Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Interview with Rhoda Kahler @ Jazmine-Authentic Thai Cuisine

I sat down with ceramic artist Rhoda Kahler at Jazmine – Authentic Thai Cuisine in West Chester for a wonderful and long conversation about art, about life and specifically about her life. Let me preface this by stating that “long” is not a bad word here. The end of a meal is usually signaled by the finishing of the bottle of wine. We did just that and an hour later we were still there despite the lunch crowd leaving and the early dinner crowd beginning to arrive.

Here is a glimpse of Rhoda’s history; she grew up on a chicken farm on a road named “Hatchery.” There are no fast food joints or traffic lights in her town. Her family didn’t have much money growing up so she used anything and everything she could find to quench her thirst for making art. She met her future husband at a sixth grade dance. Fast forward to college, she attended WCU as an art major and stayed and fell in love with the town. Her high school boyfriend followed suit and not long after they decided to marry. Fast forward another 13 years still happily married, she teaches clay at CCAA, has a successful career making ceramics and she can’t walk around town or attend an opening without a past student coming up to say “Hi.”Once our appetizers arrived I started with the questions. We chatted while eating tom yum soup and golden spring rolls.

How did you get started making art?
When I was a kid all I thought about was making stuff, because we grew up on a farm and it was one hour away from the nearest store. I had a Barbie doll and the JCpenny catalog had this awesome wardrobe for all the Barbies. We couldn’t buy them so I made them. I crocheted and knitted and then I got so good I was selling them on the school bus.

Did you receive any formal art training? Where and what did you major in?
I went to York College for two years and went to West Chester for two more years. And got my BFA in fine art.

I could never do 3D sculpture, what do you enjoy about sculpture?
Holding it in your hands. Squeezing it, touching it, wrapping my hands around it.

What inspires you in your work?
Mostly nature. Tree roots, things like that that you come upon. It could even be a dying flower where the stem kind of curves, or a fern frawn that comes out of the ground and it’s all spiraled before it opens up. The human form, especially the female form. It could be the sky or how the clouds form.

What was your inspiration behind the “Alphabet Cities?”
We were in Spain. We rented a car and we wanted to see the white hill towns in southern Spain. It’s mostly farmland, cork trees, olive trees, and winding roads.  Everyone in the city just packed into the side of a mountain. It was awe inspiring when you come around the corner and you see the cork trees and olive trees and all the beautiful scenery and then you turn the bend and you see this whole city vertical down the hill. It reminded me of blocks that I collected years ago at a flea market with printing press letters and I had a friend in college who lived in Alphabet City in New York. I had a notebook that I just started filling it with ideas. Clay is a master impersonator of anything you put into it so I use all the things I collect, like if I find an old washer, or bolt or old roller skate, I’d save it.

You are building a new studio, where is it?
My new studio is 1212 Hall Road and we just put a ceiling and skylights and insulation and walled it off and we have heat, now I just have to name it.  We are working on it. I still have to paint it. So yeah, Hall Road just outside of West Chester in between West Chester and Downingtown.

Rumor has it you are an awesome teacher. What is it about teaching that you love?
I love working with kids and adults, you give a lot but you get a lot of ideas too. You get inspired. You see something, and you think about things, and you verbalize things, and it makes you stronger.

What is your favorite food?
I love cheeses, goat cheeses.

What is your favorite color?
Green. All my glazes are green, different shades of green. It’s just… I love green.

What are you eating right now?
Tai food green curry.

What does home mean to you?
It is shelter, it’s what contains you, it is your environment, it’s what inspires you, having your friends’ paintings on the wall around you. Mike and I are starting our collection of friends’ paintings hanging on the wall and remembering the friendship and good times. Home is a place to be surrounded by everything that makes you happy.

Your proudest moment?
So far, the WCU show.

What was your father right about? 
My father would always say, “laziness is a sin.”

Money is OK, but it isn’t what life is about. What is it about?
Being happy and enjoying who you are.

We had finished the bottle of Norton wine and all the questions yet we continued to discuss our art experiences. I really got to know Rhoda when last year I invited her to my open studio tour and later worked with her at our group show at WCU just this past November.  I enjoyed our conversation over lunch and could relate to the feeling of being the black sheep in a family of non-artists.

We soon found out that we were surrounded by other artists when our waiter/part-owner, Josh, informed us he was in fact an artist and that his paintings graced the walls around us. The presentation and flavors of the authentic Thai food found in our $9.99 lunch special were excellent and kudos to Josh for serving it up while displaying his other artistic passion. 

I couldn't let Rhoda leave with out hitting her up for a round of speed questions.

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