From June 2010 – August 2014 Jill Foote-Hutton was the Curator of Exhibitions at Red Lodge Clay Center in Red Lodge, Montana. During that time she coordinated a large commercial gallery, representing over 80 nationally recognized ceramic artists. She was also responsible for presenting twelve exhibitions per year, maintaining one of the leading websites in the field of craft, and publishing the monthly newsletter. Prior to 2010, she was the lead faculty and Gallery Director for seven years at East Central College in Union, Missouri. Her MFA was earned at the University of Mississippi in 2003, and her BFA was earned at Webster University in 1994. Please note the requisite developmental years between degrees wherein she labored as a booth designer at a vintage wholesale company and was laughed at for suggesting she might be worth more than $10 per hour; and where she also learned there is, “…no such thing as negative space.”
But those are just boring credentials and proof she can hold a day job.
Now she is the creative force behind Whistlepig Studio, LLC where she is engulfed in a fantasy world, crafting narratives based on real life, giving voice to inner dialogues, and the shaping the creatures that populate those stories.
Sometimes, the stories she tells are her stories. Sometimes they are the stories others tell her. Sometimes they are the stories she observes.
When the stories aren’t on pots or chalkboards, they are sometimes on the pages of industry magazines like Ceramics Monthly or Studio Potter or on her blog, and sometimes she’s even a guest blogger.
Whether she’s curating, making objects, or writing she is doing her best to be an agent of empowerment and an advocate for diverse potentials.
Since 2010 I have cultivated the series Communal Narratives in various iterations. It all began with three chalkboards, six monsters, and a community of stories. Since then I have had the opportunity to engage several communities with interactive monster chalkboards in Missouri, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Texas, and Montana. The “monster” is a device I use to engage in a conversation about the disparities of what we think and what we do, about the distance between two human beings, and the nature of lightness and darkness. Monsters become avatars that retell tales and loosen insights. They embody empathy for our own human frailties. Their literary history makes them the perfect vehicle to coax new stories from hearts and imaginations. Monsters carry many historic and contemporary tales of fantasy, myth, and legend. Curiously enough, these stories can be found upon the surface of vessels from a vast geographic range in antiquity. Whether we name them monster, god, spirit, demon, or angel, these creatures universally reflect and contrast the darkest realms of the subconscious collective. They provide polarizing clarity within a narrative. A monster is honest in its single-mindedness, as well as its inability to hide faults.
Monster, resides at some strata in everyone’s story and through my practice, Whistlepig Studio, I delight in providing interactive monsters, chalkboards, writing scrolls, and workshops to facilitate the investigation and celebration of everyone’s unique monsters. These community collaborations are also a rich field of narratives, and I bookend each interactive experience by capturing the tales I see and hear. They reappear, translated—a final collaboration—upon the surface of my vessels or, sometimes, in sculptural frozen moments.
Guardian Monsters act as allies, reminding us of our strengths, like a contemporary haka or worry stone. They carry as much content as any one viewer chooses to imbue them with, after all the light and shadow reside within each human. Two-dimensional prints offer hints of a narrative for the three-dimensional objects, reformatting the idea of narrative as a dialogue between object and image and viewer.
Bison Monster The Bison Monster is part bison, part lamprey eel, and part of me. He is the first character created in the growing cadre of Guardian Monsters. The Bison Monster is my guardian. He illustrates stories I concoct in response to humanity. To restate a point: monsters are forthright. They speak the unspeakable without fear of repercussion. The Bison Monster assumes center stage in narrative vignettes. He leaps unashamedly from my experience as I indulge my own perspectives on the human condition and familial interactions. And yet, I hope somewhere in the viewing audience my observations ring familiar.
My work can be subversive, or sneaky if you will, maybe I can slip into someone’s unsuspecting world and make a point or jog a purposeful thought or action loose. Yes, I believe in the ability of art to impact the world. My desire to play with others at a chalkboard or to collaborate by playing with totemic figures is really my desire to open up potential for others, because art opened potential for me. It is also an attempt to have a conversation and learn a little more about our confusing humanness. Monsters enable me to, as Richard Nickel put it, “Stare at people less.”
The focus at Whistlepig Studio is certainly myriad, but each facet of the process under the umbrella is integral to the whole. Without the audience interaction the objects are under-informed, without the objects the audience interaction has no catalyst, no focus. Creating an interaction is all about curating a safe space for folks to nurture their own story.
Storytelling, Curating, and Making are intrinsically connected in my practice. They are each a device to facilitate connectivity, capture a frozen moment of humanity, and transform our fears into strengths.