In a previous blog, regarding the emotion of sentimentality in relationship to pottery and the creative process, I offered George Ohr as a model of a male who displayed a variety of emotional elements in his personality and pottery. He was a true eccentric, bawdy and lustful in his ceramic brothel tokens and other aesthetic and personal vulgarities. Now, I would like to counter some of the stereotypes just discussed about women by offering you one of the great American woman potters, every bit as eccentric and notorious in her way as George Ohr. Of course I am talking about Beatrice Woods. I have been to her former home in Ojai, California, several times, now a museum and workshop for visiting potters. It is situated in a lovely landscape, up in the rolling hills just outside Ojai. There is also an exhibit there with plenty of photographs, text and of course her luster pottery, that tells the legendary exploits of this woman who lived to be over 100 years old, took many of the great artists of the 20thcentury as her lovers and friends, and had an independent and passionate spirit that lasted until the very last day of her very long life.
In his book, “Shards: Garth Clark on Ceramic Art”, Clark has a very touching essay on Woods, titled “A True and Romantic Pragmatist”. He featured her several times in his gallery over the years. I want to provide you two segments of that essay here,
“We were friends for twenty years, and I know why her lovers clung to her friendship even after the passion had passed. Wood has a way of bringing light and optimism into one’s life. Witty, positive and a fascinating raconteur, she was able to communicate her enthusiasm for life and for the present. While she may have enjoyed telling stories from her long life, she never lived in the past. She was an extraordinary friend. Almost every momentous event of my life during our friendship is punctuated with a letter from Beatrice, congratulating, encouraging, commiserating. I never knew where she found the time to write these elegant, warm, poetic notes. Many times I did not even know how she had found out about those moments.”
In the last passage in this essay, Clark mourns the recent passing of this vibrant and unique person,
“To say that I will miss her is strangely incorrect. There are some people whose passing cannot lessen their presence in one’s daily life. Certainly, I mourn that I cannot drop in at her studio and home in Ojai and enjoy her laughter, and lively discussions about art, sex and politics. I will miss the aromatic meals off her glittering plates. I will miss walking after her as she shuffled barefoot to her studio to show me the latest ‘horrors,’ as she jokingly referred to her newly fired work in the kiln. But death alone cannot take away a spirit as vital and contagious as that of Beatrice Wood. She lives on in the life of her many friends, and one must compliment God for the wisdom of allowing her to stay somewhat longer than the average mortal. Certainly she used that time wisely and played out a life that shimmered, glittered, sparkled and seduced every bit as much as the luster pots she made for the last sixty-five years.”
Clark has provided us not only a sensitive tribute to a dear friend recently deceased, but something about this woman and the way she choose to live her life. Her life was a work of art as well as her luster pottery. She dared to create herself and insist that others make room for her. She was born to wealth and privilege but shunned the life it offered and went her own way. She gave up the superficial respectability that her privileged origins provided, but she gained a greater and truer respect in developing her unique person-hood and pottery.
Our Way in the World
You might respond to my portrayals of both George Ohr and Beatrice Wood by saying they were rare characters, larger than life, and we can’t all be that spectacular in our behavior and character. I would agree with you. Each of us must find our own way of being in the world. But I hope we would both agree, however we are able to demonstrate it, that passion for life and passion for work are essential components for a rich and meaningful quality of life. I am a quiet, shy man in many respects; a short, bald-headed, bookish man that in retirement spends much of my time in the solitude of my home with my books and pottery. Yet a flame still burns and flickers in my soul and I greet each day and the morning sun with an increased tempo of anticipation, marshaling all the energy still at my command at this late time in my life, engaging the day and all the potential splendors and wonders that each day brings to me. I think what I have just said constitutes a summary and definition of a passionate life. How would you describe your life passions?
Searching for Beauty
I wrote a book about searching for beauty and many of the readers of this blog have devoted their lives to creating beauty with clay. This commitment to beauty, however one might define the qualities that make up beauty, also contains, according to some, the elements of the erotic and the quality that we call love. The study of the beautiful is contained in that field of scholarship called ‘Aesthetics”. However academics might wish to shape this discussion into formal theory and reduce it to analytical thought, this study of beauty is essentially a study of feelings. The following quote reinforces the commentary by Garth Clark in his tribute to Beatrice Woods. Here is the quote, in the book, “Beauty: Documents of Contemporary Art”, an anthology edited by Dave Beech, in an essay by Kathleen Marie Higgins titled “Whatever Happened to Beauty?” Higgins talks about the relationship of beauty to our emotions.
“When beauty transforms raw emotion in times of loss, does it necessarily make us more ‘philosophical’, in the colloquial sense of more stoical, more distanced from the wound we have suffered? Loss, besides provoking pangs of anger, regret, and sadness, has a deadening influence on the person engulfed by it. Loss is depressing. The bereaved often doubt that they can continue in a world devoid of a loved one. Enter beauty. Beauty makes the world seem worthwhile again. Plato described our stance towards beauty as erotic. We are drawn to beauty. Beauty incites ardor. It is the bridge to sense that reality is lovable. Plato, as much as Kant, would say that beauty makes us philosophical. But for Plato this means that beauty makes us fall in love with what is perfect. I want to suggest that beauty typically, perhaps especially in times of loss, urges not stillness but renewed love of life. Beautiful elegies reflect our sense that the only fitting remembrance for one who lives is to renew life, and that our own march forward into dying is itself an affirmation that life, in its basic character, is good.”
We are moving from discussion of that utilitarian passion that accompanies physical sexuality to a generic or cosmic sense of passion as the very stuff that allows an affirmation of life, that makes life good, that celebrates beauty; all this can be accomplished by a special intensity and rush of feelings that brings excitement and joy in our ordinary and daily attempts to cope and survive. Ceramic artists provide those concrete objects that can set off these celebrations of the spirit. I think we have now established beyond any shadow of a doubt that pottery are indeed containers of passion. It is the transfer of that passion to someone like me, who tries to bring his entire self to that engagement that sparks my own transformation to a heightened state of aesthetic arousal. I can only conclude, and perhaps you were not aware of this before, but for those of you that are represented in my pottery collection, we do indeed have a very intimate and passionate relationship. We need not alarm others by disclosing it. I will deny all rumors.
The Comforts of Home
I am in my pottery gallery right now, just finishing some iced tea. The air-conditioned interior resists the intrusion of a very warm afternoon. I am surrounded by pottery, surrounded by beauty. I would like to feel that I am not only a docent of the pottery in my home, but also the custodian of the passionate efforts that the makers invested in the creation of that pottery. I try to honor the potter in attempting to provide protection for the pottery. We are both invested, maker and collector, we both care very much. I am not embarrassed by proclaiming my feelings, by caring; by feeling both the joy of my close proximity to those things I love, but also, as indicated in the quotes by Clark and Higgins, the pain of possible loss, the fragile and often dangerous connection between passionate love and the universal status of our tenuous mortality and those uncontrollable disasters that can claim what is precious to us. We should not avoid loving in order to evade the pain and loss later on. If you should sometime in the future read in the newspapers that a violent earthquake hit Glendora, think of my destroyed pottery collection, and remind me of what I have just said.
We can hone the ability to express our feelings as we can further develop our skills in expressing our thoughts and creating the artifacts that reflect them. In writing this text, I am trying to express my feelings about my feelings. I think that is also an interesting idea. When caught in the moment of intense feeling, we are one with that sensation and situation. We are on intimate terms with that thing or person that stimulated our response. But later, after our removal from that intense moment, how do we make sense and learn from our passions? Can we develop the capacity to meditate on those moments that others might say we temporarily lost critical control of ourselves? Can we gain wisdom from our emotional experiences as well as from our thoughts?
We tend to know when we are trying to think something out and then make a mistake. It might be a mistake of fact or a conclusion unsupported by available evidence. I read and evaluated thousands of student papers through the years in which I would point out such errors. But how do we know when we have made a mistake of passion? We can’t check out the facts or google some information that might rectify and correct our thinking. Affairs of the heart are much more difficult to correct. And they might very well require a time for healing not necessary for more intellectual matters. Our emotions are much more tender than our thoughts. There is a safer distance involved in our opinions about things. We could disagree on what our foreign policy should be right now on what to do about Syria. I would not find that upsetting. But if someone thought my intense feelings about my pottery collection were silly and told me so I would be really upset. You do not display disrespect for another person when you happen to disagree with that person’s opinion about something, but you cannot be said to respect another person if you do not respect that person’s feelings. It is so much easier to ridicule a person’s emotions than a person’s thoughts.
I will continue this discussion in Part three regarding the role of passion in the creative process and pottery as a container of that quality.
Archive for the ‘Interesting people I meet’ Category
Pottery as Emotional Containers: What Role Does PASSION and the Other Human Emotions Have in Pottery and the Creative Process? – Part 2Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012
North Carolina Pottery: Ceramic Traditions are Alive and Well in a Pottery Paradise in The Rural Countryside – Part 3Wednesday, February 1st, 2012
North Carolina Pottery Center and
Bulldog Pottery – Bruce Gholson & Samantha Henneke
We followed the map provided to us at the North Carolina Pottery Center in Seagrove. This center is a wonderful place to start your Seagrove ceramic adventure. It has ongoing pottery exhibits of the local potters as well as a collection on display of the historical achievements of families of potters in the area over many generations. We made a much sought after discovery while in Seagrove. Bulldog Pottery had been recommended to me as one of the best places during our first trip to Seagrove many years ago. No one seemed at home at Bulldog Pottery during that first visit and again when we visited for the second time a few years later. This time our determined effort really paid off. We met the two outstanding ceramic artists represented here – Bruce Gholson and Samantha Henneke. The work on display in their gallery was astonishing. We met and talked with these two friendly and welcoming people. Judy and I decided on a very large and stunning vase by Bruce. It was the most expensive pot we bought on this visit to Seagrove but well worth it. Today it is situated on a Japanese lacquer box in our living room. The unique flow of vivid glazes running down this tall vase offers continuing pleasure for us. These two devoted craftspeople epitomize the great pride and dedication of the Seagrove community to the highest levels of ceramic mastery. By the way, Bruce expressed surprise when I told him that we have tried two times before to visit their gallery and failed to find anyone home. He assured us that their absence from this site is actually quite rare. Bulldog Pottery was well worth the effort to locate and to finally receive the full benefits of meeting Bruce and Samantha and obtaining one of their very special ceramic artifacts.
Whynot Pottery – Mark & Meredith Heywood
I have been to Whynot Pottery on previous visits. We have two or three pieces of their work in our pottery gallery at home. This time I got a chance to meet and talk with Mark Heywood, who, along with his wife, Meredith, are the potters and owners of this establishment. We choose a lidded vase with a rich impasto of running glazes in golden hues. I try to introduce myself in a way that will convey my long involvement and dedication to pottery as a collector, lecturer, and writer without sounding self-important or pretentious. I also try not to initiate a passionate and lengthy tirade about the pleasures incurred in my experiences in these various capacities. Judy has warned me that my enthusiasm can result in a dense rush of commentary that can be overwhelming to the newly introduced potter. Most potters forgive my excess. Regardless, I found potters in general most responsive to those of us who display genuine investment in our mutual devotion to ceramics.
I want to include a quote about Seagrove pottery from a fine book, “The Remarkable Potters of Seagrove: The Folk Pottery of a Legendary North Carolina Community” by Charlotte Vestal Brown. This is what she had to say,
“Understanding the chemistry that seems to pervade this amazing congregation of potters is not easy. It is tempting to see parallels between the potters’ personalities and their work….These makers are complex, talented, and, above all, private people. The work they show represents but a facet of the world in which they live. The work we see is the result of huge efforts and long years of questioning their personal visions and goals and of struggling to attain a satisfying standard. We never see what is thrown away. All of the Seagrove potters are driven by an individual ideal of perfection, to make nothing less than strong and consistent work. Some have goals that drive them perpetually to make new kinds of work, work that is sometimes vastly changed from what came before, sometimes only a few throws different from yesterday’s jug. Of such progress, Pam Owens said, ‘we take baby steps,’ and I don’t believe she means justly small steps, but explorative, experimental ones, to find the best ways to make their wares. These potters consistently make work that speaks directly, without benefit of their makers’ intervention. I walk into a shop and wait for the work to speak to me in the voice that the potter has chosen. I don’t always know if the clay is local or commercial, if the kiln is gas or wood, if the maker mixed her own glazes or not. Of course I usually am able to identity all these things, but first comes the voice of the work itself. The ability of these people to elicit powerful feeling through their work is part of what makes me go back to the area again and again. Sometimes I need a new mug, sometimes a plate or a vase, and sometimes I just need to escape to a place that I know is not like where I live. Some of the potters’ favorite stories are those that tell of the difference their work makes in the lives of those who use it. What more could one ask for than to know that the work of one’s hands could cheer, comfort, amuse, and enrich a person’s daily life?”
I want to refer back to Jugtown Pottery. We returned to this historic pottery as we have on every previous visit. Vernon Owens grew up working in his dad’s shop, learning and working along side his father, M.L. Owens and his uncle Walter Owen. He started working at Jugtown in 1960, over fifty years ago. Today he and his wife, Pamela Lorette Owens, a gifted potter in her own right, are partners in this enterprise. They have been joined by their son, Travis, who stared making pots at age 2 and now works full time at the pottery. They have a great museum at this pottery, which has samples of generations of local potter’s who created their pottery while at the Jugtown Pottery. Judy and I took a leisurely stroll through the rooms of the gallery, enjoying the classic designs of Jugtown pottery carried on by Vernon and Pam Owens. We noticed larger vessel forms and more intense glazes on some of the ceramic pottery. These were recent work by Travis, who is offering a new generation of contemporary statements that emanate from past traditions but provides his own unique creative infusion. We purchased one of his vibrant pots and were quite pleased when he came out to meet and talk with us. It is very reassuring to know that he is quite willing and able to continue the work of his family into the coming decades. We also purchased a fine pair of candlesticks by Vernon in that frog skin glaze long celebrated by Jugtown.
We returned to a pottery we knew well in Seagrove, Westmoore Pottery and the work of David and Mary Farrell. They came to Seagrove in the 1970’s, first as apprentices at Jugtown, then stayed on to establish Westmore Pottery. Here they create redware plates and pots faithful in many ways to the German and Pennsylvania work made by Moravians of Central Europe in earlier centuries. They make dinnerware decorated by stylized floral forms, bands of color and other designs, all made by slip trailing on the surface of strong red clay intensified by a clear glaze. We already had a big, stylized chicken and a plate obtained on previous visits. I spotted a large brown pot with a base relief face of a beautiful, old bearded man. I immediately recognized that I saw that same face every morning when I looked in the mirror so I had to have it. The Farrell’s are focused on taking a particular pottery tradition that came to North Carolina with some early settlers and to continue that tradition with variations that can be directly traced to the source of their inspiration. At the same time the work is not only charming but also novel because of their unique distinction of seeking to preserve and continue a cultural tradition of long standing.
A Collector’s Reasoning
How can I justify all these purchases of something as non-essential as pottery? Is it a foolish self-indulgence, particularly at my time of life? Should I have long stopped the acquisition of pottery and rather concern myself with how I am going to dispose of it? Do I dare claim that my acquisition of pottery is somehow a more noble impulse than those who prefer to do their shopping at Wal-Mart or Target? Is not the raw lust of consumerism behind all such activities? Schiller, the German Romantic poet of the 19th century, discussed this issue and I responded to his comments in my 46th letter to Christa Assad,
“One cannot easily shift consumer desires from commercial and manufactured commodities to the more ephemeral objects of aesthetic refinement. It is difficult, as creatures of habit, to accord objects of beauty a different status than those objects bought off the shelf in other consumer transactions. How can we claim a special endowment and more noble intention in seeking to secure a work of art? The desire of acquisition, ‘restless and plagued by imperious want’ as stated by Schiller, might obtain the object, but it cannot give you the resources to appreciate the beauty of the object. How do we attain that ‘higher power and greatness’ inherent in the disciplined encounter with the subtle elements of the beautiful? Without beauty, is not consumerism, even possessed by those with the ability to sponsor extravagant purchases, finally a state of ‘exhausted desire’?”
I am fully aware that there are many creative centers and communities of pottery making in other regions of America as well as elsewhere in the world. Why do I find so much encouragement and hope when I travel to North Carolina and Seagrove in particular? I am truly inspired when I encounter a new generation of potters, in an area where pottery making goes back well over two hundred years, potters like Travis Owens and Alex Matisse who are determined to further that ceramic legacy into the future. I want to believe that pottery has that kind of future, still attracting young people who see purpose and pleasure in creating that pottery whose existence has brought me such aesthetic joy over my lifetime. I also profoundly respect that older generation of potters who have not only contributed great pottery of their own but have provided leadership and training to those who aspire to reach the same level of mastery and achievement that they have already accomplished.
I cannot predict the future, particularly the future where I will no longer be around to observe and experience. I do see great hope and concrete evidence of the vitality and creative endeavors of the makers of pottery. I do not think that external circumstances or current events in the world can ever totally obstruct or defeat that primal drive to take a wad of earth and shape a memorable container of timeless beauty out of it. I am grateful to be a part of that web of people who either make or celebrate pottery. It is a very good thought to have as I experience the last days of this year. I fully accept my portion of responsibility in this relationship. I will continue to make every effort to further develop that “higher power and greatness inherent in the disciplined encounter with the subtle elements of the beautiful.” This endeavor can never be fully completed but gives me ample reason to look forward to the next day and the day after that and the coming new year and even beyond.
Note: If you would like to view an aerial map of Seagrove’s pottery community click here.
North Carolina Pottery: Ceramic Traditions are Alive and Well in a Pottery Paradise in The Rural Countryside – Part 2Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
Judy and I are partners in our joint venture of collecting pottery. While I was talking to Mark Hewitt in his studio, she went into a large gallery space and picked out one vase among the many there she wanted to take home with her. I eventually left Mark to join her and she told me she had already made her choice without identifying it and told me to do the same. I walked through the large space and finally, after several minutes of intense concentration, pointed to one vase on a shelf in the corner of the gallery. We had picked out the same vase. This is not only an indication of our close aesthetic affinity, but also a very good omen for the harmonious continuation of our already rather extended relationship. Tradition, according to Mark Hewitt, should not be considered a toxic or invidious term in regard to the legacy of the past or present practices in ceramics. I would add to his testimonial regarding ceramic tradition my own record of almost 40 years of martial bliss with Judy as further proof of the benefits and virtues of traditions.
We also visited Tom Turner, the marvelous potter of exquisite porcelain vases at Mars Hill, near Asheville, NC. Tom is a highly respected master craftsman, gives workshops and demonstrations across the country. His vases are highly refined with a level of attention and caring on the part of Tom in every elegant vase. He also experiments with various glazes that are unique in their effect and impact. I have several of his vases in my pottery gallery. One of his vases is on a shelf below one of the skylights in the gallery, which has a very high ceiling. This vase has a deep red glaze. Every afternoon around 2:00 o’clock sunbeams from the skylight turn that vase on fire, with a vivid flame of radiating red that is spectacular to experience. Tom fervently believes in the continuing viability of making pottery and has expressed concerned that schools and university ceramic programs have largely abandoned the pottery wheel and replaced it with instruction and activities in the making of ceramic sculpture. He does not oppose more abstract and three-dimensional uses of clay, but laments that many schools do not balance that with the practice and painstaking efforts to achieve mastery at the potter’s wheel as well. We could not leave his home/gallery/studio without taking two of his pots with us.
Tom wanted us to meet another up and coming young potter who lived nearby. He drove us to the gallery, studio and home of Alex Matisse out in the countryside. Alex comes from a distinguished family of artists, including Henri Matisse, the French painter. He grew up in a small New England town, apprenticed with Mark Hewitt and Matt Jones. He is full of energy and hope for the future, having recently completed the construction of a large kiln and buildings at the site. Some of his pots were on the front porch of his home. Tom thinks that Alex is going to be one of the true giants of ceramic art as he continues to establish himself and create his work at his own facilities. With the sage advice of Tom, we selected a vase with a delicate filigree of white linear patterns on a brown surface. I research Alex when I got home on Google and found a statement he made about his work on the website “Potters of Madison County”. This is what Alex had to say,
“For three years, I apprenticed in the workshops of North Carolina potters Matt Jones and Mark Hewitt. Their work combines traditions, from the Anglo-Oriental school of Leach, Hamada, and Cardew to the folk pottery of the south-eastern United States and many places between. In their workshops I learned to love these simple pots; adorned or bare, quiet and strong, they make their place comfortably at the table or hearth and speak to the thousands of years of pots before them. My work is made in a fusion of pre-industrial country traditions in both process and material. It is fired in a large wood burning kiln and made of as many local materials as the chemistry will allow, while still affording me the physical attributes necessary for my aesthetic decisions. I believe in the beautiful object; that there are inescapable aesthetic truths, physical attributes that remove time and place from the defining characteristics of the made object. These objects can be viewed today or many years from now and understood as beautiful. Though their quotidian value may become antiquated, their aesthetics will save them. I believe in making pots that carry this truth while, as Henry Glassie told me in passing one day, holding one hand to the past with the other outstretched to the future.”
Now to Seagrove itself. I will not attempt to list all the potters and galleries that we visited but we met potters whose work impressed us but who we had not met before as well as potters we encountered on other occasions. Before I introduce you to some of them I would like to refer to my book, “Searching for Beauty: Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter” where I described the historical background and context of this center of ceramic culture at the time of our first visit in spring of 2004.
“The ceramic origins of Seagrove and much of this region go back to the early pioneer settlement of the area. The families of potters represent many generations here. They have co-existed within a limited geography, often related by kinship, certainly by common history and experience. The vernacular tradition produced functional stoneware jugs, crocks, and pie plates for immediate use by neighbors and also merchants along the plank road running from Winston-Salem to Fayetteville. These working containers are the bedrock of this local tradition. Seagrove is a fascinating story of both tradition and innovation. This is in fact the name of the book edited by Douglas DeNatale, Jane Przybysz, and Jill Severn, “New Ways for Old Jugs: Tradition and Innovation at the Jugtown Pottery”. DeNatale relates how Jugtown Pottery comprised an attempt in the early 1920’s to revive traditional pottery in Moore Country, North Carolina. Two prominent and sophisticated outsiders, Juliana Busbee and her husband, Jacques Busbee were responsible for this effort. They were not content to simply revive the ‘folk’ tradition but wanted to introduce the other ancient ceramic influences of China and Japan to these potters. This addition of grace and style would make the pottery more marketable to their bohemian friends in Greenwich Village, New York. This attempt to form an unlikely synthesis between remote traditions is essential to understanding the current anomalies of Seagrove.
DeNatale further explains this idea,
‘From the perspective of the potters, they were full collaborators in the creation of Jugtown and its pottery. And rightly so, for the potters’ knowledge and skills acquired through their cultural upbringing contributed at least as much as the Busbees’ artistic sensibility to the synthesis that was Jugtown. Where the Busbees decried the enthusiastic experimentation by area potteries with new glazes and forms, that creative, problem-solving impulse was an essential element of the very tradition they claimed to grasp; and it was this impulse Ben Owen actively brought to the process of creating the oriental translations with Jacques. In retrospect, the fairest and most accurate evaluation of Jugtown’s history in the life of Moore County must view the contribution of local ideas and aesthetics as an active force, not merely a resource that the Busbees mined.’
As mentioned by DeNatale above, the Busbees employed a young local potter, Ben Owen. The history of the Owen family as potters goes back to the mid-19th century. Jacques took young Ben Owen to visit art schools and museums in Boston, Washington, New York, and New Orleans. Outside influences of historical and modern ceramics from diverse cultural sources were melded and synthesized by Ben Owen. Another branch of the extended family, who added an ‘s’ to Owen for reasons not known to me, Melvin Owens and his family did not stray as far from local traditions and traditional pottery. The salesroom looks like it occupies the original home with a front porch on a modest wooden structure of long standing. In sharp contrast to this rustic scene, a short distance away we drove up to a handsome state-of-the-art two-story structure that is the gallery and salesroom of Ben Owen III. Nearby work is being continued on a new residence for the Owen family. Huge outdoor kilns occupy another nearby space. Adjacent to the showroom is a museum of four generations of family pieces. Ben III continued the tradition of his grandfather, learning as a child playing with clay in the old man’s pottery shop. He also continued another tradition from his grandfather; he left the area and acquired an education, graduating from East Carolina University with an art degree in ceramics. He later traveled to Japan to study their ceramics techniques and tradition.
His wife, LoriAnn, welcomed Judy and I to the Gallery. The beautifully designed interior contained a varied representation of his work. We purchased a small vase with his layered Chinese Red glaze. Two different worlds, two very different orientations, all in the same extended family. Ben Owen III, like his grandfather, had bitten the apple, tasted the sweet flavor of forbidden worlds far away. I know it is foolish to simply contrast a sophisticated and eclectic approach with a ‘folk’ tradition. The Busbees had introduced and exposed many potters in the area to Asian pottery many years ago. All traditions, however ancient and insular, are embedded with the historical penetrations and invasions of multiple traditions, none are pure. But I must push the matter for purposes of our investigation. How do you place value on the vernacular experience of ceramic practice that has been handed down in the family or region against the worldly sophistication of the ‘educated’ potter who has no allegiance to a single way of making things? What kind of a potter would you be, Christa, if your grandparents and your mother and father had taught you pottery from the time you learned to walk, and you stayed home in that single place, uncontaminated by formal education and training? Isn’t innovation just the desperate strategy of isolated and culturally deprived strangers who have no cultural legacy or ceramic tradition and thus have no other ceramic choice but innovation? Can you borrow from these ‘folk’ traditions without shame, since it is not your family, not your region or culture, nor your worldview? What is it that bonds all potters, regardless of site, history, or orientation? Are you all brothers and sisters, regardless of tradition or education? How do you achieve membership in a tradition if you are not a citizen of that tradition? There are many outsiders, educated at fancy art schools and universities, now living in Seagrove, implicitly competing with the ‘natives’ for the pottery dollar of tourists and collectors. I wonder how they fit in; how they are accepted by those families whose ceramic legacy goes back hundreds of years? How would you feel toward the indigenous ‘folk’ potters if you lived in Seagrove? Please explain all these things to me, Christa.
How does your own background as a potter stack up with these potters in Seagrove? Did you grow up in a family and community where ceramics were celebrated and making pots was a natural and normal thing? Did you have to struggle and rebel against what your parents expected of you when you decided to be a potter? Was this decision of yours a fall from grace for you in the eyes of your parents and family? Did your decision not to be a banker or lawyer or dentist cause much turmoil in your family? How can you explain to others the unique pleasures and great satisfactions of being a potter? Does it matter if those people around you who might have loved you the most did not comprehend this eccentric impulse that drove you to the potter’s wheel? Any regrets now?
North Carolina Pottery: Ceramic Traditions Are Alive and Well in a Pottery Paradise in the Rural Countryside – Part 1Sunday, December 18th, 2011
I have recently returned from a three-week holiday visit with my wife to the east coast. We stayed in Boston the first week and ended in Charleston, South Carolina the last week. During the second week, we stayed in North Carolina, in the Asheville and Seagrove areas. Judy and I have been there 2 or 3 times in the past. We love to travel to the Seagrove where over 100 potteries exist in a small village and environs. Often the making of pottery is a family affair, involving not only spouses but also their offspring in generation after generation of potters. It is a sort of ceramic paradise on earth. We know several potters there from previous visits. Fall is a special time on the east coast. It was warm and mostly blue skies, windy at times. The thick groves of tall trees were in full fall glory with intense outbursts of red, orange and gold leaves along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Falling cascades of whirling, dancing leaves had made some trees bare while others still proudly displayed flashing leaves of brilliant sun soaked color. There was little traffic on the roads and I could drive our rented car as well as view the lovely landscape. I did have to venture off the paved roads onto dirt roads to reach many of the potteries. City born and bred, to actually drive on a dirt road appeared to me a most dangerous and unwelcome adventure. I blissfully ignored the perils and drove down the rutted rustic lanes to the potential treasures awaiting me.
I can hear the hum of the freeway from my own garden in Glendora but here it is quiet and quite peaceful. I need the cultural resources of a nearby big city, having been born and raised in Los Angeles and living in one of its suburbs for over thirty years. I do value my occasional escapes to the countryside of Britain or rural regions of the United States. In the US, a suburb is often just an appendage to a large urban community; a bedroom community that empties out each workday for the commute to work in the big city. In contrast, a village in the rural countryside is an autonomous and unique community that is historically rooted in the local life of that place. Seagrove is that kind of village. When I went to a local restaurant, it was not like going to a franchised fast food place where I live, where you order food to take home or sit among strangers and eat the food in isolation. Here in Seagrove I noticed neighbors greeted each other when entering the locally owned restaurants, people who have lived their lives in close proximity and have known each other’s families and shared their common experiences from church socials to school assemblies. Does it take a village to raise a child? Am I romanticizing rural life, as I perhaps tend to romanticize potters and their glorious pottery? Or did I miss out on something important and precious in never experiencing rural or village life? What would rural folks say was missing with my urban attitudes and suburban lifestyle?
In “Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine”, Lewis Mumford talks about the very beginning of village life during the Neolithic period. He paints a very positive image of this life. Today of course, all over the world, there has been a profound and significant shift in rural populations moving to the bigger and bigger urban areas of millions and millions of people. What is the world losing here? Do villages today still possess some of the virtues as described by Mumford? He thinks so.
“Wherever the seasons are marked by holiday festivals and ceremonies: where the stages of life are punctuated by family and communal rituals: where eating and drinking constitute the central core of life: where work, even hard work, is rarely divorced from rhythm, song, human companionship, and esthetic delight: where vital activity is counted as great a reward of labor as the product: where neither power nor profit takes precedence of life: where the family and the neighbor and the friend are all part of a visible, tangible, face-to-face community: where everyone can perform as a man or woman any task that anyone else is qualified to do – there the Neolithic culture, in its essentials, is still in existence, even though iron tools are used or a stuttering motor truck takes the goods to market.”
I do wonder and speculate about the vast differences between rural and urban worlds today. What are the differences between rural and urban potters? Can you tell the differences in the pots themselves? Are rural potters inherently more sensitive to nature and the natural environment than urban potters? Aren’t all crafts, in their origins and character, essentially rural activities the world over? Maybe, because of modern technology, everyone is now exposed to what is happening everywhere else and the differences between rural and urban life are not all that different anymore. How do potters explain their choices between living in the peace and beauty of rural life and the contrasting tempting cultural riches of an urban life? Is it possible to have the best of both worlds?
Seagrove does not have a total monopoly on potters and potteries in North Carolina. We drove out to Pittsboro to see Mark Hewitt, an absolutely great potter of huge, magnificent jugs as well as a multitude of containers and vessels. I enjoyed his good company and of course left his lovely rural home, studio and gallery with several wondrous ceramic objects. Mark was able to talk to me while at the same time working at the wheel, spinning balls of clay into highly refined bowls one after the other. In his book, co-authored with Nancy Sweezy, “The Potters Eye”, he defines tradition as a dynamic process, not a static and rigid freeze of something from the past.
Does change, in art as well as life, have to bring disorder? By creating disorder in the artifact, does one gain control over unwanted change elsewhere and thus restrict its impact to manageable proportions? Is any kind of stability and order, in life, in art, in theory, just a fairy tale spun by a most insecure species? Does conformity to tradition promise an illusionary order that exists only in the artifact, not in reality? Do those of us who talk about pottery in particular make a choice of craft over art? Doesn’t everything complex, including people and pots, contain inherent contradictions that enrich the complexity and thus demand forgiveness of the contradictions? For anyone who has ever viewed one of Mark’s jugs or vases, there is no possible distinction between the designations of potter and ceramic artist, craft and art. They are one and the same thing in this person and his pots. He provides proof in his work of my more general assertion that one does not have to abandon or destroy the vessel to become a ceramic artist.
As a potter, is it a false pride to insist that what you are doing has never been done before? In confessing those potters and that pottery that has influenced your own work, are you thereby reducing the claims of your own originality? Why is novelty so prized today in the arts? Why does tradition seem like a dirty word? I cannot go on without offering you a brief quotation from this very thoughtful potter and articulate writer from his book about tradition as an active agent. In his introductory essay, “Tradition and the Individual Potter”, Hewitt makes the case for the value of tradition in art.
“Tradition is good, tradition is beautiful, tradition is valuable. To say so is unconventional and a little dangerous, for as T.S. Eliot wrote in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent”, ‘Seldom, perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure.’ Indeed, tradition is often perceived as a hindrance to individualism and artistic originality. But I agree with Eliot that the opposite is true. In his words, ‘No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists’. Thus we must look to the past to the very roots of our art, to guide us toward new forms of self-expression. Potters and ceramic artists use ceramic history and particular traditions to inform their work, and those traditions inspire rather than discourage innovation.”
I will continue this discussion and my visit to Mark Hewitt and other potters in North Carolina and the village of Seagrove in the next blog.
The Uniqueness and Universality of Culture: What Remains Foreign and What is Shared Among Cultures? – Part 1Friday, May 20th, 2011
We want it both ways. When we travel we want to see and experience a culture foreign to our own, or why spend all that money and time to find things just like at home? Yet most of us entertain a notion that all cultures have much in common, that all of humanity, whatever their culture, language or customs, are one big family in sharing universal attributes. The creation of handcrafted artifacts is one activity that seems to reach across the differences and demonstrates a common pattern. The making and using of objects serve as both tool and container to meet the daily needs of cultures across the globe. All people seem to have the need to embellish these objects with form and decoration that goes beyond their utilitarian function. All cultures are capable of art. All peoples have creative instincts that transform and transcend the world as they find it. We are gratified that there is not a universal sameness in these created objects. Rather they reveal the infinite varieties of human imagination and the vast differences in cultural orientation and worldview. In that sense, we do have it both ways. We find that all humans require community, family, and a sense of place and belonging. All use language, however different than ours, to give names to things and to shape how they perceive the world and give it meaning.
We regard strangers encountered in foreign lands as foreigners. But it appears far more difficult for us to understand how others can consider us foreigners when they visit our land. How could we be foreigners? We are just normal folks, doing and living as normal people do, there is nothing foreign about us! But of course that is not the way things are. When foreigners visit our land, they can be puzzled, surprised and even amused by our behavior, by the way we do things and make sense of things. Although it is difficult for us to be self-conscious and examine those qualities that make us foreign to others, foreigners know when visiting us what makes us American by contrast with their own cultural behavior and ways of doing things. As when we visit another country, such engagement is always a mixed bag, visitors being quite impressed and thrilled with some aspects of that foreign culture, but also perplexed and unsettled at not being able to operate and cope in this foreign place as one does at home.
Just to make things more complicated, there are of course many cultures in America that co-exist and co-mingle in the same land. In a sense, our diverse cultural groups provide those qualities that make us both unique and foreign to those outside the culture. But even those cultures in this multicultural country that arrived here long ago in our history have taken on some of the cultural qualities of those who were here before them. Thus, for example, Asian or Hispanic communities in the United States have evolved into a rich hybrid of cultural qualities that after a time do not exactly duplicate their foreign origins. In truth, most cultures are integrated combinations of peoples from different origins who through centuries have immigrated or occupied the same land with others and have either intermarried or co-existed at one time or another. The idea of pure culture is as absurd as the idea of pure race.
The first generation of immigrants might be able to maintain and preserve their culture and language in its original form, aided by attempts to maintain their own communities at least partly insulated from the greater culture around them. But the second generation usually begin to integrate with those around them in the greater culture and further generations after that might attempt to retain some essential elements of a distant past such as family food recipes, traditional religious identity and beliefs, and their native language maintained as spoken in the home. At some point in this inevitable process of at least partial integration, the grandchildren might not be able to communicate in the language of the grandparents. The interaction of dominant and minority cultures has often been a mutually beneficial exchange, although discrimination and even violence toward some groups has also historically occurred throughout our history.
Every cultural group that has arrived on our shores, and the indigenous Indian cultures found here, have contributed to and enriched the general culture. Public education was historically the vehicle through which children were given the skills and orientation thought necessary to enter the larger culture. There is a perennial issue and discussion in our country about the merits of assimilation into the greater culture; in order to open opportunities for economic success and fitting in with the surrounding society; or the very different choice of attempting to maintain a separate group identity with as much of the original culture intact and preserved as possible. This kind of coexistence has been called multiculturalism. The interaction of diverse peoples is always dynamic and formative in how they influence each other. The ability of a stronger economic power to impose its will on a minority culture requires a world in which the rule of law and sense of social justice operates to mediate such matters.
I think I might have already told you in a previous blog, but I have been writing letters the past 6 or 7 years to various mentors and authors I have long admired. I wrote 35 letters to William Morris, the British 19th century Arts & Crafts leader a few years ago, then 50 letters to Walter Benjamin, the 20th century German/Jewish cultural critic. Now I am writing letters to Octavio Paz, the 20th century Mexican poet and essayist. All these people have one thing in common, they are all deceased and thus unable to respond to my letters to them. Perhaps you might think me eccentric in writing letters to dead people and that might very well be true. Judy has indicated that if one day I report to her that one of them has answered me, she would consider my institutionalization at Happy Farms. I am not sure exactly where Happy Farms is located or if other residents also write letters to dead people there. I do love my home in Glendora and even if William, Walter, or Octavio did respond to one of my letters, I do not think I would tell her.
I do want to share some of Octavio’s ideas with you now because he can contribute to our currant discussion. Aside from being a very prominent poet and writer, the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, he was also Mexico’s ambassador to France and India at one time or another. He taught at various American universities and has provided commentary of the differences between our culture with that of Mexico. Here is a brief excerpt from my book, “Searching for Beauty” Letters to a Collector to a Studio Potter” in which I describe how I discovered a book in which he wrote a great essay,
“One great book store is in Ojai, a small town in the hills of Ventura in central California. Bart’s Books occupies open air stalls and shelves, old houses and structures, books piled everywhere. When the store is closed, you can walk by on the sidewalk, browse through stacked boxes of books, make your selection and leave the money. I do not buy used clothing but I do love to browse used book stores. One great book I discover at Bart’s was “’In Praise of Hands: Contemporary Crafts of the World’. This book was published in association with the World Crafts Council to commemorate an international exhibition of contemporary crafts at the Ontario Science Centre in 1974. It contains one of the most profound statements I have ever encountered regarding the handcrafted object.”
The book was sponsored by the World Crafts Council, a group affiliated with UNESCO, founded in 1964 whose purpose is to “strengthen the status of crafts as a vital part of cultural and economic life, to promote fellowship among the craftsperson’s of the world, to offer them encouragement, help, advice and foster economic development through income generating activities.” If you want to know more about this important organization, look at their website at: www.worldcraftscouncil.org. WCC also stresses the need to give dignity, respect and self-esteem to craftspersons, and believes that these “people carry in their hands the living treasure of our cultural heritage.” They hold all kinds of seminars, workshops, exhibitions, and exchanges programs and conference and represent craftspeople all over the world.
In an introduction to the book, James S. Plaut, who was Secretary General of the World Crafts Council at the time of the publication (1974), identified the possibilities for the world’s crafts people to be members of the same family,
“Whatever the differences of origin, race, tradition, geography, or social order, the world’s craftsmen have one thing – one great gift – in common. They work, create, and achieve with their hands. This common bond, this way of work, transcends all barriers of language and custom, making it possible for the craftsmen of the world to invent and perfect their own language and to communicate with each other happily and fruitfully.”
Have you found this to be true in your travels? When you travel abroad, maybe to attend ceramic conferences or to explore potters and pottery in other lands, do you find some ‘common bond’ with other potters or ceramic artists, no matter how different the culture or how difficult it is to communicate in a language foreign to the other party? Is there some overreaching union and understanding among craftspeople? I would like to think so, just as I would like to think that collectors of crafts have a common bond in their devotion to preserving and celebrating craft wherever they find it.
The essay by Octavio Paz, “Use and Contemplation” starts with a touching and beautiful passage about his direct experience with pottery. It takes a poet to truly articulate the poetics of engagement that we who love pottery can only attempt to express in our own modest way,
“Firmly planted. Not fallen from high: sprung up from below. Ocher, the color of burnt honey. The color of a sun buried a thousand years ago and dug up only yesterday. Fresh green and orange stripes running across it still-warm body. Circles, Greek frets: scattered traces of a lost alphabet? The belly of a woman heavy with child, the neck of a bird. If you cover and uncover its mouth with the palm of your hand, it answers you with a deep murmur, the sound of bubbling water welling up from its depths; if you tap its sides with your knuckles, it gives a tinkling laugh of little silver coins falling on stones. It has many tongues: it speaks the language of clay and minerals, of air currents flowing between canyon walls, of washer women as they scrub, of angry skies, of rain. A vessel of baked clay: do not put it in a glass case alongside rare precious objects. It must be filled; if it is full, it must be emptied. I take it by the shaped handle as I would take a woman by the arm. I lift it up, I tip it over a pitcher into which I pour milk or pulque – lunar liquids that open and close the doors of dawn and dark, waking and sleeping. Not an object to contemplate: an object to use.”
Well, you can see why I am now writing letters to this man. He is a great poet and diplomat, cultural critic and intellectual; he knows how to behold the clay pot in his hands, ways to use it, and how to sing it’s lyrical messages of place, material and use. He might celebrate it many uses but no matter what he says, he does indeed contemplate its character and nature as well.
I think it is important to consider our attitude toward crafted artifacts as ambassadors of foreign cultures. Do we learn about other cultures from their pottery? Can we accept their pottery without accepting the people and culture that created it? How can there be prejudice and discrimination in the world after others do what Octavio Paz just did, pick up a pot and marvel at its character and friendly uses. Could a prejudiced person, narrow in view and naturally suspicious of foreigners and foreign cultures, learn about the creative genius and humanity of another culture if they would only pick up a pot from that culture and see what Octavio Paz saw? If not, why would a world organization devoted to world peace set up an agency such as the World Craft Council anyway?
Now that I have established Octavio Paz solid credentials with potters, I would like to discuss some of his thoughts regarding the theme of this blog, the relationship between cultures and the behavior of people representing diverse cultures when they interact, either on their own home turf or when they visit another culture. I just noticed that I am on page 4 of this blog and will end this part right now. I will continue with this same theme in Part 2.
I have been back about a month now from a month long stay in Britain. It is my third lecture tour of Britain in about four years. Britain is my second home, traveling there many times over the years, often staying for a month or more, living there almost a year with my family while on sabbatical in the 1980’s. First, I want to just talk about travel. Why do we travel? What are the impulses and needs that cause us to leave the safety and sanctity of our home and venture forth in the world? I have lived in the same house for over thirty years. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and have spent my lifetime largely within the boundaries of Los Angeles County. True, I have escaped often, traveled to many distant lands but I have always returned. I gripe about the poor air quality, the gridlock on the freeways and the overall lack of coherent urban planning. I could go on with this inventory of local ills and shortcomings but you get the idea. Yet I am very sentimental about this place, having the insider’s information of a long time resident about the great places to eat, the art galleries and museums, the few cinemas that show independent and foreign films. So many of the good things I have experienced are situated within the particular geography of this region, now accumulated into layers of lifetime memories.
Maybe it is not really a rational thing, this pride of place and yearning to return to the site of your own origins. Perhaps most of you reading these comments would not feel the same way about your own origins, having long left and lived happily in a very different place. To firmly establish my own absurdity in this regard, I want to confess that I don’t particularly like the hot summer sun here and prefer to remain inside in an air-conditioned world of self- indulgent comfort. I am basically an interior personality, going outside primarily to garden in the early morning hours. Having said that, I celebrate spring and fall, my favorite Southern California seasons. Someday you really must visit my home and garden. My front garden right now is quite marvelous with wonderful blooms that fill the space with profusion of color. I brought back several new and splendid ceramic artifacts from my last trip to Britain. I don’t know how I do it but I always seem able to find the additional space for them in my pottery gallery.
I feel secure and confident in my travels because I am devoted to the place left behind and know that my beloved home and garden will be there when I return. I am very fond of Britain, the contrast in culture and weather a welcome experience. Since my trip was during winter, there were pockets of ice on the streets of London when I arrived. The skies were mostly grey, with a chilling rain a daily event. There was a very cold wind that sliced through the thin cloth of shirts and pants purchased and usually worn in Southern California. I did wear a heavy coat when outside, in addition to a scarf and leather gloves but somehow the biting cold found a way to reach me. Later in the trip, as I traveled to the Lake District from London and then on to Cambridge, ending in Wales, I saw the first manifestations of spring in the gardens and landscape of cities and countryside. They became visible in the order of their traditional appearance each spring, first came the snowdrops, bunches of small, white flowers, along with fewer brightly colored crocus, then lastly, the most massive and extensive display of them all, yellow daffodils appeared with their tightly closed flowers on slender stalks, seeking some hint of a faint sun to encourage their blooms. I knew that spring at last was coming to Britain.
It was quite a thrill to give a lecture at The Art Workers Guild in London in a huge, old Victorian wood-paneled room. The busts of previous masters of the guild, including William Morris, looked down from shelves high on the walls of the room. Artisans and craftspeople from many different crafts and arts attended the lecture, including several British potters I knew and whose work I have collected. I am a proud international member of the guild and my appearance there had special meaning for me. After writing 75 letters to Christa Assad over four or five years, I then wrote 35 letters to William Morris over the next two years. Although he was somewhat reticent in response, I do feel we became very good friends. I sensed that he fully approved of my comments at the guild. My publisher, Joanna Howells, a very distinguished potter herself, traveled from Wales to attend the lecture.
It was on a previous trip to Britain that I wrote to Christa in the 15th letter in my book, “Searching for Beauty: Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter.” I was touring Arts & Crafts sites across Britain. I returned to two of those sites on my recent tour. One was the home of John Ruskin on a hill overlooking Coniston Lake. The house sits alone, not too far from the water, with a front turret designed and added by Ruskin where he could sit and enjoy the stunning view. For those of you who have not visited Britain, or if you have and did not get a chance to visit Ruskin’s house in the lovely Lake District, I heartily recommend the experience. Here is what I told Christa about my visit, followed by a quote by an expert on Ruskin,
“First step on the itinerary was a natural one, Brantwood, the home of John Ruskin on the shore of Coniston Water in the lovely Lake District. The eccentric Ruskin bought the house unseen, partly to get away from his parents. This house commands magnificent views of the lake and surrounding countryside. The house is filled with his drawings and watercolors. Ruskin is often underestimated as an artist, yet the artworks present in the house attest to his great talent. John Julius Norwich aptly summarizes Ruskin in ‘Preserving A Visionary’s Lake District Retreat’:
‘He had identified architecture with morality, had championed J.M.W. Turner and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and had led his own personal crusade against the worst horrors of the Industrial Revolution. He was seen variously as a teacher, a prophet, a saint and a dangerous revolutionary.”
There is a very charming place in a separate building to eat lunch at Brantwood, serving homemade soup that warmed me on a rather cold day. Upstairs in the same old structure was a great shop offering a variety of crafts from craftspeople in the region. Although you can drive there, we took a boat over and back, which included a tour of the long lake that was placed below green hills and mountains. Ruskin was a fighter not only for industrial workers suffering in blighted factories for long hours but for the home-made artifact. He was brilliant and defined the virtues and values of great art and craft for those who came after him, including William Morris. He also sadly went mad in old age, his very intensity and hard work wore him down and became just too much for him. I do not intend to join him, crediting my sense of humor and my 4:00 shot of whiskey for the maintenance of my sanity in my own old age.
We also returned this last trip to Blackwell House, situated in the Lake District next to Lake Windermere. This is a remarkable Art & Crafts house designed by M.H. Baillie Scott. This time I gave my lecture, “Meditations and Reveries: The Genius of the Human Hand” to an evening audience in one of the most beautiful rooms in the house. People even paid to attend my lecture and I received a speaker’s fee for delivering it. I seriously doubt if Judy (my dear wife) would consider paying me for the privilege of listening to me at home, since I generously provide her with my commentary every day free of charge. I also extend that generosity to anyone interested in visiting my home and pottery gallery. Given the majesty of my pottery collection, I am considering an entrance fee, perhaps with a reduced concession for seniors like myself.
I do want to tell you how they advertised my appearance at Blackwell House in the area. Judy and I had gone there the day before to give them the memory stick for the images to be shown before my talk begin and a box of my books that they were going to sell in their shop after the talk. I had to pay a brief stop at the ‘toilet’ (that what Brits officially call their restrooms) before we went in. Above the urinal, I saw a poster was placed announcing my talk. After the talk was over the next night, we were provided a supper with some of the staff attending. One individual was the woman in charge of the publicity for Blackwell’s speaker’s program. She told us that she had placed posters of my talks in all the public toilets in the area, insisting that was the best place to get people to read the posters. True enough, the turnout for my lecture filled most of the seats. The audience turned out to be mostly respectable, stayed awake, and paid proper attention to my lecture. So if you are involved in some ceramic exhibit or craft fair in the future, I can heartily recommend this venue for posters. You can’t say you never learn anything useful from my blog comments. It is a comfort to know that, at least for a brief time, I was famous throughout the public toilets of the Lake District.
In my next blog I will provide you comments from my lecture on the ‘genius of the human hand’. I do wish you happy travels this summer. Hopefully that volcano in Iceland won’t prevent you from exploring the marvels of the world beyond the boundaries of your own home and garden.