When Deborah Bedwell watched Taiwanese ceramics artist Ching-Yuan Chang work, she was amazed by his ability to fire any kind of kiln on the first attempt.
Bedwell first saw his work in 1990, after he was selected as the premier artist-in-residence at Baltimore Clayworks.
Fifteen years later, Bedwell, of Towson, a founding director of the art facility, will have a dream realized when two of Clayworks' current artists-in-residence join Chang this summer in Taiwan.
The events leading up to the exchange began when Bedwell helped initiate a residency fellowship. The premise of the program was to do away with renting space to artists. The board wanted to start a program to include free studio space, a small material stipend, a solo exhibit, professional development and an opportunity to teach.
In an effort to bring new life to Baltimore Clayworks it offered the first fellowship and received 50 applicants.
A small panel made up of the chairman of the board, a local curator and Bedwell said the decision to choose Chang was unanimous and artistically obvious.
"Chang had just completed a master's in fine arts from Rochester Institute of Technology, in New York," Bedwell said. "He graduated with high recommendations from the staff there. It was an easy choice artistically. His work was outstanding. We brought him to Baltimore, and he amazed all of us with his ability and his ability to deal with people."
Bedwell said he was extraordinary in his ability to handle the material.
"He was so good, my board agreed to fellowship him for two more years," Bedwell said. "He became a central part of the residency program. He taught, and he helped people and really made it fun for everyone around him."
Eventually he needed to return to Taiwan. According to Bedwell, he couldn't stay any longer. They had used up all their options for prolonging his return, and between his parents and immigration it was time to go.
So, in 1994, he returned home, but the professional relationship built between Chang and Bedwell continued to grow.
"When he returned to Taiwan, Ching-Yuan quickly distinguished himself," Bedwell said. "He taught ceramics and established a private studio. He began to work in clay and sculpture. However, he continued to maintain his ties with the United States."
Chang traveled back and forth between Taiwan and the United States for conferences and meetings and created a personal network of artists here.
When Taiwan decided to build the world's largest ceramic art museum, Taipei County Yingko Ceramics Museum, Chang was hired as artistic adviser. He invited Bedwell to lecture at the museum's opening.
Meanwhile, in 1998, a new art college was founded, and he began to teach at the Tainan National University of the Arts. Chang was hired to build the ceramics department. As part of the program, he began to invite artists he knew and wanted to know to his program in Taiwan as visiting artists. At the same time, he encouraged Bedwell to invite his students to work in Baltimore Clayworks.
Bedwell accepted his offer, and in 2005, Chang sent one of his graduate students to study at Clayworks.
In return, for the first time, two of the 13 artists-in-residence at Clayworks will go to Taiwan for the program of which Chang is the host. Clayworks covers the travel expenses, and Chang will cover expenses in Taiwan.
When the local artists leave, Chang's visiting graduate student, Chun-Lan Li, will return to Taiwan with them. He returns to the United States for the July 16 opening of his solo exhibit at Baltimore Clayworks' main gallery.
As Li starts to discuss his experience in the United States, he shows some of his completed pieces including trays and teapots. He smiles as he shows his favorite pieces, saying he likes how they turned out.
When asked if he missed Taiwan, Li said with a smile, "No. I did not!"
He said his visit to the United States has not only been educational but fun, and he's sorry to leave.
"It has been good for me to see the work being done here," said Li, using some of the English he has learned.
"I did a lot of work here. The United States is more open, more fun. I like laughing. Taiwan is serious. It's been good. I learned a lot of new things to tell my friends."
Mary Cloonan, work-exchange manager at Baltimore Clayworks and one of the artists traveling to Taiwan, said she finds Li to be as amazing as Bedwell found his teacher, Chang.
"Chun-Lan Li is showing us the techniques he learned in Taiwan," Cloonan said. "The thing that amazes me most about Chun-Lan is one day you can come in and there will be nothing on his shelves. The next day you come in and half his shelves are full. He has done more than 250 pieces. It's incredible. He's just amazing. He is always doing something."
Cloonan said she expects the trip to Taiwan to add life to her work.
"I think it is important to explore things outside of my comfort zone," Cloonan said. "It expands your art. I think just being around new artists will revitalize my work."
According to Cloonan, the only thing she thinks may be a problem is the language barrier.
"We don't speak the language so it should be interesting when we get there," Cloonan said. "We are learning enough phrases to get by, but the language is so intricate we could never learn it this quickly. That could be a problem, but it will be fun."
Matthew Hyleck, education coordinator for Clayworks will accompany Cloonan.
Hyleck said, " I am so excited to have this opportunity. I can't believe the people here are allowing me to leave my job for two months to participate in this exchange. It means so much to me."