Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter
Posts Tagged ‘craft’
Thursday, January 13th, 2011
Both time and memory are expendable and fragile. Time is quite independent in attitude. It will not slow down its daily rush to suit those of us who wish to delay its finite length as measured in our life span. Due to my long life, I now have an extensive span of assorted memories stretching back to early childhood. I know that the older memories are not very reliable, and that even the more recent ones bear my self-serving version of what I think happened. Others close to me who had witnessed the same events might have a different version of what we think is a single reality. Even with the most earnest and honest attempts to retrieve the past, memories do play tricks on all of us. It is only natural for people to try to remember only the happiest moments of the past and let go of the rest. Others cannot forget those terrible hurts or incidents that brought them such recorded pain. These unwelcome memories often do not seem to fade with time but become all too durable. They are a few wise philosophers who have advised us that we have more to learn from our past pain than from our past happiness. What do you think?
The calendar allows us an excuse to make an accounting of the year just passed and the possibilities for the year newly engaged. How do we make such an assessment? I am not talking about New Year resolutions here. They are easy to make and even easier to forget. One cannot assess how one wants to change in the New Year without seeking improvements in both behavior and circumstances. If the wish for the new year consists of a desire to win the state lottery or thousands of dollars on the television game show Jeopardy, then these desires will remain largely dreams or fantasies of an easy and unearned success.
So wanting to change behavior must come before wanting your circumstances to change. The economic recession we are in now is not going to change immediately just because of our wishes for it to do so. The same can be said for our hope that the war in Afghanistan will end so our troops can come home. These and other similar issues appear to be out of our direct control or influence. So maybe the first decision to make is to identify those behaviors of your own that you might actually be able to change or modify. Then you can realistically organize your efforts to execute that plan during this coming year.
The hope of course is that by changing our behaviors we can also change to some degree our circumstances. I do not think this is an unrealistic goal and well worth some reflection and effort. We can marshal our energy and resources at the beginning of this new year and offer ourselves a fresh supply of hope. We can make new beginnings in a number of gestures, testing and trying out new behaviors that can modify or even abandon those old habits that did not enhance our situation. The delicate balancing act of recognizing the issues that confront us while at the time refusing to be just a victim of circumstances allows all of us the opportunity to be our own local heroes. Simply getting through the day requires a kind of courage. Getting through the day with grace and generosity requires an affirmation of the human spirit and the commitment to make a positive difference in the world. We all cope daily with a number of variables that test our mettle and strain our capacity. There is a new movie just out, a remake of an earlier film that was originally a novel. It is called “True Grit”. How would you define that term? Could you claim it as your own personal virtue?
Are there specific attributes of the maker that reflects this ability to renew oneself? Are creative people more able to create new behaviors for themselves as well as their creative moves on the potter’s wheel? Is the creative act itself a form of renewal? Isn’t it time, at the beginning of the rich promise of a new year, to try new things? To experiment with technique or style even despite your currant success with the old? Isn’t it better to try something new when you are contented with what you are now doing, rather than attempt to change when you are stuck and desperate? Isn’t that true in your private life too? Perhaps an unreflective state of bliss can become a kind of stupor. Success does breed complacency. What do you need to happen to arouse your creative juices and dare to try something that you are not sure you can even do? Aren’t all makers risk takers?
I want to provide you with one viewpoint regarding the questions above from a creative maker. Among the dozen or so books I am currently reading, one very fine book is “Choosing Craft: The Artist’s Viewpoint”, edited by Vicki Halper and Diane Douglas. The entire book is a series of statements by craftspeople made over the post Word War II years in America. Anni Albers was one such craftsperson, director of the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus in Germany, refugee from Nazi Germany along with her husband, the painter Josef Albers, published in Design Magazine in 1944 that was quoted in “Choosing Craft”. Here is just a sample of some of her thoughts in a series of her statements I selected from her essay,
“Our world goes to pieces, we have to rebuild our world. We investigate and worry and analyze and forget that the new comes about through exuberance and not through a defined deficiency. We have to find our strength rather than our weakness. Out of the chaos of collapse we can save the lasting: we still have our ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, the absolute of our inner voice – we still know beauty, freedom, happiness…unexplained and unquestioned. Intuition saves us examination.”
“We learn courage from art work. We have to go where no one was before us. We are alone and we are responsible for our actions. Our solitariness takes on religious character. This is a matter of my conscience and me. We learn to dare to make a choice, to be independent; there is no authority to be questioned. In art work there is no established conception of work; any decision is our own, any judgment.”
“We learn to trust our intuition. No explaining and no analyzing can help us recognize an art problem or solve it, if thinking is our only relation to it. We have to rely on inner awareness. We can develop awareness, and clear thoughts may help us cultivate it, but the essence of understanding art is more immediate than any thinking about it.”
“We learn patience and endurance in following through a piece of work. We learn to respect material in working it. Formed things and thoughts live a life of their own, they radiate a meaning. They need a clear form to give a clear meaning. Making something become real and take its place in actuality adds to our feeling of usefulness and security. Learning to form makes us understand all forming.”
You will notice that Albers takes a somewhat different perspective than my own. I always think it is a good idea to listen to a variety of differing viewpoints, but finally you have to trust your own judgment. She emphasizes the intuitive over the intellectual approach, feeling over thinking. Is it necessary to make a choice between the two? What do you think? How do you feel about this? It is a matter of temperament and preferences that will always differ between individuals. It is also reflected in their work. Some ceramic art is highly designed and obviously crafted through a tight control of technique. Other work is highly expressive, vivid with the emotional impact of a more spontaneous style of the maker. I have both approaches represented in a variety of artifacts in my pottery collection. I think the creative act inherently contains elements of both the emotions and reflected thought. In the best of times, both the expressive and analytical elements work together, silent partners in the creative act. They need not be on the surface of the maker’s consciousness but they are there nonetheless.
I think that both Albers and I agree that the creative process is therapeutic for the maker in a number of ways. It too is a place where time and memory play a part in the steady construction of self as w ell as the creation of vessels or other ceramic work. The embedded memories of all these experiences accumulate in an increasing mastery that can command a greater and greater vocabulary of possible results. In that sense, both time and memory are friends and allies of the maker. I want to end this particular blog with a quotation from my book, “Searching for Beauty: Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter”, concerning how makers create themselves as they in turn create the pot.
“The observable integrity of the individual pot is a representation of the integrity of the person who created it. Ironically, this stumbling struggle to attain mastery only becomes convincing when it also demonstrates the fallibility of your human status. You are embedded and enshrined in the artifact – including the unconscious orientation of your time and place, the worldview grafted on you at birth, the parochial elements of the neighborhood of your youth. You cannot ever erase all evidence in the pot of the world that made you. You can only add self-conscious elements that form the truly creative aspects. This dual struggle requires great energy – to create yourself and those self-advertising artifacts that celebrate that self – all at the same time. You must surely learn to love yourself – forgive yourself – and go on. In fact perhaps the greatest triumph will occur when you find yourself in the pot, when the pot represents a personal identity that you could never understand any other way. Perhaps each pot becomes a self revelation to yourself as you fuse person with pot.”
Wednesday, June 9th, 2010
Meditations and Reveries: The Genius of the Human Hand – Part I>>
I will continue in this blog to provide you excerpts from the paper I gave at several venues in Britain early this year. Do you share my concerns in this matter? Am I being hopelessly old-fashioned, trying to hold onto the manual labor of the human hand as the chief agent of creating craft and pottery while the world and the way things are being created and made are changing in profound ways all around us? Can we justify this attitude and approach? I am not ready to abandon human hands as the creative instruments of ceramic art – are you? Here is another installment of my paper.
I have another question for you – at what point must credit for the achievement of the artifact be shifted from the human hand to the electronic or mechanical apparatus that does more and more of the actual work? I am not a purist or absolutist. I seek no iron law with explicit boundaries to protect what I value. I did not handwrite this text I have before me, and I have long since abandoned my manual typewriter. I cannot do without my computer and the ease and fluidity of word processing. By God – as you know, I even blog! Nor do I wish to be identified as a reactionary old man seeped in nostalgia for the good old days. But let me again refer you to my sixth letter to Christa,
“I cannot accept that the vicarious connection between the manipulation of the computer mouse and what happens on the screen, however elaborate the graphic result, can equal the direct involvement of the human hand in creating objects of art. The etched designs of the laser cannot duplicate the integrity of the hand carved and sculptured wood and clay. Will we eventually loose the full ability to use our hands, as we apparently did the prehensile toe, in the electronic triumph of mechanical superiority? Hands are the most direct instruments of our empowerment. We express and communicate our thoughts and emotions with hand gestures; we work with tools designed to fit the hand, and our hands create the intricate objects of aesthetic value…. If robots can assemble better cars, how far away can be the surrender of the artist’s hand? Someday potters might be the last group of human beings involved in the manual labor of the creative process. Will someone proudly display some day the truly innovative pot never touched by hands?”
Another question – does the innate fallibility and imperfections of the achievements of the human hand contain aesthetically important contributions that mechanical perfection cannot achieve? The results of this investigation can only be both paradoxical and sadly humorous. I am implying that the attainment of supreme mastery for the craftsperson is best reflected in those subtle imperfections that can only be achieved by life-long practice. Here again I shall defer to Jacobs and to his comments in his wonderful book,
“Hands allow us to make mistakes. Mistakes are the ultimate proof of our humanity. Perfection, according to Plato, allows only one template. We stretch and exercise our hands to transcend previous limits and boundaries. Just as old records in Olympic competition are shattered, the genius and endurance of the artist pushes the aesthetic and technical boundaries. We will never achieve the seamless perfection of the machine. Art contains our insecurities and physical limits as well as our talent. Even what we celebrate in our art is there to bring some comfort and get us through the night. We must reach definitions of excellence that forgive and complement the labor of our hands.”
Perhaps you would suggest a compromise to me – as my position, my fondness for hands and what they can do – might appear doomed to eventual defeat. There might even be a few chores left for hands if they would be willing to surrender the rest. What might be the possible tasks left for hands still allowed? Hands, like many other things in my society today, are slowly being privatized. I still employ them at home to attend to my basic needs, most domestic appliances require their participation and they are quite busy at the dining room table. Thankfully I can still mange a firm grasp around my whiskey glass, I do not want to spill a drop. I do enjoy dusting my pottery. I hold a large feather duster in my left hand, which I swirl like a magic wand in a joyful choreography as the duster caresses and blesses each ceramic artifact with my deep affection. I do not know the future of hands – admittedly it is a doubtful future – but they do help me maintain the quality of my present life and I would hate to see them go. But more important than hands as private accessories of the intimate routines of my domestic days, I do not want to see human culture deprived of them. I do want hands to remain the inventors of art and craft. I don’t care if it takes them a bit longer than machinery or they even make a few mistakes in doing their good work.
We once thought that progress was defined by our ever-advancing technology – but now, due to the consequences of technology, the ice caps are melting and our globe has provided us terrible symptoms of what could be the mortal illness of the earth. We once thought that human culture was also a linear progression of inevitable advance– after all, consider the invention of the printing press and the marvels of film and other inventions that have led to new art forms. But now we are being told by expert art critics and a few very successful and rich artists that art is dead and that everything is art and thus nothing is art and thus trash can be art and paintings do not require frames. Oh, what are we coming to? Hands have the creative agents of human civilization since our remote ancestors scratched and painted on cave walls.
I want my artists and craftspeople to sweat in their focused concentration to do that one thing very well. I do not want it to be easy. I do not want the creation of art and craft to be a labor saving activity. I do not want efficiency nor do I want them to abbreviate the creative process in order to have save time to be used elsewhere in relaxed recreational pursuits. I expect and demand from human culture the same thing I attempted to achieve for my students as a teacher and that which I seek as a lifelong learner – that the very best in human culture allows us to obtain a more refined and self-conscious level of suffering combined with the joyous revelation and intense pleasures of revealed wisdom – all at the same time.
More testimony from my book,
“Hands are agents of purposeful activity. They are attached in obvious and visible ways. They can make obscene gestures and provide physical overtures to sensual contact, even love. I don’t really believe that they reveal either the future or your character, although some people apparently make a living ‘reading’ them.”
I think we all read hands when in contact with others. We know that the movements of hands in themselves form at least one formal language – the sign language of those who cannot hear the sounds of the articulated voice. In addition, each of us has unconsciously contrived our own idiosyncratic language with our hands. They reveal us and are part of our personality and they punctuate our voice with a reinforcement inspired by the need to communicate thought and feeling. Further, each culture has unique vocabularies of hand gestures that are elaborations of the character of that culture. Hands are among our chief actors in the drama of communal existence. The craftsperson has taken these generic gestures of the human hands and put them to work in applying them in a disciplined devotion to a particular material and craft. Hands, and the tools designed to fit them, construct and create culture. For the artist and craftsperson, practice in honing these skills does not result in mindless repetition but rather in the possibilities of expanded choices and carefully chosen and developed deviations.
I will continue my paper and thoughts in Part III in the next blog. I welcome, as always, any thoughts you might have. Spring has been very generous in my garden. The days are warming up and summer cannot be too far off. My garden is a very pleasant place to be. I hope all the readers of this blog have a favorite place where they feel safe and nourished. The best places are often the ones you create for yourself. That has been my experience and choice. Take care for now.
Meditations and Reveries: The Genius of the Human Hand – Part III>>
Monday, May 31st, 2010
The title above was the title of my talk during my last lecture tour of Britain. I am going to provide you with passages from that text in this blog and the next few blogs. In this paper/lecture I am making an argument for the continued activity of the human hand in the making of craft and art. That might seem an obvious argument with such obvious virtue that it could not possibly inspire opposition or repudiation but regretfully that is not the case. On the operational level there are now electronic and digital methods of creating work that some identify as art and craft where the hand might push a button or move a mouse and leave the rest to some kind of electronic apparatus.
On the philosophical or aesthetic level, the notion of craft or art as the result of manual labor involving the hands is considered in some circles as old fashioned and passé. I ponder the consequences of the loss of human hands as the instruments and agents of creativity and culture. I do not offer this as an academic argument in a linear and rational discourse fortified by facts. Rather I offer this as my personal testimony, hopefully in a more lyrical style as reflected in my own poetic engagement with the crafted artifact for over seventy years. Please remember that the following text was designed to be delivered as a lecture. There are rhetorical flourishes that seek to stimulate and provoke the audience that might not normally appear in my more sedate and moderate blog messages.
Will Digital Take Over?
One question we need to ask, either as collectors or makers of the handcrafted artifact - is the human hand in danger of becoming obsolete in art and craft activities, given the electronic and digital revolutions of our time? I must preview my own passionate prejudices. Aesthetics are the politics of the soul and I cannot feign objectivity. It is not only technology that might replace the human hand, but also the unfriendly postmodern aesthetics that threatens to dematerialize the object.
The hand-crafted artifact is being replaced with a gallery performance or installation; or with found manufactured objects retrieved from the dumpster in the back alley and placed on the gallery floor, with concepts proclaimed in manifestoes nailed to the gallery wall with grand statements full of metaphorical and metaphysical rhetoric that usually pay tribute to the most banal and pathetic artifacts. Here the broken and ruined commercial debris of consumer cultures celebrate these disposable commodities that seek to replace the finely hand honed objects of art and craft with yet more refuse and waste left over and abandoned after brief use.
If you have not read my book, and given the number of books sold, most of you obviously have not, you are bound to be disappointed because I never give answers to my questions – and I do indeed ask a lot of questions. I try to provide a response but my natural modesty and lack of any official authority or rank forbids me to pretend a single or final answer suitable for uncritical acceptance by others. I speak here today as a layperson, an everyman, a generalist, an interdisciplinarian, a citizen of the American republic, reflecting thoughts on those things I care about and those issues and ideas that have framed my lifetime. I can only place my experience and reflections next to yours and hope my remarks might cause you some comfort or stimulation as we both try to simply make it through the day; each of us with our own ad hoc, haphazard and home-made survival strategies – seeking to maintain our sanity and stability in an otherwise mad world. However emphatic my remarks might seem here, my integrity demands the confession that I can only offer you tentative approximations characterized by a highly developed uncertainty that leaves me in a permanent and much desired state of doubt. I do not ever ask questions to diminish doubt but only to better understand my sublime incompleteness.
Insight from Searching for Beauty
Most of my presentation here will consist of excerpts from my favorite book, “Searching for Beauty: Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter”, with interlaced commentary and questions specially prepared for you. My first excerpt – from my sixth letter to Christa, dated October 2, 2002
“Perhaps it is the slowing pace sponsored by the aging process, or the absence of deadlines and a demanding schedule. The manual operations of living each day tends to become ceremonies in which my hands perform calculated and repeated maneuvers that bring inherent satisfactions. My hands ‘work’ in the garden – dirt under fingernails, occasional cuts from thorns. I make tea in the early afternoon, not as elaborate an experience as the Japanese, but requiring several steps that bring satisfaction in their sequential execution. My hands are not specialized, but as a generalist I do not make excessive demands. The hands of the potter are so critical. When did you discover you had the hands of a potter? How did they let you know? Are you still conscious of their actions in shaping the pot?”
Well, what do you think so far? What has been the nature of your own relationship with your hands? Do you take them for granted? Do you give them the proper credit for all the hard work they do? Whatever else the rest of you does when in the act of creating a ceramic artifact, it is your hands that contain the hard-earned skill that represents mastery. It is your hands that are the experienced veterans of devoted and disciplined practice. It is your hands that create the convincing evidence that you are indeed an artist/craftsperson. Would you want a world where they did not play an important part in creating the ceramic marvels we all enjoy and celebrate?
I look forward to your company in the next installment of my thoughts about this matter.
Meditations and Reveries: The Genius of the Human Hand – Part II>>
Monday, March 22nd, 2010
I know this is going to be a most sensitive and difficult discussion. There are many of you out there who are quite satisfied, even honored, to consider yourselves as potters and approve of your work as existing comfortably within the greater category of craft. Others of you seek to use clay, perhaps in figurative and sculptural ways, and want to claim the designation of ceramic artist. The rest of you maybe don’t care and think the continuing fuss about whether ceramics is craft or art to be endless and even boring. As always with my blogs, I want to communicate my perspective, based on my own passions and prejudices, not seeking to persuade or convert but merely to share. I hereby embrace the importance and meaning of craft as the rubric and generic heading of those things I most value and care about in ceramics. In the following few paragraphs I will attempt to tell you why.
Craft is many things to me. First it is a way of being in the world. To craft a life was the subject of my last blog. To craft as verb means to apply a lifetime of practice and skill to the immediate task and do it with a mastery achieved through disciplined devotion. It is an extension of personal pride and self-respect because it is handcrafted and exists as an artifact shaped and created by humans. The accomplished task or completed artifact demonstrates integrity because it reflects the integrity of the craftsperson that did it. I like craft because it takes time, it does not save it; because it takes physical labor, it does not save it; because it will demand unconditional attention to the task until excellence has been achieved. The virtues I have mentioned are in a sense old-fashioned virtues. Today our technology seeks to save us time and labor, to make it easy and quick. I am not sure most people know what to do with their saved time and labor but that is the promise. I want craftspeople to really work hard at what they do. I want them to sweat and get dirty and I want it to be very, very difficult to achieve a good result. Surely that is not unreasonable?
Craft comprises the work of making beautiful and enduring things. I do not want it to be easy. Because humans are fallible, even the greatest of craftspeople can make errors. Success in the result is never assured, no matter how good you are at what you do. I think craftspeople must love the very essence of the material, be it clay, fiber, wood, or glass, they work with. They must know its secrets learned over a life-span, know the character and nature of the medium, know the experience of being surprised and sometimes pained by the unexpected defiance and resistance of the material, suffer failure and yet still love the complexities and difficulties of the chosen media. I will go even further in arguing my perspective. I believe that no artifact, identified as either art or craft or painting or sculpture or pottery, can be called art if it does not contain the crafted skills that make both great art and great craft.
Craft represents an active caring that makes doing the act of crafting a series of loving and patient gestures that affirm the best of human nature and intentions. Craft is only possible when it is directed and controlled by the human hand. When the hand forfeits control to some kind of machinery, then it becomes a manufactured product. These last statements are arbitrary conclusions on my part. Many recent writers on craft would disagree with me. Some writers are overly generous and inclusive, in my opinion, and would permit anything done by any means to be called craft as long as there was a level of attention and care in the process. I don’t agree and I will remain adamant and stubborn on this matter. Craft cannot be mass-produced or made by a machine, that is all there is to it.
Craft as a noun involves the evident results, the material artifact as a consequence of that expenditure of time and labor. I am primarily interested in the studio craft artifact. This rather recent phenomenon of the crafted object as art object has historical ancestors in all the hand-made artifacts made before the industrial revolution across the globe and still being made in those cultures that have not been industrialized. In these pre-industrial societies, domestic function was essential and comprised the very rationale for the creation of the object. The results of craft as a studio activity diminishes the requirement of function and in its place takes on the aesthetic dimensions of the object as art. For me, this does not involve the surrender of the object as craft and its transformation into something called art. Rather it proves that the aesthetic dimensions and the skills of craft can be integrated into something that remains craft but achieves art.
Read Part 2 of Richard’s Blog Post about the Importance & Meaning of Craft in mid-April.
Monday, January 11th, 2010
I know many potters, both here and in Britain, and most of them always press me to use the pottery I obtain from them. They want me to use their pottery in my kitchen and on my dining room table. These potters take earnest pride in the carefully designed capacity of their teapot or cup to pour or hold liquid, vases that can display flowers, plates that receive and offer food, and pitchers that pour from perfectly shaped spouts and expertly placed and shaped handles. Many go as far as to justify the value of pottery by their ability to function. Yet, of over one thousand ceramic artifacts in my home, I would say less than 5% are used for that purpose. By far most of them are on shelves, a lot in my pottery gallery, others in almost all the rooms in my house. I don’t want to upset my potter friends, or the ones that read this blog, but I think the practical rationale of functionality is only one of the many virtues of pottery and not the most important one for me.
I am struggling to place myself in the best of both worlds, not sure if I am going to get my way. I embrace the idea of pottery as craft; and I embrace the idea of craft as a major contributor to world culture. I also embrace the idea of art and those artifacts and performances that emerge from centuries of culture as represented in painting and sculpture, music and literature, dance and drama. I must make the argument that pottery has elements of both craft and art, and that we do not need to demand a functional capacity in order to justify pottery. Some potters might retort to my comments by insisting that I have; by freezing my pottery to one site by affixing them with earthquake putty, by making them completely immobile, unable to be activated and employed; by doing all these things I have violated the fundamental value and integrity of their ceramic creations. How can I defend myself and seek a negotiated agreement with my potter friends?
I will start by saying that there is a difference between pottery and a hand tool, an instrument devised to facilitate the manual labor of people. Pottery is not just an appliance, accessory or utility fixture, it doesn’t belong in my toolbox. I know that some pottery can do things but that is not what I demand of most of my pottery. I frankly think it is an exaggerated humility, or even a chronic defensiveness, when potters seek to excuse the existence of pottery only in terms of their usefulness. I can buy plastic containers at Wal-Mart that can do the same things as pottery and not chip or break when dropped. Ugly plastic stuff does as good a job or better than beautiful ceramic stuff if it is only a job you are seeking from them.
I am sitting at my big desk in my pottery gallery right now. I can view hundreds of ceramic pots of every conceivable size and shape. Some are antique pottery from the 19th century, some from indigenous cultures, and some contemporary studio art pottery from many cultures and countries. I seen a marvelous variety of styles and approaches, some pots maintain a rather austere simplicity, others are vivid and detailed with elaborate decorations both abstract and illustrative, with others glazes run together and spill down the form; some have intricate patterns, some are elegant with graceful lines, others quite modern with irregular shapes and bold, bright flat colors. I have known some of the pieces for over thirty years yet still discover new things, new visual joys in their appearance. I do not know what a painting or sculpture could offer me in its aesthetic complexity that this pottery could not also provide. The three dimensional surface offers a continuing canvas for visual narration or abstract motifs, the possibility of shape and form are varied with sculptural opportunities that sometimes result in shapes that lose their original function as pot with some humor or satirical edge. I am telling you that my pots are both art and craft. I know what I am talking about; I can see them right now from my big desk in my pottery gallery.
I think practical craftspeople are often a bit embarrassed when I seek to shift the discussion from what pottery can do to what pottery means in expressive terms that celebrates the poetics of engagement. I think pottery is food for the soul! Was I right? Just a bit nervous with that kind of talk? Is this guy Jacobs a bit over the moon (a great British way of saying ‘going overbroad’) with his flourish of purple prose? After all, we are talking about a teapot, not the Mona Lisa. I like to offer you one example from my book, “Searching for Beauty: Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter”. This quote starts off with my opening remarks than offers a beautiful statement from another writer. I want to emphasize here that I think this statement integrates the two realms that pottery can offer, the functional capacity to enable us to sustain ourselves and at the same time the aesthetic qualities that can enhance our lives, to give beauty and meaning to our daily rituals of living. I would also like to pay tribute to the compelling beauty and sensitivity of the quoted writer, testimony to the fact that pottery can inspire us to moments of revelation and celebration in words as well as pottery. First my statement, then Kim Stafford’s,
“I have never regarded pottery as a diversion or a pleasurable distraction. Yet this time, I seek in my pottery some healing of the heart, some mending of the mind. Pottery is primal, not trivial to human concerns. It is certainly central to my stability and balance. I pick up a book too long concealed in a stack of books on my desk, with the wonderful title, ‘The Soul of a Bowl’. Kim Stafford, in an introductory essay, ‘Personal Magnitude’, provides me a sensitive and moving essay that uplifts and restores my hope and reinforces my essential beliefs about the power and the glory of those things that move and motivate my life:
“The fact is, the most important things in life are about the size of a tea bowl. The first is the mother’s breast, held between the child’s tiny hands. The breast doesn’t have a handle because it is all handle, offering everything. Your little hands take all of it and it holds all you need – warm, full, private, bounteous. Some time later, growing, you close your own fingers into a bowl, and hold water in your hand. The first cup you make is your hand…The knotted hands, the golden skein of human love. The human heart, faithful. About the size of your fist. The most important things are smaller than a house, a car, or a computer, but larger than a coin, a pen, or a spoonful of soup. The most import things are less symmetrical than a water glass, more intriguing than a perfect circle, older than the paper cup you throw away as you leave the coffee shop. The most important things have the personal magnitude of a handshake, the tang of a handful of huckleberries all your own. These most precious things are a certain size, and they connect a person to another person, or they connect a person to the world as it is. They are what we ask for as we leave home forever. ‘Let me hold your hand one time.’ So your mouth meets the mouth of the tea bowl, your lips meet the rim, and a tread of tea, wine, or whiskey travels from one realm to another.”
The holidays are here and the year is coming to a close. This is the busiest time of the year for many potters. Many of you are presenting your ceramic wares at pottery fairs and exhibits. I wish you great success. For the coming year, I hope that we can continue to live our lives with energy and purpose while at the same time creating and experiencing those things in life that make it all worth while.