Thursday, May 21, 2009


Do you ever look at objects or eat something and think, "ok, who was the first person to try this?!" or "how in the world did they figure this out?!" (Like mussels, for example... mmm, I think I'll break open this shell and eat the gray slimy mass inside!). I've never thought about that with pottery, maybe because I grew up with it and it feels natural, but my reading recently brought up just that! How did this whole crazy thing start? Who squished some clay, "burned" it, and called it usable?! Here is a quote from the introduction to Robin Hopper's book, Functional Pottery:

"...the earliest pottery probably developed by accident. There are two basic theories of development. It may have come from observations of the way the earth became baked around firepits, with the subsequent experimentation of making and firing pinched clay pots. On the other hand, it may have come from the accidental burning of clay-lined baskets. Baskets were the original storage containers. They were made from grasses, reeds, or soft, pliable tree branches, primarily for carrying and storing grain and seed, the major part of the diet at that time. Baskets are anything but impervious to the loss of small seeds, which easily find their way through the basket weave. After a while inner coatings of clay were probably smeared into the baskets to prevent loss. Some mud-lined baskets were possibly accidentally burnt, leaving a fired clay lining. Pottery could even have developed from the process of wrapping foods in a skin of clay and placing them in the embers of a fire, or on heated rocks, to cook. This method was common among the Indians of North America, and may also have been the precursor to the common cooking pot. From these simple beginnings has developed an art form which has served mankind for thousands of years, for his daily needs from birth to the grave, and beyond. Throughout man's pottery-making history he has devloped a huge repertoire of shapes and surfaces to fill his many needs..."

And in Chapter One:
"Looking at pottery in museums, or as illustrations in books, one can't help but be amazed by the huge and subtle diversity of forms that man has molded clay into, for a wide variety of possible uses. Beyond the natural instincts of enjoying the purely manipulative quality of the material, and the function which is required of the formed objects, ceramic form has been influenced and altered by many factors and forces.
Pottery developed as a response to the needs of mankind. Pots became containers and dispensers: pots of purpose. The form that they took developed for a variety of reasons: the use required; religious associations; as a substitute emulating other, more precious, materials; geographical and climatic considerations; and the many variations in cultural customs. Once the basic needs became evident, forms developed and made to serve them."

I think it a wonderful testament to the innate lover of beauty in all of mankind that even a plain, purely functional thing can be a work of art. You can argue about where that comes from or why that is but regardless, I think it is clear that art is an essential part of what makes us human. When the arts are forgotten or shoved aside, the qulaity of life declines.

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