Sometimes, you are just certain you know how to define a person. Maybe you use their craft; their talent as a definition.
I thought I knew the definition of “artist,” but after spending a good amount of time with Andy Watson, I wasn’t so certain.
It was time to consult the Webster Dictionary.
Definition of an artist: “one who professes and practices an imaginative art; a person skilled in one of the fine arts; a skilled performer.”
“An” imaginative art? Singular? Not Andy.
The last time I got a dose of art with Andy was out on the high flats of Crow Bench, when I did a story on his pottery. Over the past few weeks I’ve been able to see (almost) the full range of his work.
Andy grew up in the Fairfield area, first in Fairfield, then later the family moved just out of town to the Freezeout Lake Bottom. He graduated from Fairfield High School in 1966. “You’re going to college,” his parents told him, so he enrolled in the University of Montana, studying forestry.
At the time, UM had a policy that they would take any Montana high school graduate, regardless of their grades, for a two-semester probationary period. The catch was that you had to earn a minimum of a 1.5 grade point average to make the grade and continue the education.
Andy had a 1.49.
So, he began a journey up the hierarchy of the UM system until he landed at the dean’s office. “I told him he should round it off to a 1.5,” Andy told the Sun Times. The pressure was on.
Andy took a job at the Grizzly Café on campus washing dishes. Knowing that he had to earn a “C” average to stay enrolled, Andy asked if there was a test he could take so see “what I might be good at.” When the results came back, the answer was art or English.
After deciding that English was “too crazy,” Andy began to focus on art, taking classes ranging from jewelry-making to the History of Art. Then, at a college party, a school friend, John Atwater brought a blue ceramic bowl.
Andy was hooked on ceramics and enrolled in the class. The problem was, there were only four potter’s wheels in the crowded class, so Andy did not get much time at the wheel. He and classmate Chuck Nolley devised a plan whereby during the class they would unlock a window and sneak in after hours, using the wheels until the security guard made his rounds.
The ceramics professor soon told Andy that he needed a night monitor to come into the classroom after-hours and clean up the classroom. The job meant Andy would make one dollar per hour, which wasn’t much, but he would have a key to the classroom, so there would be no more sneaking through a window.
Of all the media Andy works with, clay – pottery – is his favorite. “I like working with the earth,” he said.
It was in college where Andy, in 1968, did his first oil painting, a “still life” that hangs on a back-room wall in his gallery. Asked to compare painting to ceramics, Andy said that in a painting, “I can give you 50 miles.” Even though pottery is three-dimensional, as Andy explains it, in a painting the artist created depth in the mind of the observer. He points to a painting of a stream with a mountain far off in the background as an example.
For Andy, the definition of “artist” is a simple one: “Someone who is alive to their surroundings.” Andy tells the story of riding with his late friend, Steve Hutton, “We would be riding on a trail… like the Beartooth… and he would stop and turn in his saddle and Steve would point to a rock and tell me, ‘No one but me and that rock will know I’ve been here.’”
Andy said that he incorporates a little of Steve Hutton into his artwork sometimes, even in his weekly “South Corral” cartoon Andy draws for the Sun Times.
Andy had never had a public gallery of his own that was open to the public before now.
He considered putting the gallery on the property at his home, where he has a small studio, but Fairfield town regulations wouldn’t allow for that, so he purchased the former In The Garden Floral building.
Even as he did remodeling on the building, Andy has been greeting visitors. At the drop of a hat, he’ll crank up the potter’s wheel and give a lesson in the ceramic arts. One day, oblivious to the reporter that walked into his gallery, Andy was in the back room with the door closed – but with his hack to a large window glass, strumming a steel guitar and singing.
As Swim Day 2019 gets underway, Andy has his art on display. And prices. Andy struggles with selling his art, as evidenced by the stacks of paintings and shelves and shelves of ceramics he has made over the years. The prices though, are surprisingly affordable… cheap, actually, when you consider the stories that come with Andy’s art.
Also, on the walls at the gallery are some of the paintings by Andy’s daughter, Paige Briscoe. It’s interesting to compare the works of father and daughter.
In the future, Andy plans to feature the works of other area artists in the gallery, with hopes of not charging a commission to other artists.
And, for Swim Day 2019, there is something special on display at Andy’s gallery. Richard T. Rorvik, an employee of Greenfield Irrigation District, created a collection of handcrafted piece of equipment… trucks, trailers, bulldozers, front-end loaders and more… and donated the items to GID in hopes that someday there would be a museum.
With permission from Mr. Rorvik’s wife, Andy has the pieces on display at the gallery.
Andy Watson’s gallery will be open during Swim Day, from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
For a private tour, or to inquire about lessons, call 467-2067; Andy’s cell phone number is 470-2087.
The shop is located at 407 2nd. Avenue SW in Fairfield. Just look for the huge ceramic pot and 10 foot wide painting over the door.
This story was originally posted to fairfieldsuntimes.com