The following is a conversation with Mark Burns, Stuart Gair, and Seth Rainville, the Harvard Ceramics Studio Artists-in-Residence, 2017-2018. This panel was organized, moderated, and recorded by Kathy King at the Falmouth Arts Center, Falmouth, Massachusetts, November 19, 2017, then transcribed and edited for print by Studio Potter. The panel began with an invitation for the artists to discuss what brought them to the residency at Harvard; Burns spoke first:
There weren’t these residencies like there are now. They’ve become a way of life, for a lot of people. I was in a very aggressive program: you made art, and you showed it, and you became famous. But also, you should get a job that will allow you to make your work three months out of the year, academically. And I did that, and I followed all the steps, and then, one day, I woke up and I was running a huge program all by myself in Nevada, and I was the chair of the art department.
You can’t serve two masters, let alone three, so the very first thing to go was my studio. I just couldn’t get anything done. And it dragged on and on and on and on and on. I was exhausted by doing the same thing that Seth was talking about, which was writing incessant letters to promote other people into things. I had turned down many things over the years, as my reputation—or dis-reputation, sort of—grew, and I thought, I can’t do this anymore. So I retired out, an emeritus, and sold everything I owned. I thought, I need to go find out what this thing is about. I can’t reinvent myself if I don’t do this thing. Going to Harvard was a godsend because it was a destination, a worthy destination and I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here.
Audience Member: How long were you doing regular work, compared to your creative work?
Burns: You mean regular work, like teaching? I would say sixty percent of my time was running that shop. I had a huge program of grad students, and I did it alone. I had no colleagues. Then, they made me the chair, basically because I was the onsite chair for the ’96 NCECA in Las Vegas. I’m the guy that made that happen. So the president went, “Oh, get him to be the chair. He’s pretty organized.” I begged not to be made the chair, and the last thing the dean said to me was, “I can appoint.” I knew I was doomed....