Monday, November 2, 2020

Joshua Tree, Zion, (aka silly quails and cactus)

 The last stops on this trip was Joshua Tree in California, and Zion in Utah. It was quite the difference, going from the forest to the desert. Joshua tree was a world I was completely unfamiliar with. Houses I drove past had cactus gardens and dirt instead of grass. Tortoise crossing signs instead of deer crossings were along some of the roads. I made a point to do a nature walk in Joshua tree to learn about the desert plants and to learn about the wildlife. Of all the parks, I was able to spot and be close to the most wildlife in Joshua Tree. Some brave cotton tail rabbits (who were probably fed by previous campers) ran through my campsite, a group of Gambels quails wandered through making their funny coo noises, and I was also able to spot a number of jack rabbits and a kit fox. In regards to the grove of Joshua trees that populate the northern part of the park (which are not actual trees but a type of cactus), most of these are probably well over one hundred years old, as Joshua trees only grow about an inch a year, and most are absolutely the size of some small or medium trees that live in the Midwest. From what I understood, there seemed to be lots of research and mystery around many desert plants, as some may hold some medicinal value that were unknown or lost from the indigenous peoples who had lived there. 

The cholla cactus garden

A little group of gambels quails in the morning light

Some texture from a yucca cactus. Joshua trees are actually in the same family as the yucca, and are not actual trees, but cactus. 

Zion was the absolute busiest I had experienced a national park, as the more intense hikes and climbing were very sought out by most of the visitors. I wasn’t able to spend as much time in Zion as I would have liked, but I was able to take a good amount of time in the rocky terrain. It was an interesting transition point, as Joshua tree was, as there were springs and water running through, and I had encountered cattails up on a hike rather than in the midwest marsh like I was used to! And a few minutes away, higher up, I encountered cactus. The rock formations were so different than the Grand Canyon, which was formed by water, but these at Zion were very apparent of the formation by the movement of the earth’s crust. Instability, warnings of rock slides, and lots of angular formations. A wonderful study of directionality. 

I feel like every park I had visited had a visual and history lesson to bring home to me and my work. Overall, the southwest areas where I visited altogether seems more treacherous, and survival was different kind of game. Heat, instability, quick changing weather, erosion, all very inspirational aspects of my travels. Thank you for reading this far into these posts, and I hope you all are doing well. Forever grateful for this experience that I was able to share with you all through these posts, and I would love to share the influence it had on my work soon.

-Elliot Corbett 

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Petrified Forest - North Rim of the Grand Canyon

 Hello friends,

At the time I was writing my draft of this, I was in sunny California sitting in Joshua Tree National Park. Now I am in my kitchen after an October winter storm in Minneapolis. What a difference a few weeks can make! I am missing the desert heat quite a bit. 

I found visiting the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert extremely unique experiences. Though there is petrified wood around the world, the quantity and quality of the formations and and colors of the wood had no match. There were plenty of signs and old tourist attractions surrounding the park that had seen better days as the area use to thrive on people traveling on Route 66. Paths throughout the park lead to various sites of large deposits of rainbow petrified wood that have been uncovered through erosion after millions of years. The Painted Desert shows these erosion as well, with its saturated and colorful layers unveiled across the landscape. 

The insides of the petrified wood, essentially turned to quartz after millions of years.

I was surprised how much the petrified wood still looked like wood! 
A closer look at the petrified wood. Some trees have been identified as some that are native to Costa Rica, as this area of the desert and the area of Costa Rica were once together when the mass earth continent Pangea was in once piece.

A petrified wood "bridge" named Agate Bridge. Water eroded the underside of this log away, and thought there are supports to preserve this monument, eventually it will break away.

There are also records of Ancestral Pueblo peoples living in now what is the park boundaries, similar to Mesa Verde. There are now uncovered building sites, a wide variety of regional pottery, and petroglyphs in the rocks, with large amount of them in a place aptly named Newspaper Rock. 

With the combination of the large swaths of fossilized forest, desolate desert, and neglected former tourist attractions of another era, the whole experience felt similar to visiting a graveyard of sorts - eerie, peaceful, quiet. 

Arriving to the Grand Canyon brought me back to a familiar landscape of prairie and forest. Though still a dry and rocky climate, I camped in the Kaibab National Forest with towering birch trees and plentiful populations of deer and birds. Comparably, the desert felt so silent compared to the lifesounds of the forest. 

The Canyon walls were higher up than I could have ever imagined, with many trails venturing along the edge. Due to the wildfires, the Grand Canyon had captured a lot of the haze, so one was not able to see out into the canyon as well. The heights and the elevation didn't always agree with me, but the carving of the canyon through the Colorado River over millions of years was a stark difference in the rock and mountain formations I had seen before, and would see in Zion. 

Next - Joshua Tree, Zion, and Minnesota (home!)

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Take Two: WMAA 2019 , Mesa Verde

 Hello friends! I’m writing from the road on my rescheduled WMAA 2019 travels. Originally, I was supposed to be in my travels March/April, but the universe had other things in mind! Luckily, camping is fairly Covid-19 safe, so I am able to maintain distance from people and take good precautions with masks and hand washing as I am traveling.  

My original project was to travel the southwest to different national parks and natural areas to study the climate and landscape that is so much different than the one I call home in Minnesota. I am greatly inspired by how I, as a queer artist, fit into and process the world, and I use imagery inspired by the landscape to do that in my art practice. Much of it is about change, growth, cycles, and finding strength in personal identity. 

Even though my travels had to be rescheduled, there has been so much to learn and grow from in the world around us. A global pandemic, the Minneapolis uprising and subsequent protesting of police brutality across the nation, horrible wildfires, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passing in a time of great political tension and unrest. I am sure I can speak for everyone that it has been overwhelming and exhausting. There has been so much change and examination of our personal roles in our communities, big and small. I am still examining this for myself, which I believe these travels will help influence in a meaningful and positive way. 

The full list of parks I’ll be visiting is Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, The Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, and Zion. (My last stop was supposed to be Sequoia National Forest, but that is closed due to the wild fires) I’m writing the first stop , Mesa Verde, which I’ll be heading out from tomorrow. This is where the ancestral Pueblo peoples lived from about 500 -1300 AD. Through this time period, these people changed from living in pit houses, to wood and stone dwellings on top of the mesas, to eventually building underneath them and farming the land on top. It’s so amazing to see the innovative architecture and using the mesas and natural rock face to create the most comfortable and well functioning living spaces in this climate. Eventually, the Ancestral Pueblo people’s migrated out of this immediate area. Most of us clay people know of Pueblo pottery, but this architectural record is breathtaking.

There is much to be learned from the indigenous peoples of North America! Past and present. 

Next stop: Petrified Forest!

-Elliot , they/them 

A photo of the Cliff Palace. There were various other cliff dwellings to see from afar, such as Spruce house and others.

A Pueblo Kiva. Kivas are still used in Pueblo tradition today.
A two room Pithouse
The remains of a cliff dwelling on the petroglyph point trail. 
A rendition of the petroglyphs on the trail. Was not sure about my role as a non Pueblo visitor and the significance of these so I am sharing a drawing from the guide instead.

Monday, April 13, 2020

WMAA 2019 Experimentation and Results

After the trip, I began thinking about what I wanted to make and how. I knew I did not want to continue the work I made in undergrad for various reasons. I wanted to challenge myself to pursue something different that did not rely so heavily on narratives or ideas of the past like I had mentioned in the Allensworth post. Below are pictures of work I made over the past 6 months, some more successful than others, but all a learning experience because I gave myself an opportunity to experiment with ideas regardless of what they looked like. This post will also show some process images I had taken along the way of testing. By the end of this post, you will see my most recent body of work I have led myself to after experimenting, playing and deeply considering my experience touring the various cities, museums and galleries.

This first piece is what I considered my transitional piece between what my undergraduate body of work looked like and what would potentially be next. I removed the vessel and created a sculptural form, and then decorated the surface with patterns, colors and figures. My imagery included more than the figure, and the pattern was not dominating the entire piece. I also included a ceramic three finger comb. The content of the piece was inspired by the lack of Black queer content I saw in these spaces devoted to African American experiences, lives and histories. It felt like a proclamation to the world that both identities matter to me. I enjoyed making the piece, but I immediately knew it was not what I wanted to do, so I went back to the drawing board and made this piece below.

This piece was based off of "strange fruit". I began to experiment with glazes, objects, surface and nails more. I underglaze painted actual fruit that is considered strange by a lot of people, and then over it I drew with an underglaze pencil a lynching and a police shooting on both sides. This is arguably the most political piece I have ever made. I am very vocal about my political and social beliefs, but I never considered making political work. As a result, it sort of made me uncomfortable because the art I aspired to create and gravitated towards during this trip were never this overtly political. I wanted to maintain that interest I gained during this trip, so I decided this was not a proper step for my work either. However, this was the start of my fixation on glaze application which was something I never did prior to this piece.

This piece was still considering the theme of strange fruit, but I thought maybe I needed to step away from figural/pictoral narratives and underglaze, so I can push my form more. There were a lot of things I enjoyed and learned from this piece, but it felt very busy. I also had the honor of getting a critique with Malcolm Mobutu Smith and he gave me wonderful feedback about my work, but the one thing he said to me that stood out was that not everything has to be on one piece. I did not fully understand him, but then I went through pictures I took of work during my summer trip and realized that none of my favorite works were "too busy" with symbolism like I had a habit of doing, and realized I needed to focus in on what I wanted my viewers to visually and intellectually engage with. The following works and in progress pictures of my recent body of work are a result of this long process of trial and error, and my summer travel research:

Through the days of testing glazes and forms and ideas, I finally decided that I wanted to make work that spoke about my Blackness in a way I have not seen it spoken about in art. I wanted to offer something new for myself and audience. I wanted my work to feel personal and private while also reflecting the publicness of myself and my Black identity. Black people and moisturizing products. Black hair, combs, picks, hair accessories like durags etc. are all easily linked to Black culture and identity which is why they are common tools for Black narratives in artmaking, but lotion is not something that is commonly seen as a "Black thing", because it isn't. However, Black folk are aware that our relationship with products like lotion are not emphasized the same way for others. For starters, if you aren't moisturized then you're ashy which means you are dusty, got dry skin, and can also mean you are ignorant, annoying or dumb. No one wants to be called or seen physically ashy, so we moisturize our skin constantly. We carry go to lotion bottles on us to school and work. "Ask the Black person first for lotion if you forget your's at home or run out." This somewhat intense but also intimate relationship we have with moisturizing products like lotion is what my work focuses on by combining a glaze I made to look like various lotions and petroleum jelly and a variety of comb styles. I also pair these with zoomorphic forms that take on identities themselves (Buffalo represents black men, Gazelle represents black women, Sheep represent black queer individuals and the Rabbit represents the general black folk regardless of gender and sexuality). I have always had an interest in historical pottery and sculpture forms and design aesthetics, so I strive to make my work have a sense of history and contemporary air to them. I do this through the forms and the use of nails representing the kongo power figures and christianity.

The cups pictured are all test cups that I practiced mark making with my lotion glaze. My next steps are taking an interest in how to apply the lotion glaze, and potentially creating abstract paintings with them like on the vessel standing on three combs. As I continue to explore the glaze and push myself I want to begin creating more sculptural and object based works with my clay and lotion glaze, as I continue to create these pottery forms. Below is a picture of me and a few pieces for your own personal amusement:

I would like to thank NCC for giving me this amazing opportunity to visit various museums and a historic site for an all black town. Unfortunately, I was unable to go to Oklahoma and participate in the all black town tour, but I was able to still gain so much valuable information from what I was able to engage with on my trip. I would not be making the work I am making now if I did not see countless of sculptural black artists working in such a concise and focused way. I have always had an issue of putting "too much into a piece", but having the pictures of work I got to see during my trip and look back on them and remind myself to be more focused and concise has been more helpful than I could ever put into words.

For anyone who wants to continue following my artistic journey as I continue to push my craft, I have an instagram account at
I also have a website:

Thank you for anyone who has taken the time to read these blogposts. I enjoyed being able to reflect on everything I saw over the summer as it helped me dig deeper into why I enjoyed the works I curated to be posted, and as a result helped me focus my own work. Hope yall stay blessed and are encouraged to follow me onmy journey over the years. Peace, love and happiness.

Monday, March 16, 2020

WMAA 2019 Allensworth

The last stop on my tour was Allensworth, CA. I am from Fresno, CA which is an hour away from Allensworth, and I had no clue Allensworth existed until I took a class called Blacks in the West where we learned about various all Black towns across the country. I made it a plan to visit some all Black towns. There was a missed opportunity that caused me to not be able to go to Oklahoma and visit the all Black towns there through a tour, but I was able to visit Allensworth. Though, Allensworth is no longer a functioning town and instead a national preserved park. It still has the buildings and informational history for folk who choose to visit to learn about what it was like to live in an all Black town like Allensworth.

This was on a wall of images in the office/waiting room. It reminded me of the work I made prior to this travel experience where I had a figure above a patterned background.

The people you'll see in the photos are some of my family. I was able to encourage some of my family members to visit Allensworth with me as an educational and family bonding time. The building behind them is the schoolhouse. We were unable to go inside because all the buildings were locked and are only opened for tour purposes (something we did not find out till we got there). 

A lot of open space and houses with a lot of space in between one another. They also had barns and gardens behind them. There were also some lots that were empty but had signs up letting you know there was a building there but no longer up. For example, one of the grocery stores was longer physically there, but the space where it was, was noted by a sign with information.

We were lucky enough to see inside the church because there was a tour happening and the tour guide gladly let us go inside the church to see what it looks like. (SPOILER: it looks like a church). Though I was very enthralled by the glass stained window from the inside. 

Various images of other buildings like the Barber shop and pictures through the window of what the inside looked like. I really liked the basket like patterns in the quilt on the bed, and the hardly visible ceramic pourer in a bowl? Possibly for hot water since the room appeared to be a bedroom. The last picture is my aunt and grandma on the patio of a house looking off into the open sky and land. They also performed an impromptu "olden days" anthem as they called it to tap into their roots. I forgot to save the video so I sadly can't share their humorous reenactment of what it would be like living in Allensworth.

The last picture is of the family members who came and I. Pictured are my aunt, cousin, mom, two younger sisters and grandmother. My mom, aunt and grandmother had been to Allensworth, but my cousin and two sisters did not know about it until I brought it up, so I am also happy I got to expose them to something new as I was also exposing myself to something new. Though this trip to Allensworth did not supply me with what I was hoping for, it did help me reconsider what approach I want for my work. Prior to this trip I wanted to create work that tapped into history as the narrative, but after visiting Allensworth and considering everything I saw in Richmond, DC and Philadelphia; I thought that my work should be more personal and about experiences I understand or ones that are closely related to experiences I have had. Basically I did not want my work's source material to be the past, but the present. And how to make my work feel more present and not feel "outdated", was the next question.