This story is about my implausible, chance meeting with another American who shares with me a very small community from my hometown and how that meeting led to an opportunity for me to explore a creative outlet I have been missing for well over three years. Sound intriguing? Read on for a story that really lives up to the cliché: “Wow, what a small world!”
It may just be psychological, but it always seems to me when I’m traveling abroad that I have far more “small world” occurrences than when I’m living in the states. Maybe the inexplicable nature of some of these experiences is what makes them stand out to me–who would ever expect to run into people they have connections to back home when they’re halfway across the world?
Well, I did. And that’s just the beginning.
Before I continue, I should explain how being a Montana native makes these “small world” moments seem even more extraordinary. The best way I can explain this phenomenon is by recounting the typical introductory interaction I had with my fellow American teachers here during our orientation. It went something like this:
“Hi, my name’s Aven.”
“Hi, I’m _____________. Where are you from?”
“I’m from Montana.”
“Oh, that’s interesting. You’re actually the first person I’ve ever met from Montana.”
With the Turks I’ve met here it’s more like:
“Hi, my name’s Aven.”
“Where are you from.”
“I’m from America.”
“Where in America are you from?”
“Never mind. Do you know California?”
“Oh yes, of course! Los Angeles Lakers!”
“Yeah, right. Well that’s where I went to college.”
Anyway, the point is nine out of ten Americans I’ve met here say I’m the first Montanan they’ve ever met, so it’s really not statistically likely to run into someone from home. Montana just recently crossed the million person population mark. The city I went to college next to, San Jose, has almost a million people. I’m from Helena, the capital, which has around 30,000 people. San Jose State University’s total enrollment was 30,448 in 2012.
I think I’m getting off track. You get the point. Continuing on with the story.
Some of our friends in Eskişehir, Turkey threw a Halloween party and invited all the Americans to come last October. The three of us from K-Town joined the party, which over 30 Americans attended. I knew all of the ETAs, but there were some new American faces as well. Two of the American Fulbright professors teaching at Anadolu University in Eskişehir came to the party, and the typical “introductory interaction” I was prepared for took an abrupt turn right after I told Anna, an art professor at the University of Florida, that I was from Montana. In return, I got the unexpected, “Oh, I know Montana, what part are you from?”
At this point I was already quite surprised, seeing as I hadn’t run into too many people familiar with Montana, but things were about to get a lot more surprising. I told Anna I was from Helena, and to my disbelief she told me she had actually lived in Helena at two separate points in her life.
My jaw slightly ajar now, I asked her what she was doing that brought her to Helena, of all places. Her answer made my eyes open wide.
“I was a resident artist at a ceramic arts foundation. Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s called the Archie Bray.”
I think I was trying to hide my astonishment because I knew what I was about to say would make her just as astonished as I.
“Yeah, of course I know the Archie Bray,” I said. “My grandfather was one of the founders.”
As you can imagine, at this point we both sort of just started laughing, still struggling to believe that the grandson of someone who founded a small-town ceramics arts foundation in Helena, Montana would run into someone who twice had a residency at the very same foundation, all at a little Halloween party in Turkey!
After the initial shock, I was really interested to know more about the ceramics program at Anadolu University. I did ceramics for several years in high school, took a few summer classes at the Archie Bray, and it’s a hobby that I have really been missing over the years. I was curious to see if I could do some studio work at the university.
So, after expressing my interest, Anna gave me her card and we followed up, planning a time for me to come visit. Several weeks later, I was headed on a train back to Eskişehir to spend the day getting to know the ceramics faculty, throwing some pottery on the wheel, and touring the facilities.
Before my visit, Anna asked me if I could give a wheel demonstration to some of her students (who were taking a hand-building class) because they would be interested to see different throwing techniques. I gladly obliged. What I expected was a very informal event, and that’s more or less what it turned into, but when I got to the ceramics department at the University and saw no less than five posters plastered throughout the halls with “Torna Çalıştayı: Aven Satre-Meloy,” which means “Wheel Workshop,” I got a bit anxious.
Despite my humble roots in ceramics (I am quite the amateur, I assure you), the faculty treated me like a professional artist from some heralded ceramic arts community in the U.S. A few of the funny comments I got during the day were:
“Aven, we searched for pictures of your work online, but we couldn’t find anything of yours.” I would later joke with my friends that this was due to the underground nature of my art–that the internet wasn’t yet privileged enough to see it.
Another funny comment, this one coming from a student: “Hmm, he looks really young for a guest artist.”
I’m not quite sure why or how my artistry was given such high expectations, but I kind of just went with it, and after I started throwing it didn’t come up as much. Admittedly, I was rusty, but in the end, I threw a variety of pots, the students did get to see a different technique, and I got to throw alongside the wheel instructor in the department.
Afterward, we took pictures and Anna and I were both given gifts of students’ work–two beautiful glass-blown vases (the glass-blowing department is one of the best in Turkey, I think).
The whole day blew away my expectations. I was interested mainly in getting behind the wheel again after such a long time, but the visit turned into an experience I’m sure I’ll never forget.
The ceramics staff at Anadolu were some of the kindest people I’ve met in Turkey, and I owe both them and Anna a huge thanks for giving me this opportunity. If you get a chance, check out Anna’s website–she’s a great artist and a great instructor, too!
I was told to come back soon, and I think I will. One of the students is exhibiting in March, and he would like me to come back and do studio work throughout February so that I can exhibit with him. Fingers crossed that that might just happen.
So, there you have it. One of the best days I’ve spent in Turkey so far and all because I ran into someone who I would never have expected to meet here. Isn’t it a small world?