Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Black Cat Pottery Holiday Open House - Meet the Artists: Don Schulte and Notable Greetings

We're quickly coming up on the Second Annual Black Cat Pottery Holiday Open House on December 10 (10a-4p), during which we open up the studio to fellow local artists and all of our fans for a day of holiday cheer.  This year, we'll be featuring artisan baked goods and live music, in addition to five unique garden- and home-inspired artists.  I thought it would be nice to introduce them to you so you could get to know each of these amazingly creative and generous folks a little bit better.

As a boy in the late-1960s, Donald Schulte was fascinated with the complex machinery of his grandfather's cameras and the mystery of the photographic process. It was a time when magazines such as Life and Vogue became his first look at the revolutionary influence of photographic masters including Gordon Parks, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.

Apples with Pitcher
At an early age, his paper route was a vehicle to earn money for the first camera he could call his very own. Soon, he was building his own darkroom and winding the tangled skeins of experience into useful technique.  Later, while attending Grosse Pointe North High School, he was encouraged with awards and opportunities to help teach photography and assist local portrait and commercial photographers. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the prestigious Center for Creative Studies, several years of professional photography in Detroit and New York City further polished his work.  He continues to work in the commercial sphere, focusing on portraits, product photography, interior work and food photography.  His still life of Apples with Pitcher exemplifies his photographer's sensibilities coupled with his consciousness of the ongoing artistic tradition; I have seen few "modern" images so utterly reflect the traditions of the early Netherlandish still-life.

Don's awareness of the art historical context, however, is as modern as it is grounded in the past.  "I have always admired the work of abstract expressionist painters such as Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko," he says.  "Their work documents the energy of the artist and communicates emotion with color and form. I also admire the magnificently vibrant color, the subtle transitions and the rich variations seen in the work of artists who work with pastels. Their works inspire me to push the boundaries of the photographic medium and strive to work with color and value to evoke a mood or feeling."

Food Photography for Ardmore Cafe,
at Ardmore Park Place in St. Clair Shores, MI
I met Don at the Grosse Pointe Garden Walk in June of 2007.  Our tables were adjacent to one another, I with my pottery and he with his notecards and prints.  I thought his work was beyond competent, let alone beautiful, and he had a really effective way of handling his customers - deferential yet knowledgeable.  When we finally had a break, I looked through all of his notecard sets and commented that he needed more Clematis images.  He responded that he didn't really have a garden of his own, was having to rely on the gardens of his sister and parents and the occasional trip to the Arboretum or other public garden to pursue his botanical interests.  As we parted ways at the end of the event, I mentioned that I knew a lady who had a whole bunch of Clematis in her garden, that she was a bit weird but utterly harmless (unless very provoked) and he should contact her.  And gave him my card.  He made it to my garden less than two weeks later, on June 30 (I was out of town, that's why I remember!) and shot the first of a series of Clematis notecard images.

Since then, we've just been galloping along.  We're up to six sets of Clematis notecards (there are six different images in each set, no repeats), nineteen sets and counting of Michigan Wildflower notecards (all of these also from my garden), as well as herbs, Sunflowers, Hydrangeas, Autumn color and more, many photographed in friends' and clients' gardens with their generous permission.  Don has also been a tremendous help to me with my business, doing portfolio photography of incomparable quality, and listening to my rants at our sorta-Quarterly Panera Summits.

Four of Don's Flower Images
Having the opportunity to watch Don work in my yard has been an adventure - mostly one of observation but sometimes one of holding a card to handle the light or restraining a rambunctious plant. Through it all, I am constantly reminded of his technical sophistication, coupled with an intense awareness of his surroundings, on many levels.  The shift toward digital has certainly enhanced the immediacy of his process, an immediacy reflecting the inherent ephemerality of his subjects.  "Today, digital technology brings the immediacy and freedom of plein aire painting to photography," explains Don, "while adding a whole new level of sophistication that expands the possibilities of the medium. I find it satisfying to communicate my vision though this medium of photography. It is most rewarding when people have related personal stories and treasured memories when inspired by the patterns, colors and subjects of my work."

It's been exciting to watch Don's work evolve over the last four-plus years; as accomplished as his work was when we first met - and it certainly was, he continues to challenge himself (and his equipment!) and comes up with some truly, truly, exceptional images, images that ratchet up the bar exponentially.  It is with great humility that I consider myself fortunate enough to be a part of that process.

"I seek to reveal the richness of color and diversity of form in the natural landscape. With careful exploration, I find that the results can transcend the moment and become a spirited collaboration of light, color, form and texture. The photograph is not just a cold record of something - it is evocative of a thought captured, a memory recalled, a feeling shared."  - Don Schulte

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