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→ The full interview with Connie Norman is featured in Ceramics Now Magazine - Issue One / Winter 2011-2012.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Text and pattern is seen everywhere on your works; they make a fantastic rhythm and enhance the forms. When did you start to use text on your works?
Connie Norman: My current style using text started years ago when I was making mixed media sculptures that were mostly clay integrating text. I gave myself the challenge to make something esthetically pleasing. What I wanted to do was -to be able to tell a story with pots. I suddenly had the revelation of incorporating the text onto my pots. But it is very ironic that I use words on my work, because I have always struggled with writing. And I still do! When I was working in sculpture I only used single words, but now I have expanded to phrases.
You recently came home from Ethiopia. What did you experience there? Tell us your impressions.
My journey to Ethiopia started approximately four years ago, when my husband and I started the adoption process for our son Vander. In 2009 our permanent relationship with the country of Ethiopia started, we traveled to Addis Ababa, to pick up our son. As the days, months and years went by; I realized I wanted to give back to the country that gave us our son. I started looking for a way to go back to Ethiopia and volunteer. I went to Ethiopia this past July for three weeks. I worked with three organizations, One Child Campaign, Vision on Africa and Mission Ethiopia.
I worked with women to help restore their dignity who are HIV positive and who have leprosy, and women who are destitute. Through the language of clay we were able to communicate, laugh and be with each other without a common language.
The women of Mission Ethiopia are HIV positive and suffer from leprosy; these women are considered outcasts and unemployable. Women like these and their children, spend their days searching the garbage dumps for food. Now, these women make pit fired beads, which are fired on the ground in an open fire.Currently they are able to feed their children and themselves.
I sat with the women much like an old fashioned quilting circle, they showed me how to roll the beads in my palm and decorate each bead. While we were making beads their children ran in, out and played outside with meager toys like old tires, but were always smiling.
Vision of Africa is an organization that is helping destitute women in many diverse ways, they provide medical care for mothers and children are educated on contraceptives, sponsorship programs of orphans, and of course they train women to be potters. Ceramics in Ethiopia is a very hands’ on process I was asked to help the women with their production process, but I felt like I learned more from them, than they learned from me. Tigist, the master potter gently guides the women from mixing the clay they collect from other regions of Ethiopia, to hand building bowls, vases, spice cellars, and coffee pots, and much more. While I was there, Tigist did a pit fire with me. I was amazed at her skill; she laid the green pots near the fire and slowly moved them into the fire ring. Then just like in American raku, she threw the pots in some dried leaves for a post reduction process.
"Me in Ethiopia with boys from one of the orphanages in Addis Ababa. I caught my frist chicken."