written by Anna Bird | photos by Kendrick Moholt
The LH Project, an artist residency a few miles outside Joseph, is situated on the slope of the east moraine and surrounded by 100 acres of forest and field. There, a group of veterans have become artistic alchemists, working with a combination of mud and water, fire and glaze. Out of clay, they shape vases and grenade-shaped teapots, targets and canteens.
Jesse Albrecht enlisted in the Marine Corps at seventeen, having grown up in a family of veterans. Albrecht served as a combat medic in Iraq from 2001 to 2004.
Giuseppe Pellicano, a student burnt out on college and working nights as a bartender, saw a TV commercial for the army and decided to take a leap into the military. Pellicano served as a medic in Kosovo from 2000 to 2004.
Daniel Donovan described himself as “a young dumb kid that joined the army for some adventure and to get away from his hometown.” Donovan served as a combat soldier in Iraq from 2003-2009.
While these three enlisted in the armed services for different reasons, they later came to Joseph with a shared intention—art.
“Before the military, I didn’t have any use for art or anything like that,” Pellicano said, a cigarette dangling from his lips and grey splotches of clay on his clothes. Now art offers Pellicano and other veterans a vehicle to visually communicate their experiences. By starting a conversation, they hope to bridge the gap between civilians and veterans.
Jakob Haßlacher started the LH Project in 2002, naming the residency after his parents’ old cattle brand. Eleven months out of the year, the LH Project welcomes renowned ceramic artists from around the world. One month out of the year, though, the residency hosts veterans working on ceramic projects. At the LH Project, and in a separate veteran artist collective called the “Dirty Canteen,” the artists recreate the camaraderie they had in the military.
They formed bonds with their units and intense camaraderie ensued. The latter they mourned when they returned to civilian life.
“[The Dirty Canteen] gave us a place,” said Pellicano, a native Chicagoan living in Lake Oswego. “Coming together as a collective … we’re still all together, and we have a mission of doing good with our artwork, communicating with our artwork. But it’s not healing arts shit!”
Even if it’s not therapy, the LH Project provides an opportunity for the artists to block out the inconsequential minutiae of civilian life—away from classes, obligations and jobs—and focus on their art. They’re able to work through ideas about militarism, masculinity, corruption, power and violence.
Albrecht uses plastic toy soldiers as stamps in his cracked, imperfect “war crocks.” Donovan paints clay blocks in the bright, patriotic colors of merit badges from the Boy Scouts and the ribbons of military medals. Pellicano makes shooting targets in the shape of human silhouettes.
Aside from the community and the natural serenity of the rural Joseph setting, the artists get free range of the facilities at the LH Project, including an 880-square-foot art studio and materials to make a month’s worth of work. Perhaps more notable is the annual opportunity to participate in a weeklong firing of a 45-foot-long wood-fired kiln (made with handmade bricks). The massive kiln requires manpower to set up and twenty- four-hour maintenance, which requires a group of people to make food, cut wood and stoke the fire throughout the night.
Haßlacher observed that it takes a certain type of ceramic artist to want to participate in such a firing, because only a small percentage of the works fired will turn out well. “You need to have a group of dedicated people who are willing to accept the fact that half of their work probably won’t turn out,” Haßlacher said. “That’s just the nature of the beast.” Some of the pieces, while not achieving the expected outcome, will be good. Others will be completely ruined.
“Ultimately,” Donovan added, “everyone is there for more than just the work that’s in the kiln.”
These three men aren’t returning to the LH Project this year, so it will be a new group of veterans crafting messages with mud and glaze.