line of woven clay baskets. These progressed into more elaborate shapes which requires us to work on them together. This technique has taken many years to perfect and is not done by any potter that we have seen. We still weave these baskets and also add woven inserts to many of our pieces. About a dozen years ago we had a custom hydraulic clay extruder built to extrude the strips of clay. We also had dies made for this to extrude 7” and 9” wide slabs for tile making. We found these strips to be much stronger than a rolled slab because of the extra compression the clay gets when passing through the machine. This allows us to make larger pieces because it has the strength and stability to hold up during the building process.

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 What is your inspiration for your pieces? 

After this many years of working in clay, one pieces generally inspires the next. We also get a lot of feed back from customers. I am especially inspired by fabric for my carving designs. I’ll see a pattern I like and then I’ll keep working it until it becomes something uniquely mine.

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 What keeps you motivated?

We simply love what we do. We have been very fortunate in finding the right pieces that will appeal to our customers. When working on something new it’s usually quickly obvious if it will have appeal or not. We are quick to admit failures and can easily accept criticism from each other.

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 How do you maintain a healthy work and life balance?

No set exercise routine but we do keep active. Long days of moving, lifting, stretching in the studio is about what we get. We eat pretty healthy and almost always at home. No matter how long the work day is I still opt to make dinner each night. Having the studio on our property makes that easier as I can take a break at 5, do some dinner prep then put a meal together quickly at 7 or 8. If I come in late without a game plan for dinner then I’m a mess. I do all the cooking and Jim is a pro at cleaning up.

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 You, like most people enjoy the process of making and crafting and didn’t get into it for the sake of “business”. But eventually you found yourself having to make the transition from crafter to a businessperson. What have you learned so far and what advice can you give others in the same situation?

We became full time artists in 1975 and have never thought to do otherwise. We both come from humble beginnings so starting small and “doing without” came easy for us. We have always been conservative in our spending and never bought what we couldn’t afford. We raised 2 daughters, showed them a bit of the world and sent them to the college of their choice. They have now off into the world as strong individual women who now make choices of their own. Although they are both gainfully employed I know that the thought of self-employment holds a firm spot in the back of their minds.

We know of many young craftsmen in our area who are doing just the same as we did way back when. I feel it’s much tougher for them. They are dealing with higher costs and more competitive juries and for them I have the utmost respect.

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 What advice can you give aspiring artists struggling to find their own voice and look?

Keep at it and with hard work it will come.

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