Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Pottery Influences

The beginning of a new year is a good time to reflect on life, why we do what we do, live where we live, act the way we do, and for potters, why we make the kinds of pots that we do.  What are the various influences in our lives that have helped us choose our paths?  I had an opportunity to ponder some of these questions out loud last night with a group of potters at their monthly guild meeting here in Ottawa. It's an interesting exercise to go through--to think about the influences in our lives (especially the positive ones) and take a moment to gratefully acknowledge them.  Or to consider new paths, I suppose.

I've been working in clay a long time--over 30 years--so it's a bit dangerous to start at the beginning, when the intervening years have been so rich with experiences that have informed the work I do.  But it's impossible not to acknowledge the beginning, and for me it was college pottery courses I took for the 4 years I attended in Indiana.  My prof there was encouraging in quite a laid back way.  The studio was always open (in my mind I remember working late into the evening/night with others who were bitten by the clay bug).  Recently the alumni magazine published a short tribute to the now emeritus prof, Marvin Bartel.  Also featured were the 30 or so graduates of the classes (it wasn't even a "program" just fell within the art curriculum) who are now making their living with clay. That's a pretty impressive legacy!

Marvin Bartel sitting in the clay swivel chair he made.

This chicken roaster can be pulled along the table for service.

As you can see from Marvin's work, there was a sense of play and experimentation (probably still is....).  This "try it and see what happens" attitude is great in a learning environment and I'm sure many who took his courses learned to adapt that philosophy to other areas of life.

Someone at the presentation last night commented that my work was so different than his--she didn't immediately see the influence.  Which is as it should be.  A Kenyan artist we once worked with used to repeat "copying puts God to sleep"--he even had it painted on the wall outside his gallery.

It would be interesting to get together with some of the others who started their journey working with clay through Marvin's enthusiasm--which we students witnessed on trips to his home where he demonstrated the smooth swivel of his chair (almost to a state of dizziness, as I recall!) and cooked up some eggs in his flameware pots.  He taught us not to limit our horizons when it came to working with clay. Oh yeah, did I say I'm grateful?