Usdan, Alumni News

Dreaming of Pottery

In March, Woodbury Grant recipient Martha Grover ’02 returned to Bennington as a visiting ceramics artist.

Martha Grover

Grover, who is now based in Maine, is a functional potter who creates thrown and altered porcelain pieces. Drawing inspiration from a variety of sources—dance, movies, flowers, female figures—Grover’s work makes the practical beautiful.

Returning to her alma mater 16 years later, Grover said, is the perfect opportunity to refocus on creating.

“There’s a lot of paperwork and organizing that happens as a potter; it’s not just making pots all the time,” Grover said. “During my time back at Bennington, I’ve tried to put all that stuff away and just work in the studio.”

The Woodbury Grant, in addition to providing a creative retreat, allows Grover to reconnect to the campus community, influencing and inspiring current students.

“The communal aspect has been wonderful,” Grover said. “It’s valuable for the students to watch a professional artist create. They also get someone to ask questions of and see how it all works, how to continue making pots all day long.”

Returning to Bennington brings Grover full circle, for it was during her time as student that she embraced her love of pottery and ceramics.

Grover comes from a family of engineers: both her parents studied engineering, and her sister went to Princeton for mechanical engineering. When it came to her own education, however, Grover opted for Bennington’s concept- and idea-based architecture program over a more rigid civil engineering track.

“I was looking for a program that was a little more art-based,” Grover said. “At the time, Bennington’s program fit with my interest in painting and drawing.”

As a student, Grover found that the College’s self-directed Plan process encouraged her to expand beyond her linear focus and explore areas of study beyond architecture alone.

I took interesting English classes and studied Japanese. As an art maker, that Bennington perspective encouraged me to seek a broad range of influences and inspiration.

Martha Grover '02

Field Work Term (FWT) was also an indispensable opportunity for Grover to explore how she wanted to shape her future career.

“In a weird way, FWT was so good for me because I worked at a couple architecture firms and realized that wasn’t the lifestyle that I was looking for,” Grover said. “For a lot of people, FWT is a great place to make connections, further your career, and try practicing what you’re learning about. For me, it also was a chance to discover what I didn’t want to be doing, made me think ‘oh wait a second, maybe architecture is not the career for me.’”

Toward the end of her studies, Grover began dreaming at night about making a giant ceramic pitcher. As a graduating senior, she struggled with these visions.

“After about a week of dreaming about pots and not dreaming about my architecture thesis, I had this crisis moment of, ‘Oh gosh, what am I doing?’” Grover said. “It was hard. I’d spent four years studying architecture and had family expectations pushing me to become an architect.”

However, Bennington’s atmosphere of inquiry and exploration encouraged her to continue practicing ceramics along with her architecture coursework.

“I’m no longer pursuing architecture, but I do feel like it taught me to think about space and function in different, valuable ways,” Grover said. “Hopefully, that makes my ceramic work more interesting.”

After graduation, Grover enrolled in Syracuse University’s Fifth Year in Ceramics, which confirmed her desire to pursue pottery full time.

“I realized I was dreaming about pots for a reason and that I do love working in the studio all day,” Grover said. “If you’re taking four or five different classes and just working on ceramics for a few hours a week, are you going to be okay doing it all day, every day for the next fifty years? So that extra year of just being in the studio was really quite wonderful for me.”

Grover went on to earn her MFA in Ceramics at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Now, she runs her own studio in Bethel, ME, sells online, teaches classes and workshops, and participates in shows, including the upcoming Functional Ceramics Workshop in Wooster, OH, and the annual Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail in Western MA.

“In academia, you spend a lot of time talking about the work you’re making and much less time talking about how you make a living at it,” Grover said. “I learned a lot of the how-tos of making a living while I was in residency programs and through talking to other potters. While I was in grad school, I interviewed Aysha Peltz. At that point, she wasn’t teaching yet, so she was making a living selling pots. We talked about how you get health insurance, those details.”

Returning to the Bennington community, Grover said, has been a welcome break from the administrative details. Her story of self-discovery, change, and growth while at Bennington is also one that speaks to current students who might be wrestling with similar transitions.

“Through Bennington’s program, I realized that architecture wasn’t the best career choice for me, and that was a really good thing,” Grover said. “At another school, I could have just kept going forward and never stopped to think, ‘Is this really what I want to be doing?’”

Martha Grover's work will be included in the Usdan Gallery exhibition Vessels: Containment and Displacement, Useful to Grand, running April 19 - May 12, 2018, Tuesdays - Sundays from 1 - 5 PM. 

By Natalie Redmond, Associate Writer