Sunday, March 1, 2009

Making Pots...

An article in today’s issue of The Washington Post describing the “Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form Clay” exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art notes that people are increasingly taking up knitting and pot-throwing. It attributes to Nicholas Bell, a curator at the Renwick Gallery, the notion that this is a “reaction against the time we now spend working with ephemeral digital signals, rather than a sign of new things we’ve found to say with the hand-wrought.” Knitting a sweater might serve as an antidote to staring at a computer screen all day, but according to Bell, chances are that the sweater will look “an awful lot like another 100,000 sweaters that will have been made.”

This got me thinking about why it is that I make pots that look “an awful lot like another 100,000 pots that have been made.” In the past, I have agreed with Bell and held that my reason for making pots is to achieve a connection with others that I find lacking in today’s impersonal world. And, indeed, it is a special treat to see people ponder and handle different pieces until they settle on the one that calls their name. There are other more personal connections, like the 15 commemorative pitchers that I made for a group of Army spouses whose husbands were being transferred. They wanted to have something that they would use regularly and that would remind them of each other and their time together at Ft. Belvoir in Northern Virginia. Or, finally, the cereal bowl I made for my husband, inscribed with lines from one of the poems he wrote as a young man.

However, while connections (as well as the ego boost of people liking my pottery enough to spend their hard-earned money on it) are nice, the fact is that I am mostly an introvert, not someone that would be described as “craving to establish connections.” I am glad that my pieces find a buying public because otherwise I would be drowning in pots (my family and friends, long ago having decided that I’ve gifted them enough pottery, are wondering when I am going to actually buy them birthday presents!).

So, why do I continue making pots that look like 100,000 other pots? And, what is it that I have to “say”?

I think that it’s the process of making that I crave and that this is something intrinsic not just to humans but to all kinds of other animals. There is the bower bird who adorns its nest with bits of foil and other such “jewels,” for example. And I once read about a study of chimpanzees who were given clay and other materials such as feathers, beads and paint. The chimpanzees spontaneously made “art.” That is, they shaped the clay and decorated it for no purpose other than the “doing,” the joy of making. But if it’s about the making for me, why pottery? Why not something else?

I like the solitude, the aloneness in the studio, just me and my thoughts. Time standing stills; time rushing backwards to the land of memories and rushing forward to the land of hopes and dreams. It is the soothing meditation of the wheel going around. It is the growing and shaping of the clay between my hands, sometimes seemingly all by itself, other times requiring all my strength and concentration to get the lump of clay to take shape. It’s the physical aspect of it, the prodding and cajoling. It’s the learning anew how to make a pot every time I sit at the wheel as well as the way my hands seem to remember how to make pots. It’s the experimenting with new ideas. The continuous and inescapable changes of the clay from mud to stone: the malleability, the fragility and the hardiness of the pieces as they go through the cycle of lump of clay, bone-dry greenware and fired stoneware pot. Each pot is a bit like my own life, a lump of clay molded by people and events; a fragile, too tender being at times on the brink of shattering into dust; and the stone-hard woman who continues to endure despite all the cracks.

No, I don’t think of myself as a ceramist (artist), but rather a potter (craftsperson), enthralled by the muddy, mucky task of living. And, what is it that I have to say with my pots? Simply, I am!

1 comment:

Emily said...

I love the thought process! Thanks for sharing...-ec