What does it take for an educator and arts administrator to become a clay artist at retirement? Dian Magie, director of The Center for Craft, Creativity & Design from 2000 to 2010, is living the answer. Her days no longer involve fundraising and grant writing. Instead, she spends 20 hours a week making and firing pots that look like burnt amber licked by fire.
Transitions don’t daunt Magie. By the time she retired from UNCA, the college affiliated with the CCCD until 2013, she had assembled a studio for wood-fired pottery in Hendersonville. And in 2012, she had a 36-foot kiln built, its construction narrated bit by bit on her website. “I named it ‘Cougar Kiln’ to be funny,” she says. Among the list of terms referring to women of a certain age, “that sounded better than Hag Kiln,” she quips. “More energetic.”
She also assembled a four-to five woman firing crew. “I call it the Low T [‘T’ for testosterone] Firing Group. If you get a man in here, he has to tell you how to do it. The Low T group works together.”
Magie has always preferred challenge over money. And from a young age, the arts absorbed her. “In fifth grade, I made animals out of dirt and painted them with water colors, my first experience working in clay,” says Magie, an Indiana native whose teen years were spent in Florida.
The University of West Florida didn’t offer a visual-arts graduate program, so the single mother earned a Masters in History instead, taking a job teaching college history. “But I found teaching the same classes over and over boring,” she says. “It was hard to stay fresh.”
She restored historic homes, and for two years sold real estate. “But I found that boring also,” she continues. “In real estate, your goal has to be making money. That’s not enough of a goal for me.”
Enter arts administration. A volunteer for the Arts Council of Northwest Florida, Magie became its first executive director, work she never found dull. That leap led to positions in Arizona — where she lived for 15 years, in Flagstaff and in Tucson — and finally in North Carolina.
Determined to pursue her own artwork, she began taking studio classes every vacation: “I wasn’t going to neglect what I’d always wanted to do.” Although she had no experience with wood-fired pottery, she was drawn to its intricacies: “It’s a different animal, with lots of uncertainty, and never boring.”
She began working with Judith Duff, an internationally known North Carolina wood-fire potter, learning how to load and fire a kiln. Now Magie works with female potter friends, dividing the work and expense. First, they load their pots in the kiln and begin firing at 5 am, finishing that evening. The kiln takes four days to cool from its high of 2,200 degrees.
“When you open it, it’s like Christmas,” says Magie. “Every fire is different, and it’s the action of the flame on the pots that makes them interesting.” Her pieces of distinction include a corked stoneware canteen with two whiskey cups, all three pieces finished with Shino glaze, and the nonfunctional piece “Slot Canyon Sculpture.” Seemingly inspired by her long stints out west, the glazed, stoneware-and-natural-ash “Slot Canyon” is reminiscent of ancient desert rock formations.
Magie sells her work at Number 7 Arts Gallery in Brevard. “I’m just trying to make enough to support my clay habit,” she says. “I’m more interested in the creative part. Selling? I do that to clear the place out.”
Open Studio Tour of Henderson County
September 20-21, 10 am-5 pm
Dian Magie’s pottery will be displayed during the Open Studio Tour of Henderson County, sponsored by the Art League of Henderson County. The free self-guided tour will feature 56 artists and 30 studios. As part of Rhythm and Brews (a free outdoor concert series), the League will offer a preview party in downtown Hendersonville on September 18, from 5-9 pm.
Visit openstudiotourhc.com for more information.