Everything about handmade pottery involves hands touching and feeling.
Hands push squeeze and wedge the moist clay. Muscle memory in the hands of the potter coax the clay into the shape of the makers vision. Hands hold the tools to trim the vessel refining it's form. Hands load the vessel into the kiln, fire the kiln then unload the vessel from the kiln. Hands glaze the vessel then send it through the kiln again.
When a ceramic vessel is finished you can look at it to see color, sheen and shape but you can't know that vessel until you hold it in your hands.
When you hold the vessel you will know the finish to be smooth, satiny soft, stony, rough or otherwise textured. You will feel the comfortable curves coaxed from the moist clay and made permanent by the fire of the kiln. Your hands will find the crisp edges and bumps created by it's maker or those little indentations perfectly placed and shaped for your fingers to easily grasp and lift. How else but by touch will you know if the vessel is as light as a feather or has significant heft to keep it grounded or hold in heat.
The touch of the potter is what creates the vessel and the touch of the user is what gives the vessel life. So the next time you go into a pottery store or a pottery booth at an art show or craft fair don't be afraid - you simply must touch that piece of pottery to know all about it
As I was driving to my community pottery studio a while ago my thoughts were on a large hand built platter I wanted to make using a new (to me) technique that I had been thinking about and talking to others about for some time. I was unsure if my planned approach would be successful and I felt a bit anxious about it. As I drove, the radio played a Ted Talk on PRX Remix. I can't tell you who was talking but it was a light hearted report about research on the effects of smiling. Two of the conclusions that stuck with me were: smiling has a more positive effect on the brain than eating pounds and pounds of chocolate all at one time, and that people who smile more than 5 times a day live longer lives. I had to chuckle at the chocolate conclusion - I love chocolate. I tried to figure out if I smile 5 times a day - I am pretty sure I do but since I never really counted I wasn''t really sure. Anyway, I got to the studio and started working on my project, after about 4 hours I had success! Aside from the lift I always get from creating a successful piece, this one was a long time coming and it was going to be passed on to Sandy, an amazing painter and sculptor, in a colaborative venture so I also felt a sense of relief to have a good start on fulfiling my commitment to the project (after setting up for a few days it still needed some refining). I cleaned up and headed home with a feeling of satifaction. My drive home is about 15 min and as I drove I was replaying in my head the process of making the platter. When I was just about home I realized that I had been smiling the whole way. Just one more reason to love pottery!
With the volume of mass produced functional pottery available in stores today, why buy handmade pottery? For me the answer is clear every morning when I pour my coffee into MY mug - it has it's own personality, it's curves and edged speak to me with it's familiar and comforting feel in my hands. I know the artist who created my mug, I know his story, I have watched him create his pieces, I am aware that his hands have crafted this one leaving his imprint on it's form, balance and function. My mug allows for a depth of connection to it's history that a mass produced mug could never offer. Using handmade pottery is about extending the unique connection that a functional handmade pottery vessel offers through it's individual history to food, family and friends. All through my life food has been at the center of family and friends, it is the glue that connects us. We celebrate with it, we mourn with it, in sickness or times of distress we offer comfort with it, we come together every morning at the breakfast table, every night at the dinner table, and it is a tradition on our holidays. We offer up our best to our family and friends at the dining table to honor the depth of our connection to them and for me those handmade pottery vessels are as much a part of that expression as the food we place in them.