a tree grows in wulai

If you followed along with my residency in Taiwan late last year, you may remember seeing me working with a group of kids at a school in the mountain town of Wulai outside of Taipei. We did a number of individual projects but we finished our time together working on a group project. Wulai is in the mountains with waterfalls, hot springs and lush foliage, so I thought it would be great to make a tree of our own for the the school. Each student picked leaves from their neighborhood and brought them to class to use to press into the clay, they carefully cut out each leaf and then they were glazed with a variety of natural colors.

a tree grows in wulai | the dirt | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture

On our last class the students, teachers, the ceramic museum coordinators and myself worked together to assemble the tree in the school’s stairwell. I prepared the trunk and branches in advance using some landscaping cloth twisted into a wire mesh. The kids attached all the leaves and it was hoisted up to attach to the mesh wall of the stairwell. The kids were so proud of their work and the tree was a wonderful symbol of each of us working together to create something new. Photos of this project are now up on the website under the public art section of my portfolio.

art + science workshop in taiwan

In the final weeks of my residency in Taiwan, the Yingge Ceramics Museum arranged for me to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the mycelium labs at the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Taichung – which was fascinating! In exchange, I gave a clay workshops for the staff of the science museum. The participants were staff and volunteers, most of whom had never played with clay, but who love science and nature.

We created small bowls that they carved into to create natural patterns and designs. All of the bowls were fired and glazed at the ceramics museum and then returned to the science museum. They just sent me photos of the all the bowls installed in their gorgeous greenhouse in a beautiful display of our ART + SCIENCE collaboration.

I’m so thrilled to see how thoughtfully they assembled these pieces into the landscape of their greenhouse. It was a wonderful experience to form this connection between the two museums and I’m grateful to them both for their willingness to accommodate my request to make this cultural exchange happen.

week 12: artist in residence at yingge


This residency has really been an amazing experience, spending three months in a foreign country and culture gave me such a challenging and rewarding opportunity. It’s so hard to believe that it’s over and that in a few days I’ll be flying off to another adventure.

I spent my last week here multitasking. Starting with unloading my final kiln firing, cleaning out my studio, shipping my tools and some of the resin pieces I made back home. I packed up my finished art for a local gallery to take and met with the museum to choose a few pieces for their permanent collection. I also assembled the final layout for the ART+SCIENCE collaborative installation. And of course I had to squeeze in a few final adventures with my husband Nate since he arrived on the scene here. Basically, wrapping up lots of little details while still trying to do everything I wanted to do too.

Sad to be saying goodbye to everyone here who has been so supportive in helping me accomplish my goals and so kind to show me around. I’m sure it will take a while to really process this whole experience but I’m so grateful for it all and everyone I met in the process. Big thank yous to everyone!!!

Next up, Nate and I start his sabbatical from work year, so in a few days we leave Taiwan for Singapore. Stay tuned for the adventures to come…and I promise I’ll eventually get back to California!

“…such a long, long time to be gone and such a short time to be there.” – grateful dead

week 11: artist in residence at yingge

Week 11 was the beginning of the end…

As part of my residency obligations, I gave an artist talk and hands-on workshop at the Yingge Ceramics Museum for the community this week. I had nearly 30 participants come for the all day event. The hands-on workshop challenged them to work in multiples and create 100 simple shapes based on their interests in nature. They then had to experiment with intriguing compositions of all their shapes. They were apprehensive at first but ultimately they really got into the idea and appreciated the process of playing with their clay, valuing process over product.

I gave two more hands-on workshops at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung this week too. Since the museum kindly took the time to share a behind-the-scenes experience with me a few weeks prior, I wanted to return the favor sharing a clay experience with them. The participants were staff and volunteers, most of whom had never played with clay, but who love science and nature. They even brought some bits from nature with them to use as inspiration. We created small bowls that they carved into to create natural patterns and designs. All of the bowls will be fired and glazed at the ceramics museum and then assembled to create a group installation that will be displayed at the science museum. The results celebrate the collaboration of ART + SCIENCE.

In other studio news, I’ve officially stopped building with wet clay in my studio now. I’m letting everything dry so it’s ready for a final firing. While clay pieces are drying and firing, I’m continuing to experiment with pouring resin. I’m learning a lot as I go and I’m very excited about this new path.

AND, as an added bonus this week, my husband Nate arrived! I’m so thrilled to see him after two and a half months apart! He’ll get to share the tail end of this experience with me and see some of Taiwan too. Hard to believe that I only have one more week here before we travel onward…

Week 10: artist in residence yingge

This week has really been all work and no play. I’ve been feeling the pressure of my my time here coming to an end. But, it’s been a successful journey of learning and exploration.

Figuring out how to get the Bone Series: Medusa pieces to survive the building and firing process while exploring more complex forms has been challenging but a great success in the end. I’m also excited to announce that a collection of these pieces will be going to CC Gallery here in New Taipei City to be sold and a few will be selected for the Yingge Ceramic museum’s permanent collection.

The other exciting experiment is embedding some of my works in resin. It’s always a challenge working with a new material, but with the help of the studio staff at the museum, I was able to make the resin piece above (detail in right side photo), I’m really thrilled with the results. The idea is that the Bone Series pieces are inspired by the skeletal structures of radiolarians or single cell planktons and I wanted these pieces to feel like you were looking at a drop of ocean water under a microscope. I’m loving the little air bubbles that are trapped in the resin too… it really feels like it’s underwater. I have a few more of these in the works – excited to see how they turn out!

Two weeks to go! Yikes!

week nine: artist in residence yingge

Week NINE! What?! Now the pressure is really on to get everything I’ve wanted to do done.

week nine: artist in residence yingge | the dirt | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture

Had some great results out of the kiln (a few flops too, but that’s ok!) Getting all the parts out of the kiln meant that I could start playing with resin. The first result wasn’t perfect, you can see big cracks in the resin in the image above, but I learned a lot, like how not to get those big cracks! I’m loving how the pieces already have a specimen in a petri dish feel about them and that the translucency of the clay is working with the translucency of the resin. Now that the initial learning curve is over with, I’m excited to really get going on these pieces and I feel really good about working with this new medium.

week nine: artist in residence yingge | the dirt | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture

In an effort to create a community project based around art + science while I’m here in Taiwan, the ceramics museum arranged a meeting with the science museum for me and I was able to get a day behind the scenes at the National Museum of Natural Science in Taichung. Their lead mycology scientist shared their extensive fungi specimens in the herbarium and how they grow fungi from spores in petri dishes. She also shared the process of identifying mushrooms by looking at a tiny section of the gills at a microscopic level. It was absolutely fascinating! I also met with their education department who was thrilled with the idea of doing a clay workshop for some of their staff and volunteers. So I’ll be going back there in a few weeks to lead them in a art + science project. The pieces created will eventually become an installation at the science museum. I’m excited to get clay into the hands of these scientists in a few weeks and seeing what inspires them!

week nine: artist in residence yingge | the dirt | Jenni Ward ceramic sculpture
Sunny Sunday summit on Qixing Mountain in Yangmingshan National Park

week eight: artist in residence at yingge

I had my final class up in the mountains of Wulai with these creative kids this week. They were thrilled to get all of their individual finished projects back. We also finished up our group tree project and got it installed at the school. The tree is now growing on the wall of a stairwell. This was such a fun collaborative project to do with this class.

I made the trunk out of cloth that is is normally used in garden beds, it was twisted to create a textured trunk and branches, then I wired to a mesh framework to hold it in place. The kids and their art teacher helped attach the leaves to the tree with wire loops until it was all filled up. At the end of class I was given thank you notes, lots of hugs and high fives from everyone. So grateful for this fun experience!

I loaded up one of the big electric kilns this week with the majority of the work I’ve made since being here. It’s a mix of some bisqued pieces, some pieces that will be once fired and a few tests that I’ve got high hopes for. Fingers crossed that it all survives the high fire ride!

Art adventures this week included a trip to the northernmost tip of Taiwan to check out crazy rock formations along the Pacific Ocean in the seaside village of Yehliu. Then onto a cat village in the mountains where the residents now rely on cat tourism after their mines closed down and they lost their main income. And then dinner and a walk through the iconic town of Jiufen with its old street lined with red lanterns.

Hard to believe that I’m in my final four weeks here, I feel like I’m just getting used to everything being a new normal and that there’s still so much more to do but I am looking forward to my husband Nate arriving in just a few more weeks! Happy Thanksgiving to all of you celebrating at home!

week seven: artist in residence at yingge

I had some great opportunities this week to take in a lot of Taiwanese culture. The museum hosted a tea ceremony in the lobby to commemorate acquiring a new tea set by a local artist, which included speeches, lots of reporters and we got to spend a few hours sipping tea out of beautiful celadon cups  while sitting on tatami mats. 

My work is progressing in the studio, I’m waiting to see what the next bisque firing reveals and also trying to very, very, slowly dry that big I shared with you last week. Starting to wrap my head around the technical difficulties of building these fragile pieces is feeling pretty good. 

My students were also excited to move onto the glazing portion of their projects. Next week, I’ll return their finished work and we’ll assemble the group project on site at the school. I’ve really loved being able to head up into the mountains each week and play with clay with this sweet group of kiddos. 

My studio mate Ruth’s cousin got married last weekend and I was invited as her +1. It was pretty incredible to be the only westerner at an event with nearly 500 guests, but everyone was so welcoming and sweet, it was a really wonderful cultural experience. I lost count after the fifth course of food came out, seriously amazing amounts of food were served! I tried new things like jellyfish and black chicken, but there was also a bunch of food I tried and I’m not exactly sure what it was – all was good though!

Over the same weekend, through a series of events , I ended up getting my hair cut. Which doesn’t seem like the sort of thing I’d blog about but when you don’t speak the language, getting your haircut becomes an event. Through translation I found out that my stylist loved my curls but then he promptly flat ironed them right out to tame my new Asian haircut. Also a head, neck & shoulder massage comes with the deal, so it’s a pretty sweet experience.

In addition to all these shenanigans, I’ve also tried to make my way around Taipei seeing the sights. The middle picture below is the impressive Sun Yat Sen Memorial. I happened to be there just at sunset and enjoyed strolling through the park as the bats starting coming out for their nightly rounds.

week six: artist in residence at yingge

This week officially marks the halfway point of my residency – which is just crazy!

I worked with my students on their last wet clay project, we are making a group project of a tree with leaves made by all the students. They collected leaves from their local plants and we pressed them into the clay and cut them out. We’re working on ideas of how they will be assembled into a sculpture for their school.

I also made some progress on my own sculptures, going larger that ever before with a fairly high success rate. I’ve learned a lot about building these fragile pieces and even more about my own impatience to finish them. Sometimes, I really should be letting them set up more or just work more slowly but I push through to finish and that’s generally when it all starts to fall apart. It’s a hard lesson, but I’m starting to get it.

I also took off on a local hike last weekend and found this large temple built into the mountainside. Funny part was when I was hiking over to it, I heard singing echoing over the canyon and I thought it was possibly part of a ceremony. But as I actually approached the temple I realized it was a couple of guys in the parking garage doing karaoke. Religious experience? Maybe?? Despite the karaoke, it was a beautiful view of the valley that I’ve been living in for the past six weeks.