Carol Townsend

Focus on Sabbatical: Carol Townsend

Good things are worth waiting for. Carol Townsend, chair and associate professor of design and a full-time college professor for more than 30 years, recently completed her first sabbatical.

Attendees at the 2007 Research and Creativity Fall Forum might recall Townsend’s “Fire and Breath” display, which included ceramic works with poetry etchings. Both pottery and verse were original works made during her spring 2007 sabbatical. Altogether, Townsend constructed 15 pieces, many of which incorporated a dragonfly motif —a symbol of the power of change and rebirth.

“I hadn’t been able to do studio work for almost four years, but nevertheless didn’t anticipate that it’d be difficult to pick up where I left off,” said Townsend. “Yet it was difficult at first. I’d been focusing more on writing poetry lately, so the opportunity to concentrate on combining both my creative venues—ceramics and poetry—was just what I needed to give my batteries a recharge.”

Just before her sabbatical, Townsend traveled to the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, in Cleveland, Ohio, and to the International Exposition of Sculpture Objects and Functional Art at Chicago’s Navy Pier. But it was her next trip that provided the wealth of insight for her studio pieces.

At the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City she studied the works of the Olmec, Toltec, Mayan, and Aztec peoples. The visit to Mexico, Townsend’s first since the late 1970s, highly influenced her creations. For example, one ceramic sculpture, titled Demise (left), bears a poem of the same name etched in a spiral using a “sgraffito” technique. Sgraffito involves layering different colors of clay and then etching through the top layer to expose the color beneath. Demise is currently on display in the Artists Among Us exhibition at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center.

After her travels, Townsend used her sabbatical to concentrate on studio work and poetry. The uninterrupted time allowed her to reacquaint herself with the materials and techniques needed to manipulate clay. She also worked with earthenware clay for the first time.

“I was crackling with energy,” she said. “Some students ran into me here [at the studio in Upton Hall] at off times, and got to see me in a different way. Now, I’m able to share my own struggles with a new medium and techniques with students when in the classroom.”

To further refine her pottery and poetry, Townsend visited a variety of museums and exhibitions in Washington, D.C., New York City, and the New England region immediately after the sabbatical. Most exciting to her was a behind-the-scenes tour of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, which she described as “serendipitous.”

Townsend’s finished works of poetry range from serious to whimsical, with topics such as the west wind, the comet Hale-Bopp, and eating key lime pie in Western New York. But no matter the subject, Townsend says, everything ultimately boils down to “love and loss with nature as a symbol.”

Townsend is interested in working toward both a solo exhibition and a possible upcoming feature article for a magazine. One of her poems was recently published in The Buffalo News, and she will participate in new/reNEW, an invitational reading through Just Buffalo that pairs an experienced writer with a relatively new writer, on February 21.

Grateful for the time to experience “joyful, meditative, and hands-on opportunities,” Townsend said she wouldn’t change a thing about her sabbatical if she could. “This was the highlight of 2007,” she said.

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Read previous Focus on Sabbatical stories:

Ann Colley
Rob Delprino
Musa Abdul Hakim
Wendy Paterson
Stephen Phelps
Jonathan Thornton