Clay Buddies: Donnie Rex Bishop
Aug 03, 2021 • Shannon Doyne
There’s a good chance that Donnie had a hand (get it?) in The Mug you’re drinking from right now. Read all about it, and about Donnie’s outside-of-work passions.
Hi, Donnie! What do you do here at East Fork?
I’m on a team of elite, clay-forming generalists who wage a never-ending battle against cracks in East Fork mugs. Our mission is to bring the handles and the mug bodies of the world together to live in peaceful coexistence.
I’m glad you are part of that fight! What did you do before this?
I’ve also been a freelance photographer and videographer for the past seven years and four years, respectively. Prior to East Fork, I spent many years in and out of the restaurant industry working as a server where I’d indulge “foodies” and listen to people who “know about food” because they are “from New York.”
Oh, my. That sounds dreadful. I was a server, too. It’s been many years but I still sometimes dream I’m in a restaurant kitchen, totally slammed and I’m there to do five different things but I can’t remember a single one. Does that ever happen to you?
Yes, the classic server dream! The longer I am out of the industry, the less I have them, thankfully—they are straight up stress dreams. Mine was pretty standard: I’m taking an order, then I can see in all my peripherals that I’m being sat with more and more tables, but my current table is taking forever to order! Then, when I finally leave the table, I go to put the order in and can’t read what I wrote. That last part is probably because I always had such bad handwriting.
Where are you from?
I grew up in the sweltering heat of Central Florida. Growing up as a ginger, my genetic predisposition did not allow me to spend much time at the beach, so I moved to Boston and lived there from 2005 to 2014. In 2014, a nomadic, wild-eyed woman kidnapped me and took me to San Francisco where, after a year or so, we would travel the country in a van as superheroes-for-hire. She eventually got tired of my dad jokes and kicked me out of the van just outside of Asheville. I’ve been here ever since.
What a lucky place to get kicked out of a van! I love the clay creatures that you surprise us with around the factory. What inspires you to make a new one? Do you wait for an especially challenging day because you know it’ll cheer everyone up?
Those aren’t creatures, those are earthly homages to the gods of clay. If I didn’t make those offerings to the clay gods we would be cursed with wonky handles and crooked stamps on every mug we tried to make.
Another answer is that we have loads of scrap clay left over each morning after running the mug machine. If a creature idea pops into my head, I’ll take a quick minute or two to form it. I love the idea that it cheers people up! Making the creatures is similar to any creative endeavor I pursue (photo, video, etc.) in that, if I get a kick out of it, others probably will too.
I heard that you are one of the people behind the garden that’s growing out on the loading dock at the factory. Do tell how that got started. What’s growing out there?
I ran out of garden space at home. Rather than abandon my seedling plant children, I brought them to work. Cherry pointed out that we had some beautiful pots by Mike Ball that weren’t being used, so we transplanted the plant babies into the pots. When Sheila joined East Fork, she also added to the collection with more pots, soil, tomatoes, and herbs.
Currently we have peppers (Catarinas, Jimmy Nardellos, and Chinese five-color), several types of tomatoes, parsley, spearmint, basil, and my newest obsession: husk cherries—husk cherries are like if a tomatillo and a plum had a baby. Husk cherries get their looks from their tomatillo mom and their personality from their plum dad. In this convoluted metaphor, personality is being equated to flavor.
I get it, I get it. What are you growing in your garden at home, which is the talk of East Fork, I must say.
Oh, really? Garden gossip always gettin’ around. I’ve got about fifty pepper plants. Mostly spicy peppers that I’ll make hot sauces from in the late summer/fall. I have about ten different varieties growing. They are mostly from Sow True Seed and about a quarter came from the Burton Street Peace Garden. If you haven’t ever been to the Peace Garden, you gotta check it out! It’s full of eclectic found art sculptures, and it is a beautiful place where the community comes together. They have community work days every Saturday where folks can volunteer throughout the growing season.
I’m also growing husk cherries, delicata squash, beets, swiss chard, and kale. I share the land with several other folks who also have gardens. They are growing a ton of things that I am not, so I love seeing the diversity happening with all our gardens combined.
Tell me about your photography.
Well, it all started around the time of the Great Recession. America had just elected Barack Obama and subprime mortgages were going out of style. I had just graduated, and with nary a job to be found, I found myself back in the restaurant industry. That’s when I decided I would get more serious about photography. Being self-taught via Google and the Internet, it would still be a number of years before I could trick people into giving me money for the photos I took.
Affordable DSLR cameras began to take decent quality video in the 2010s, so I transitioned to also being a videographer (again, with the help of our benevolent overlord, Daddy Google). Currently, the majority of my freelance work is making music videos for local Asheville bands.
Music videos! When MTV stopped playing them in favor of reality shows all those years ago, I really worried the artform would die. I’m so glad it didn’t. What do you like about them? Bonus question: what are some of your all-time favorite music videos?
They are the perfect short film! Logistically, from the standpoint of making them in the DIY way I do (read: no budget), it’s a great way to tell a story with images. The soundtrack is the song, so I don’t have to worry about recording audio because it is already done. And if you tell an interesting story you can even shoot it on a phone and it will still be interesting.
“Valtari” by Sigur Rós is one of the most beautiful pieces of film and dance ever created. Just two people in an industrial setting, dancing together, but more of a contact improv style dance...it is so fucking good.
“Genghis Khan” by Miike Snow is a wonderfully fun example of a short film in a music video. An odd take on the classic James Bond story where (spoiler) the Bond character falls in love with his evil genius captor, and they do this Gene Kelly dance together, it's great. This is also an example of a song I didn’t like but was sold on it by the music video.
Max Cooper is an awesome instrumental electronic artist that gets brilliant visual artists to make his music videos. Max Cooper’s “Platonic” was my inspiration for the video I made of Cade [the pottery behind East Fork’s Small Batch Studio] throwing vases.
Tierra Whack’s Whack World album is another super fun one: fifteen songs (each with its own music video) all in the span of fifteen minutes.
I’ll stop there. I could go on forever! I just love the format. Many music videos rely on weird, abstract, or interesting imagery without telling any kind of story (I have often done this myself, it is a fun style), but what really moves me is when a music video basically becomes a short film in the span of three to five minutes.
What five objects are you sharing with us? What does each one mean to you?
Holga: This camera is the shit. It’s a toy camera. It became really popular with hipsters about 10-15 years ago (hence the reason I have one). Given its poor build quality, they are known for getting light leaks. But that is actually their appeal, you buy it for those “happy accidents.”
This camera was instrumental in the development of my photography skills. When I first started out, I began using this Holga. With a camera like this there are no settings you can change. The shutter speed, aperture, ISO always remain the same. All you are doing as the user is deciding on composition. So that’s the skill you hone when using this camera! And, since it’s a film camera, you have to be more deliberate and thoughtful with each image you take. For two years in the early 2010s I would take a roll a week (12 pictures) and get them developed at a local place in Boston. This was such an instrumental part of developing my photography skills! (By the way, those ~2 years of Holga photos live here.)
Turtle: This was a gift from my maternal grandmother. She must have given it to me in the mid-1990s. She was a rad lady and I wish I could have known her as an adult (when I was in high school she died from complications of living too rad a life). I’ve always used it to hold random objects on my desk. Somehow it has stayed with me all these years.
Painted Rock: This was a gift from a dear friend in Boston. It wasn’t for a birthday or anything. My friend just likes making things for people. I always find much more meaning in those kinds of gifts. It also lives on my desk (next to the turtle).
My Workstation: This is my comfy little spot where I try to make something fun out of the raw footage (photo and video) I have gotten.
Banana: I didn’t really feel like I had a fifth item. So here is a banana. Bananas are great. I eat a couple every day. They come with a perfect user design (easily removable cover, fits well in your hand), and they are great for you - nutrients, electrolytes, antioxidants...they’ve got it all.
I admit I am biased because Donnie is my nephew so, of course I think he is amazing! But I also want to thank you for giving me this fun and entertaining mini-tour of your mind, life, and world. Your grandmother would have had a blast hanging out with you! Thank you!