Thursday, April 16, 2009

Are you my mother?

There is definitely something to working with your mother. Last week we sat down to make a to do list. I knew I wouldn't be throwing much to begin with and was not proven wrong. She looked over the list and then looked up at me and said, "now, about you throwing..." I smiled approvingly at her and waited to hear what she had to say. "You, in a little while, will begin with the smaller standard forms, like my bowls and such. Now, Sarah, there are some forms that frustrate you," and with this she looked at me knowingly while I looked back sheepishly, "and so we'll have to work on those before you can produce any." She knows me so well.... Ah the humility required to learn!

As I sit in the attic typing in front of my tiny window, I can see the sky, the tops of trees, the tops of roofs... I'm looking down on the world. There is a sort of satisfaction that comes with being able to see from above. As if you have some privileged view, being able to see so much. Well, today it's quite appropriate that our humble studio is in the basement, for me at least. Three flights down and a few degrees colder lies my workspace.

There is a stink bug crawling on one of the panes of glass in front of me and I watch as he delicately feels his way across the smooth surface. He tentatively touches in front of and beside himself and occasionally falls but continues to cautiously pick his way. I wonder, can he see or does he just feel his way? Like my journey in art, I definitely can't see. I am tentatively picking my across what seems like a very slippery surface too, feeling my way, falling, but trying to stick to it. Sometimes I'm discouraged, sometimes I'm invigorated. I think today was a discouraging day.

And, of course, being so much more than my "master potter", my mother could see it. She talked to me about drudgery and failure. It is within those things that we grow, she said. She has given me reading to do, reading that will supplement that drudgery and failure with a sense of knowledge beyond myself. Knowledge that will help me to understand more fully now what that drudgery and failure means, to see its purpose, to see those who have moved passed certain hardships and what they have learned. Knowledge that will help me to know the why and the how. Reading can pull you out of bewilderment, out of a slump and turn those same issues into progress. It takes hard work. It takes patience and a great amount of courage.

And so, without further ado, I will go read and type no more ...

(The title of this post refers to a children's story that I grew up with.)


  1. A Potter's Challenge by Bernard Leach and Robin Hopper's Functional Pottery. Hopper's book addresses design and proportion in a general (to all of art) and specific way (specific to pottery). Leach on the benefits of hard work and much more. There is nothing instant about becoming good at what you do. I love the idea of a journeyman in the old days going from place to place seeing how others do the work he hopes to do. We have that tradition in our family as German papermakers for generations. Now of course there is little of it. I do not consider myself a "master". I consider myself blessed to be able to do what I love to do with the hope of continuing to learn within the circumstances I find my life.

  2. Just curious. Isn't there a technical term in the art of pottery that defines a person as a "Master." I mean such as in the game of Bridge. I believe you would call a person who met certain requirements as a "master" in Bridge. If so, what is required to become a Master and is that even something that a potter strives toward? Or, does it just happen along the way?