Monday, July 20, 2009

Oh the choices!

Life is grand when you are aware of the simple pleasures of every day! I stumble down the stairs to the kitchen each morning for my breakfast. I assemble the various parts of the meal, picking my cereal, getting out the soy milk, spoon, berries or raisins. I always take a simple pleasure in one particular choice: my dish. It is never a calculated choice, a potter choosing with a critical eye. No, it is much more simple, much more organic. I open the cupboard to an array of bowls from our own basement and from the studio of many other potters. Not one is alike. They all have different weights, decorations, shapes. They all have different personalities. One bowl can catch my eye and there is just something about it, that morning, that I can't get away from. The shape of the bowl, how small or wide the inside seems to me that morning, how open and hospitable or closed and cozy. I am rarely conscious of these details as I choose but as I look, as I touch, I just know that one bowl will suit and another simply will not.

Our mug cupboard is the same way. Friends who come over to our house know this well. The choices when it comes to beverages don't only consist of whether to have coffee or tea or what kind of tea but which mug will you choose? Its a very personal choice and I hate to have to choose for another person! It is always fun to see which mug a person chooses too. Something in the aesthetic of a particular mug drew that person in enough to choose it over another. Most often it is one that I haven't used for a while and their choice draws my attention to it once again.

Some may think that they just don't have that kind of time, the time it takes to choose one pot over another, its just another thing to think about ... but they are so mistaken! It is a very different kind of thought process, unrelated to the list of to do's in the morning. Imagine you are back in elementary school... if you had a good art teacher, art class was not just another class. It fed a different thought process, it was engaging, bit of a break from the norm. The simple pleasure of choosing your mug in the morning can be that little break all over again.

In "The Potter's Challenge", Bernard Leach discusses the value in hand made work vs. machine made and the inexplicable joy and element of humanity that makes all the difference between the two. Read here as he writes about making handles for a pitcher, making it over and over, perfecting the form:

"[The handle] must be comfortable to hold. It can covey beauty, and provide use and pleasure in combination. Now a young potter may say that as a machine can turn out repeated things item for item what is the purpose of trying to do the same thing by hand? The answer is that aside from the rhythm and method of work that develop within the potter, there are a surprising number of people who want to enjoy a pitcher when they use it, and they cannot get that kind of joy when the man who produced it did not really make it, did not have any joy in making it. How is the joy to get into factory-made work? We need that joy. It serves a starved heart both in the maker and the user. We need to find a way for all people in this world to get this extra bonus. There must be an element of choice and the play of imagination." (pg. 18-19)

And more:

"Even under favorable conditions the absence of overall personal responsibility at every stage of execution, combined with standardization of raw material, and absolute uniformity of exact repetition inherent in the process of mass reproduction, reduce the possibility of expression to a cool hard abstraction far removed from the warmth and character and spontaneity of direct hand-craftsmanship. [Here Leach makes allowances for a new sort of beauty to emerge from factory made things but goes on to say:] It is about time that we realized that the real contribution of the machine is mass-production of the basic necessities which a swelling population requires, not the make-believe application of false art. ... Factory-made pots are not produced by the whole man." (pg. 46-47)

So, raise your mugs, brimming with life and imagination and joy: Here's to personality, here's to simple pleasures, here's to the whole man!


  1. My fiance and I were just commenting that some day, when my mother isn't so busy being the mother of the bride, we woudld LOVE her to make us a set of pottery dishes!

  2. I always loved picking out my mug!!!!