M.C. Richards
Artist & Philosopher (1916-1999)
by Richard Kane

from Timeline - M.C. Richards with a ceramic potMary Caroline Richards had a richly diverse life, which began in Weiser, Idaho on July 13, 1916.  She was raised in Portland, Oregon and later went to Reed College to earn a degree in literature and languages.  She wrote poetry, and when she became part of the faculty at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, she taught writing and produced plays.  At Black Mountain she also danced, studied pottery, and became increasingly interested in innovative teaching methods.  She helped create a commune in New York in the 1950s, taught and gave pottery workshops in the 1960s, and later worked in Camphill Village in Pennsylvania, an alternative educational community based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner.  In the last decade of her life she began to paint as naturally as if she had been doing so her whole life.  Her art-of-many-genres wove together all her concerns, including community, agriculture, craft itself, and spiritual ideas. Always a poet, she regarded the end of her life – as physically limiting as it was - as another fulfilling adventure, “living toward dying, blooming into invisibility.” 
- Margaret Wakeley


"We need the courage of authenticity
to carry the originality
of imagination into expression.” 

M.C.'s ideas are truly witness to an essential, intuitive understanding which connects us to the cosmos, to our spirituality, and to our creative selves. In her talk on “Imagination and Authenticity as Doorways to Creation,” given in Oakland in 1992 and published in Deborah Haynes' Opening Our Moral Eye, she said, “Imagination is Spiritual Perception and Authenticity is Spiritual Presence….We need the courage of authenticity to carry the originality of imagination into expression.”  The courage of authenticity!   In other words, we need to be our true selves in order to create something real.   She wasn't into “excellence” she said.  That's an external measure.  She was into inner truth.  Isn't this a truly freeing concept for the artist?  Don't worry about the marketplace.  Don't worry about what you think others might consider beautiful.  Find it within yourself:  That's when the greatest art is made. “Imagination”, she continued, “means receptivity to the creative unconscious, the macrocosmic mind, the artistic mind.” 

clay pot by M.C. RichardsThe self that connects within and without is our authenticity, M.C. said.  When we play with materials – clay, paint, wood, stone – we activate our connection with the archetypal world that ideal primitive form. 

If we accept her teaching, then she forces us to develop our INNER I AM, our Sacred Wisdom, to guide ourselves in our artistic journeys.  In our film, “M.C. Richards: The Fire Within,” I asked her how one taps into intuition.  Gently correcting me she suggested a different image:  that receptivity opens the door to intuition.  We do not tap into our intuition; rather, we become receptive to it.  We need to be open to the muse to find our way. 

Authenticity, from M.C.'s point of view is connected with innocence, unselfconsciousness – a willingness to be one’s self and to be vulnerable.  One comes to it by trusting in one's self and entrusting one's self to others – whatever the risk.  “Vulnerability at some point,” M.C. said, “dissolves into stillness.”  And when we come in touch with that stillness, we become authentic.  It's something so many of us have difficulty with because of the busyness of life.  We even put a positive spin on busyness.  “How have you been?” friends ask. “Oh! Very busy,” we answer.  It gives us self importance. But how about valuing one's self by seeking that stillness that M.C. is seeking?  We can surrender ourselves to the authentic.  Once we trust, then our imaginations are freed to express not only the physicality of art but the spirit of it, too.

Heart of Darkness painting by M.C. RichardsThis, I believe, is where M.C. begins her exploration of heaven on earth and a host of other dichotomies.  She often speaks of nature and plant life and how the root goes down into the dark and the stem goes up into the light.   Isn’t it like simultaneously trusting and not knowing?  The human stands on earth, held by gravity.  Yet through the imagination we are open to the heavens with dreams and visions – weightless and weighted, she would say.  Practical or visionary? According to M.C., “We don’t have to choose.  We are both.”

M.C. Richards had a driving thirst, a lust, for life and love and beauty and awe.  “This is a new time,” she said.  And maybe here is why she was so passionate about finding and beholding one's authenticity.  “This is a new time,” she said.  “The Earth is ready to make love with us.  Let's offer her our joy in our true selves.” 

Well, perhaps the Earth is too precious to offer her anything less.

Mary Caroline Richards died in 1999.  The film “M.C. Richards: The Fire Within” was released in 2004 and can be found at www.mcrichardsfilms.com. The excerpts above come from a talk Richard Kane delivered in Belfast, Maine, on June 2, 2007.