I am a collector of pottery. I share my home with pottery and they have become like members of the family over the years. I have spent over thirty years experiencing pottery with passion and discipline. I have spent an equal amount of time trying to develop the aesthetics of such engagement. How can I describe this complex, intense and joyful relationship I have with the pottery? It has enriched my life, directly contributed to a quality of life that has brought me much pleasure. I am a temporary docent of these artifacts, which form a central legacy of human creativity and civilization.
But what claims can I make for the ceramic collector? Am I on the bottom of the totem pole? Worthy only if I come up with the money to be a steady customer of ceramic commodities? I want to be appreciated for more than the size of my wallet. How about the status of those other two partners in this triangle – the potter and the pot? The ceramic artist and the artifact? Do potters go along with the trend now in fine art circles where some artists have become celebrities and even the work of these artists become less important than the sensational antics of the artist? Does the excessive or even self-destructive behavior of the artist as rebel or outlaw inspire potters to try to pull it off too and become rich and famous? Wouldn’t your face on ‘People’ magazine be more lucrative and career wise than being on the cover of ‘Ceramic Monthly’? Have they ever made a movie about the life of a potter?
Should both collector and potter humbly withdraw and not distract attention from what is really important – the artifact itself? In the fine arts of painting and sculpture, emphasis has shifted from the artifact to the artists themselves. This includes such gallery trends as found objects, installation art, performance art and concept art. All diminish the importance of the object itself and place more significance on the ideas and intentions of the artist. Perhaps some day we won’t even need ceramic objects anymore. Perhaps I am a romantic and old fashioned but I am not willing to give up the actual physical existence and importance of the ceramic artifact itself.
I have taken on the responsibility of preserving and protecting hundreds of these objects for the next generation and the generations after that. I want to make the argument that all involved in this relationship are vital and each has their own important role to play. I know many potters, both here and in Britain. I value my relationship with them and find the best of all worlds is when I get the opportunity to meet them when I purchase a pot. In many places, the opportunity to meet the potter occurs when their studio, gallery and even home are at the same site. This is very common in a place like Seagrove, North Carolina, one of my very favorite places to visit.
But I have my own demands for potters and ceramic artists. I don’t want them to be just engaged in a business where they make ceramic stuff and where they shove that stuff out the door in order to pay the mortgage on the house. I want them to care as much about their pottery as I do. I know a lot of you have to do production ware and other bread-and-butter stuff to survive. But I want you to feel a little tug when I pick up that beautiful piece, purchase it, and head for the door. I will share a few thoughts about this from my book, “Searching for Beauty: Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter”,
“What is the fate of the pot? You make them and I collect them. What responsibilities do the potter and the collector have to the pot? I do not pour from them, few rarely hold flowers. Containers without content – objects without objectives. They sit in rows on shelves, splendid and quiet friends who make little demand of me and reward me each day by their very existence. No rare trophy pieces here for investment purposes, rather an eclectic and inclusive collection that documents my great affection for hand made craft. I partially justify my collection by offering custodial protection. They are safe. I dust them weekly and bravely await the next California earthquake, knowing that the museum wax secures them to the shelf.”
On the next page, I continue the discussion and talk about how I would like potters to think about their pots,
“I hope that you are capable of being sentimental about your pots and care about them as much as I do. You must not casually abandon them. Do you put them all out for sale or perhaps tuck one or two away because you cannot bear to part with them? I assume that the creative process is not simply the repetitive motions of habit. I know you must make a living but I insist on the romance that you love what you are doing and it is out of devotion, not concern about the gas bill, that inspires your daily activity. I can arrange visiting privileges if you wish to see your pot again.”
Alas, I accept the fact that it is the collector who will largely remain anonymous, deserving of perhaps just a footnote in the big scheme of things. That does not diminish my enthusiasm or sense of purpose nor does it lessen the daily pleasures of engaging my pottery. First comes the potter, then the creation of the pot, and although I come third in this sequential process as collector, I would maintain I am a necessary factor in this alliance of mutual commitment to ceramics. Lets face it, we need each other.