Brooklyn Pottery Invitational

I’m delighted to be on of 10 studio potters participating in this new 3 day event of sales, demos, and lectures! Important details below with the full schedule of demos to be announced, so please share and follow the event on Instagram and Facebook, as well as RSVP. All of us potters (listed below) will be there all three days with loads of pots on hand to peruse and purchase. Hope to see you!

Participating Potters:
Lois Aronow, NYC
Ryan Greenheck, PA
Brian Giniewski, PA
Bryan Hopkins, NY
Lynn Goodman, NYC
Kristen Kieffer, MA
Haakon Lenzi, NYC
Adero Willard, MA
Dustin Yager, NYC
Matthew Yanchuk, NYC
& Roberto Lugo on Friday night

Fri, Sept 8th, 5 – 9 PM
Sat, Sept 9th, 10 – 6
Sun, Sept 10th, 11 – 5

Old American Can Factory
232 3rd St, Brooklyn (Gowanus), Corner of 3rd & 3rd
Home to over 150 artists and small creative businesses since the late 70s.

Potter of the Month

 

Below is an interview I did with fellow potter Jen Allen in June of 2014 that is no longer available elsewhere, so thought I’d post here because they are frequently asked questions and while slightly dated, are very comprehensive and certainly timeless, like the answer to the last question. Enjoy!

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Teapot, 2014.
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  1. How did you first get involved in ceramics? Can you briefly describe your background and education?

Drawing was a major mode of play for me as a kid, and art was my favorite class in school. Like many, I didn’t know what career I wanted to pursue after high school, and like many other ceramic artists, once I walked into a clay studio in college, I never left. (That was the summer of 1991.) Clay just fit me, and at a difficult time.

Most importantly, my parents were supportive, encouraging me to be whatever I wanted when I grew up. My Mom was fond of saying that she thought she could only be a secretary, nurse, or teacher (she taught nursing) when she went to college, and wanted me to be open to anything. I concede my being an artist made them nervous at times (though they hid it well); they never faltered from being supportive.

I can add too that while they never pursued careers in the arts, both my parents are creative and artistic. My Grandpa was a hobby, realist oil painter too.

I wound up receiving an AA in Studio Arts majoring in Ceramics from Montgomery College, Rockville, MD (1993), a BFA in Ceramics from the NYSCC at Alfred University (1995), and an MFA in Ceramics from Ohio University (2001).

  1. How do you feel that your formal education (undergraduate – graduate school) prepared you for your career in ceramics?

Formal education taught me how to grow as an artist as well as critically assess my own work, both crucial. My associate, undergrad, and grad degrees also made each next step possible. I wouldn’t have gone to Alfred for my BFA without the encouragement of my community college profs. I wouldn’t have worked at a historical pottery, which put in proximity to John Glick, if my undergrad prof hadn’t given me the internship prospectus. And on and on.

Working with John is what prepared me for a career as a studio potter, but also led to my acceptance to a grad program that could further push me as a maker. I’m lucky to have had so many mentors and professors to guide me along. 

  1. You spent a year as an apprentice for John Glick. How did this experience help shape your career? What advice could you offer someone wanting to be an apprentice?

My year with John could best be described as a residency (he’s actually referred to it as such for the last 10 years). I assisted him only in sharing workload. When he was throwing his pots, I was throwing mine. I helped him pack his work; we mixed clay together, and loaded kilns together. It was an opportunity to work side-by-side with a studio potter, to disperse wear on his body and offer camaraderie in the studio. I helped facilitate his production, but didn’t play a direct role in it.

Working with John was both formative and transformative. When I teach workshops, I always credit him with everything that got me started on the path to being a studio potter. From literally how to pack pots and taking care of my back to pricing and gallery dealings. My year with John formed how I could be a studio potter in mind and body.

Additionally, he taught me how to play. You can’t work alongside a man, potter, and glazer like John without being inspired to shake off fear and explore. His energy and positivity are infectious.

There are few opportunities to do such a thing (residency, assistantship, or apprenticeship with an artist), but it’s truly valuable to spend time with a working artist if that’s what you want to do. I admire that John opened his studio and life to so many assistants over his 50 years in clay. Not many folks have the room, interest, or fortitude to share their creative space with another.

  1. How do you come up with new ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process when coming up with new forms/ideas?

Gosh, if I could articulate that maybe I could make it happen more often! While I do know that just wanting to have a new idea rarely makes it so for me, taking the time to draw helps. For a long time, to develop new ideas I would flip through my collection of books on antique silver and brass vessels from different cultures and periods, and draw. Now I do a similar thing with my Pinterest boards (almost all of which are influence resources). I’m rather a formal maker, so a shape, line, or form from a current piece can sometimes offer a new direction, so my own work leads to new ideas as much as outside influences.

All that being said, sometimes I make a new form based on need. I had a neighbor years ago who grew tremendous dahlias. Every once in a while he would give me one, but I only had recycled bottles that worked to hold them, so I started making bud vases.

  1. Do you have a favorite form to make? If so, why?

I’d say currently yunomi are my favorite because they’re jam-packed with everything I enjoy (and sell).

  1. What does a typical workday look like for you?

I work alone, so on any given day I may be making, marketing, photographing, adding to my online shop, packing to ship, emailing, workshop prepping, etc. I think only half my time is spent making. So, a typical day is basically working on what needs to be done. I try to balance studio time with not-studio time too. I spend evenings and at least part of the weekend with my hubby, work in the yard in the spring and summer, and have an 8-year-old doxie who is my demanding studio mate.

  1. You talk about your work as “Victorian modern style” and “ornamented strength”. Can you expand on what you mean by “ornamented strength”?

Adjectives and phrases have helped direct my making for years. Sometimes those descriptors help me in the studio, and sometimes they are used in marketing to provide buyers with labels for my work.

The right word can help change the line of a pot, focus its function, and/or distinguish the surface. In my slide presentation for workshops, I show how my MFA thesis exhibition pots were “ornate,” but not particularly “elegant,” and how the decision to focus the work on the latter word changed everything.

I’ve long been curious about the sociology of pots and how we categorize them. We assign pots a gender, and that seems to lead to when and how they’re used, and perhaps by whom. For example, a pot labeled as “feminine” sounds like something for special occasions, and perhaps used by a female.

I can’t control how (or if) my work is used or perceived, but I can relay a story through phrasing that helps buyers understand from where I create.

“Victorian” and “feminine” tended to be the most used descriptors for my work, so I decided to take on those phrases. I didn’t set out to make work based in a certain style; “Victorian” and “feminine” were not goals. I have a wide range of influences that, combined with how I enjoy working, yield what I make. I can see the Victorian elements, but I’m not making historically based pots. They are an amalgamation as well as contemporary (which is what Victorian was in its day). “Victorian modern” is a design category that describes a modern take on era influence.

The “ornamented strength” phrase is also from my slide presentations. I show a picture of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman and Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth to illustrate how “feminine” (not normally associated with “durability”) can be strong as well patterned. That is where I see my work, thus my tagline, “Ornately elegant pottery for everyday.” “Everyday” implies strength.

  1. I share a lot of your aesthetic pursuits of seeking to create beautiful and useful objects for everyday. What are some things that you consider necessary in your form/surface/function to communicate this aesthetic to the user? How do you differentiate your work from “complex pieces for special occasions”?

So, I can say whatever I want about my work, but if I want them to be perceived the way I voice, I need to back up my verbal claims in 3D. The best example I can give are my cups. 10 years ago, the handles were thin, narrow and gestured far above the lip line, and were therefore worrisome to hold. Additionally, the small piece of the two-piece handle had a curlicue, which didn’t lend to durability, and the cups themselves were modestly sized. Now, the cups are “mugs” with a generous shape, the handles are plump and feel inviting, and though still two pieces, are streamlined. When people pick up my cups, I hope they feel that “ornamented strength” (not delicateness), which invites use.

Complexity of form can lend more to special occasion than complexity of surface, and I don’t think of my forms as particularly complex. I tend to think complex forms require both physical and mental leaps for use (which can limit them to special vs. daily), but complex surfaces may only require mental ones (which goes back to phrasing). If I wanted to make special occasion ware, my work would be different.

  1. You are a marketing genius and are constantly and consistently promoting your brand. Which marketing venue(s) (website/blog/galleries/studio sales/etsy/craft fairs/etc.) have you found to be the most lucrative for your work? What kind of advice could you give someone wanting to market their work?

Ha! Well, consistent anyway. How I market is constantly changing as the platforms change. My Kieffer Ceramics Facebook page served me well for several years, but since FB changed to “pay to play” (pushing users like me to PAY to “boost” posts to allow our followers to see content), I’ve seen a major decline in connecting with folks who actually want to see my posts. It’s hard to explain that to see all the posts by a person or page, Facebookers need to add it (that friend or page) to their Interest Lists because some or all posts may no longer show up in their newsfeed. Thus, I finally joined Instagram because if you go on IG, you will see posts by everyone you follow. Its disadvantage to me is not having clickable urls like FB and Twitter posts, so it can be harder to get followers to click over to my online shop, for example.

Though I don’t blog as much as I used to (in part because social media has become about images vs. reading in the last couple years), I write as if I’m communicating to a collector. This brings a different voice than if I were writing to my fellow potters.

I think it’s important to be consistent with social media. Don’t start it if you’re not going to keep up with it. Decide your goal, your brand, and your voice for each platform. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, sell on Etsy, and have an enewsetter, all of which I approach a little to a lot differently because the platforms themselves and their audiences are different.

  1. Your work is in numerous galleries across the country. Can you talk about how you selected the representation you did? What kind of advice could you offer someone wanting to approach galleries for representation?

I retail work in half a dozen, mostly craft center galleries (perhaps a quarter to a third of my sales) around the country that carry my work, and I hope earn their 50% by styling it well and discussing it with interested customers. (I think of true gallery representation as being for artists whose price points are considerably higher with an artist/gallery relationship that is more formal, exclusive, and engaged, like Duane Reed and Mindy Solomon galleries, who don’t really work with functional potters.) I think most galleries invite artists, and do so after seeing their work (now, in social media; in the past, in juried and invitational shows and the publicity that followed them). It always comes back to making solid work, photographing it well, and getting it out there in a professional manner.

  1. You’re website is filled with thorough, informative, varied content. How did you decide how to format your website the way you did? What tips could you offer someone who is thinking about creating a website? What amount of time do you dedicate to upkeep (keeping it current)?

I’ve been on WordPress.com for my blog/website combo for over six years, and still like the format and ease. I’m constantly tweaking it, and actually enjoy doing so. The blog part of the site keeps it fresh (updated at least twice a month), though every page of my site is current, from work to schedule. I’ve tried to create a layout and present content in a way that I want when I visit someone else’s site. I think almost any question someone might have about me or my work is there, which I hope leads to sales (pots and DVDs), workshop enrollments, and/or answered questions by collectors and students.

Much of what I’ve done is adapted from the good and latest in site styling I see on other sites, and bypassing the bad (too many clicks to reach content, flash, clutter, etc.). There are infinitely more templates and build-your-own sites now, so it’s a matter of finding one you like and understand, paired with the time involved in maintenance and cost. 

  1. You produced your own DVD of surface decorating techniques entitled “Surface Decoration: Suede to Leatherhard”. Can you talk a little bit about the process of creating a professional instructional DVD and your choice of content on the DVD?

The DVD came about because my husband and I were both laid-off from our part-time teaching when the Worcester Center for Crafts closed for the full year of 2009, and because my Dad happened to take up video as a hobby in retirement. Though the Craft Center re-opened in 2010 (minus the furniture program in which my husband taught), the sales from the DVD my Dad and I produced has been an additional, helpful revenue stream added to the way I piece together my income.

I actually took a poll on my blog, and ‘surface’ was the unanimous choice for the video. Deco seemed the most straightforward to tackle too. I didn’t want the video to be a version of what I teach in workshops. I wanted the video and workshop teachings to each complement the other: workshop participants purchase the DVD to refresh on techniques I taught in-person for them, and DVD-purchasers often wind up in a workshop because they enjoyed the DVD. Plus, I’ve sold the video all over the world to folks who can’t readily take a workshop with me in the States. I’m very grateful to have had such a supportive audience for the video over the years.

  1. Finally, what advice can you give aspiring potters trying to make a living?

Style should be the result not the goal.

Working hard and play are not mutually exclusive in the studio.

Making a living as a self-employed artist requires diversification of income.

“Making a living is not the same as making a life.” ~ Maya Angelou

Remembering A Mentor: John Glick


It was two weeks ago that I learned of the unexpected passing of one of the biggest mentors of my career, John Glick. I had just spent time with him, his wife Susie Symons, and several other of his past assistants last June for his retrospective in Michigan, and was planning on visiting John and Susie at their new community in California. Though retired from his 50 year career in clay in which he made an estimated 300,000 pieces, John was excited about a next phase of life and redirecting his abstract expressionist pottery decoration style onto furniture, which he’d already begun to make and sell before they left Michigan.

I have so much to say, and yet am also at a loss for words. It seems impossible to sum up a year of studio potter education reaffirmed almost daily over the last twenty. As I always remark when I teach workshops, there’s a little bit of John in every part of my studio practice.

In addition to the myriad of practical to poignant tidbits I learned from John over my year as an artist-in-residence and assistant in his studio (1996-97), there are two key notions that resonate continually for me and possibly sum up what he gave to me: Play & Health.

I should actually begin with Health as I would likely not still be working in ceramics if not for John. I began having back problems my senior year in undergrad (a year and half prior to working with him), so his thoughtfulness about ergonomics and back care became crucial to my time with him. Indeed my back “went out” that year, so he connected me with his doctor who helped me with maneuvers for pain management and showed me strengthening exercises. If I hadn’t learned a healthy way to throw and other safe studio practices from John, I’d probably be doing something other than clay.

In all the lovely articles paying tribute to John over the last couple weeks, none of them mention that his career almost ended because of back problems stemming from typical potter activities. To my mind, he originated the necessary discussion on ergonomics in the ceramics studio and standing to throw for good back health. I try to post an annual PSA sharing John’s backrest design and his two must-read articles: To Sciatica and Back” (1987) and “Down the Spinal Canal” (2001). In the former he states, “If I could give a lasting gift to all potters it would not be a wonderful glaze formula or a new tool. Instead I would give the gift of awareness about the wise use of our bodies.”

  

John (with his backrest and Soldner wheel in his MI studio in 1987), and me
(with my backrest and Soldner wheel in my MA studio in 2015).

The other important lesson I learned from John is Play. Even though making pots is a creative pursuit, it is still a job that can feel serious because making a living is the goal. Plus, clay and its processes can be quite temperamental, which can stifle exploration and experimentation. Play was a part of the daily routine that made John’s a positive studio practice, which in turn made a big impression on me. He was always lively,  infectiously so. I remember him dancing around fifty buckets of glaze while he deftly decorated his bisqueware, making eye-rolling puns, and smiling like a kid through his big moustache. I continue to make time to play in my studio, and attribute my overcoming every potter’s eternal fear of glazing to him.

My sketchbook entry, October 23, 1996:
Listened to John speak to some Center for Creative Studies students today.

One thing that he spoke of that stood out was regarding ‘repeating.’ He doesn’t see the need to recreate interesting ideas —beyond a grouping of initial number around +/- 20— because there are so many more good ideas to investigate. He might take an idea further, especially on a very different tangent or with different thoughts, but he won’t remake a specific form or group of forms. They are all truly one-of-a-kind.

He also said he doesn’t buy into the “But I need to make a living.” He’s proven that an artist/potter can make a living without recreating the same pot in the same glaze over and over to be successful. It does take time to come up with new ideas, but John simply works in an always-experimenting mode. He doesn’t take “time off” to investigate new things. He doesn’t do a couple of sample experiments. He is simply always playing with new ideas, or expanding the old.

Many potters may not feel that there is time. For him, that is his time.

“If work cycles are the maps that guide me along the path to finished work, then surely the studio is the place where I make my way using the myriad of methods and work rituals I so enjoy. Work begins here as idea, and then finds voice with technique and experience, trial and error, and . . . playfulness.”  ~ John Glick

I consider working with John to be the paramount experience of my ceramics education. Graduate school was crucial to my evolution as a maker, but working with John is what gave me the foundation for being a studio potter. I chose to work with a studio potter because that’s what I wanted to be. I learned everything from how to pack pots for shipping to gallery dealings, from photography skills to studio basics. There are particular decoration techniques I learned from John that are still a part of my repertoire and shared at every workshop I teach.

I was one of thirty-three studio assistants —later referred to as artists-in-residence— who worked with John. I assisted him not by performing part of his process or routine, but by working side-by-side with him on whatever needed to be done to make it easier for us both. When we needed clay, we mixed it together. When glaze kilns were ready to be loaded, we each took an end of the shelf. We shared the weight, literally. It made it more fun, and was the healthy way to work. When he was throwing his pots, I was at my wheel throwing mine. We worked together, and shared together. I greatly admire that John took on so many assistants/residents over his career; indeed, sharing his creative and emotional space on a daily basis for decades.

John is always with me in my studio. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every day I use a technique, skill, strength, or mindset I learned from John Glick.

My first day working at John Glick’s Plum Tree Pottery in Farmington Hills, MI
was August 5th, 1996, and Magdalene Odundo dropped by!


Out of the blue in 2014, John sent me this image of an extruder die he made for a tray design that coincided with my first month working with him, so he labeled it “Kristen tray.”

“It is not enough to merely throw a particular form, I must make that certain throwing rib that adds a special, unique touch, or develop an entire “world” of extrusion dies, all of which are lovingly used over time, only to discover that I have physically outgrown my manual extruders and must design and build not one, but two hydraulic extruders which then greatly expand my working potential. This is love of process!” ~ John Glick


I happened to be there in 1996 when Farmington Hills, MI designated
John’s Plum Tree Pottery a historic landmark.


If I was having a bad day and took a break, I’d return to a mini thrown pot, hand-built cat, or smiley flower made by John. This is one of those delightful tokens, which he later glazed for me.

 
Ginormous 24″ platter we own by John from his special Upper Gallery, which hangs
above our stove like the sun, casting its warm rays and bidding us a greeting and
goodnight everyday. This was a gift and secret plan between John and my Dad
as a wedding gift for Trevor and me in 2006.


The constant state of my throwing tools, which reside in a tea bowl I made
while working with John so encrusted with slip and clay, no glaze is visible.


John and me at his retrospective at Cranbrook in Michigan, June 2016.

“When we are alone with our innermost thoughts about why it is we need to make things from clay we will hopefully come to know a private truth that tells each of us a very personal answer, woven of the same threads of mystery that has captured the spirits of artists through times past.”

John Parker Glick
July 1, 1938 – April 6, 2017

Holiday Studio Sale

Kieffer Ceramics Studio, Holiday Sale

I’m excited to invite my fellow New Englanders to swing by my studio for some good deals before the snow begins to fall here in north central Massachusetts. It’s a perfect opportunity to check out my studio and my hubby’s new and in-progress wood shop, and shop firsts for holiday gifts, as well as some rather wonderful ‘aesthetic’ and ‘minorly flawed’ seconds to save for yourself.

Kieffer Ceramics Studio Sale
Sat, Nov 5th  10 – 5 &
Sun, Nov 6th *11 – 4
*Don’t forget to “fall back” an hour!

We are just a couple miles from a local cheese shop and chocolatier, and about an hour or less each from Framingham, Northampton, and Worcester, MA as well as, Keene, NH and Brattleboro, VT. Visit my Events Page to read about the full details, including address, payment options, parking, and accessibility, or drop me an email if you have questions, KiefferCeramics@gmail.com.

Thank you for supporting creativity and community
by buying and giving handmade.

Summer 2016: Glick, Gills, & Kline

I’ve neglected my blog here because I’ve had a BUSY summer as pictured below! In June, I flew to Michigan to attend mentor and friend John Glick’s retrospective ‘A Legacy In Clay’ at Cranbrook. In July, I taught a two-week workshop at Alfred University alongside my former professor and mentor John Gill. And then just two weeks ago, after spending a week teaching at Penland, I was a guest potter at Michael Kline’s Cousins In Clay studio sale! Check out my summer pictorial of mentors and heroes!

John Glick A Legacy in Clay retrospective at Cranbrook 2016  John Glick and Kristen Kieffer, 2016John Glick, Plum Tree Pottery, 2016  John Glick platter, Legacy retrospective, Cranbrook, 2016

Clockwise from top left: Dozens of pots at John’s retrospective ranging from his MFA show in 1962 to the most recent pots he completed in 2014. John and me photographed before his gallery talk by his wife Susie Symons. One of a dozen large platters (24″ diameter) at his retrospective. John figuratively bounding forward to his next adventure. 

John Glick’s ‘A Legacy in Clay‘ retrospective at the Cranbrook Art Museum included a sea of pots he self-collected over his 50+ year career as a studio potter. His use of glaze, color, layering, gesture, and mark-making is unparalleled. While he is now retired from working in clay, I’m delighted to share that he is continuing his style of surface decoration on wood furniture of his own creation. He is a living national treasure, and I’m so honored to have worked side-by-side with him (1996-97). You can read past blog posts about my mentorship and ergonomic lessons with John here, here, and here.

John Gill demonstrating, Alfred University Summer School, 2016  Kristen Kieffer demonstrating, Alfred University Summer School, 2016Ceramics collection storage at Alfred University  Chinese jar, T'ang Dynasty, The Eumorfopoulos CollectionAndrea Gill and Kristen Kieffer, 2016  Kristen Kieffer cake stand in use and part of the Gill's collection

Clockwise from top left: John Gill demonstrating. Me demonstrating at Alfred University. John Gill’s favorite pot in The Eumorfopoulos Collection books from the special collections room of the Scholes Library at Alfred: a Chinese jar, T’ang Dynasty. My cake stand in use at a summer gathering at the Gill’s, which is also in their collection. Andea Gill and me. Nigerian and Acoma pottery in the ceramics storage of Alfred’s Ceramic Art Museum. 

In July, I was one of five workshop presenters for the first two weeks of Summer School at Alfred University in NY which included John Gill with Visiting Artist In-Chin Lee; Kang-Hyo Lee; Chase Folsom with Visiting Artist Ashley Lyon; Steve Branfman with Visiting Artists Wayne Higby & Hongwei Li; and me. It was a huge honor to be invited to teach a workshop at one of the most renowned institutions for ceramic art in the U.S. to which I was also lucky enough to attend for my BFA (1993-95). So being able to work alongside my former professor John Gill and spend a little off-time with my other former professor (the only female mentor I’ve ever had!) Andrea Gill was a huge, mind-blowing treat.

Michael Kline, Cousins In Clay, 2016  Kristen Kieffer and Michael Kline stamp collaborationVisitor matching plaid Deluxe Clover cup by Kristen Kieffer, Cousins In Clay  Cousins In Clay 2016

Clockwise from top left: Michael Kline and his pottery during set up. A collaboration and demo of Michael’s and my stamps on a plate. Cousins In Clay in full swing. A little visitor who matched my plaid Deluxe Clover cup, right down to the layered slip-trail, perfectly.

In early September, I had the pleasure of being a guest ‘cousin’ at Michael Kline’s pottery during his annual Cousins In Clay studio sale in Bakersville, NC along with fellow potters Samantha Henneke and Bruce Gholson of Bulldog Pottery. All three are lovely people with equally awesome families, so we had a nice weekend with good conversations, laughs, and sales. Plus, Michael is one of my pottery crushes, so I got dibs on the ‘best’ piece there!

PS: I seem to be blogging less these days, so to keep the most up-to-date with all the goings-on in and around my studio, please subscribe to my enewsletter and follow me on Instagram and Facebook too. I’ll be posting about the Utilitarian Clay Symposium at Arrowmont next week in which I’m one of seventeen presenters, and soon about The Democratic Cup for which I am one of twenty-six contributing artists!

Mindful Maker

Kristen Kieffer
I recently did an interview with Missy Graff Ballone for her website and organization Wellness for Makers. She found me through my own blog posts about standing to throw and working with mentor and studio potter John Glick, and wanted to include me in an interview series she has called Mindful Makers. Non-artists and artists alike can benefit from being mindful of our bodies in everyday activities as well as our creative endeavors. Her mission is to “empower artists through education and mindful living [by creating] more productive and sustainable studio practices that improve the longevity of their hands and bodies.”

Wellness for MakersCheck out my interview here where I talk about my own studio ergonomics, bad back history, and being “purposely inefficient.”

Give Wellness for Makers a follow on Instagram and Facebook. She is always looking for images and information about mindful making, so drop her a note if you have articles, resources, or helpful tips to share. Thank you, Missy!