Clara Roundtree Couch's journey toward becoming an artist didn't begin until she was in her forties. Born in 1923, Couch grew up in Georgia and graduated from Agnes Scott College with a degree in biology. Like many women of the time, she married, had children, and became a good community citizen by volunteering her time and talents. Together the Couches raised four daughters in Charlotte.
Fondly known as "Kitty," Couch made many friends and kept busy with such organizations as the Junior League. Her life was confortable and predictable--until a trip to Europe in 1963. When Harold and Kitty Couch went to Italy, Kitty fell in love with the art she saw at every turn. In St. Mark's Square in Venice, Kitty had her epiphany. She came home a changed woman, intent on shifting her priorities. Couch began a quest that changed not only her life, but also the lives of those around her.
With spark and enthusiasm, Kitty Couch set out to learn about clay. She enrolled at Sacred Heart College in Belmont, NC, and received a degree in art. She then pursued her graduate degree at the New York School of Ceramic Art and Alfred University and taught clay at Central Piedmont Community College. The works Couch made continue to calm, inspire, and connect both viewer and maker to the earth.
On January 3, Couch died in an automobile accident in Vietnam. She will be deeply missed, but she leaves a legacy of craftsmanship and a spirit large enough to give comfort to those who loved her.
Born and raised in Texas, Jennie Bireline majored first in art, then English, at the University of Oklahoma. Like many women of her generation, she married, had children and, as she says, spent her days rocking everyone to sleep twice. Beginning in 1959, Bireline and her husband spent a year in London before settling down in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1960. The year in London gave Bireline much to do and see. She was intrigued by the British Museum's international collection of art and artifacts. The city's antique shops gave her an opportunity to examine old objects. J.M.W. Turner's fiery seascapes at the Tate Museum "brought me to my knees."
When Bireline was living in Ohio and raising a family, she had her first experience working with clay. A friend volunteered her for a class, and the moment she put her hands into clay, Bireline connected. She never forgot that feeling, although years passed before she experienced it again.
The family moved to Raleigh in the early 1960s. A decade later, she and her husband divorced and Jen went to work at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Over the years she held several positions and eventually became curator of the Mary Duke Biddle Gallery for the Blind. She renewed an earlier acquaintance with George Bireline, a professor of painting at N.C. State University's School of Design. They were married in 1978.
In the early 1980s, Bireline left her job and revived her interest in clay. She attended workshops and classes whenever and wherever she could--at the N.C. State University Crafts Center, Penland School of Crafts, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, among others--studying raku and other techniques with nationally recognized potters.
When she wanted to work on larger pieces in earthenware and terra sigillata, she took a class in Asheville offered by Virginia Scotchie. For the first time, Bireline created what has become one of her trademarks--off-centered, asymmetrical, coil-built pots. She filled her small, cozy studio with images, objects, and offerings from nature to inspire her. She kept learning and eventually, she began teaching at the NCSU Craft Center and other area ceramic programs.
Bireline developed a way of working by sketching out an idea on any handy piece of paper. These ideas find their way onto pots that require examination from all angles. Each side brings yet a new twist and turn. Then she adds a decorative surface which, if removed, could form a painting in its own right. While many of her works are coil-built, she uses slabs with the same ease.
When George Bireline died in August of 2002, Jen lost not only a husband and friend: she lost a creative partner. After she stepped back into the studio, she began making pots that form a series titled "Sentinel." These pots honor George's memory and their relationship and are a testament to her talent.
Virginia Scotchie began her college career at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill, graduating in 1977 with degrees in religion and sociology. Afterward, she went on an archaeological dig in Israel and then on to Penland School of Crafts. In 1985, she graduated from New York State College of Ceramics, Alfred University, with an M.F.A. degree in ceramics and set off for Morgantown, West Virginia, where she taught for several years at West Virginia University. From there she went to Indiana University to teach ceramics. In 1992, she moved to the University of South Carolina, and it is there that she has found her home.
Scotchie turns out an amazing amount of work. Her technique is polished and proficient. Ideas spring from all parts of her life, and she delights in teaching and touting the accomplishments of her students. Color infuses her objects, and it is a joy to see many of her works at once.
Virginia Scotchie's constant investigation of the world is sure to produce many more treasures.
Today, Thompson keeps busy teaching at VCU Department of Craft/Material Studies and working in her home studio on hand-built forms. She has converted the garage into a bright studio space. This space is full of energy and is stockpiled with books, drawings, and the tools of her trade. She is supported in her work by her husband, illustrator Alex Bostic. Between them they have five children and three grandchildren.