Pottery seems singular in this -- the “competition” is so often one’s biggest inspiration and encouragement.
There’s an aspect to the pottery world that is a little like hidden groundwater. Most of your life you walk right over groundwater and never note its presence. Then one day, perhaps for the first time, you notice an Artesian spring at the base of a hill. Or maybe a several day rain makes you aware of the rather high water table. Could be you drive past a farm field while it’s being irrigated. Suddenly you’re aware of that erstwhile invisible groundwater everywhere.
Potters are sorta that way. A few springs pop up here and there. An Artesian well or two – even the occasional pond of a potter --- a few obvious “bigg’ns” get some ink, get some notice.
But it’s the groundwater that keeps the whole craft going. It’s the groundwater of work-a-day potters that makes the clay world go ‘round. And maybe, just maybe there’s a slight pressure on that working potter to spring out – to make a splash in the world of clay.
I think not, though. I think most of us are so at once charmed, and then trapped in this life. We love the material and the process. Then the pursuit of it and the demands of a potter’s lifestyle ensure that we never really escape it. That is, if we ever wanted to escape it.
What other discipline but pottery allows an average Joe like me the great joy of sitting around the dinner table with Jim Ulmer, Brian Moore, Bob Reiberg, and Tom Bothe – a quintet of relative unknowns in the clay world, but with well over one hundred combined years with our hands and lives in clay – sharing a beer and laughing uproariously about the kiln disasters we’ve survived – the survival being the key that allows the laughter?
Where else but in the world of clay can I meet a heretofore stranger like Bob Briscoe at my pottery booth and have an hour-long discussion about mining creativity and recalling influences? …or be driving through the mountains of northern Georgia and call Tom Turner on my cell phone to arrange a clay tour of North Carolina? …or email Pete Pinnell and talk about firing schedules, having both arrived at similar conclusions about thirty-year-old glaze recipes? In what other discipline are the “arrived” so open to sharing what they know and where they’ve been?
It’s a world that few have the honor of glimpsing – this groundwater of potters around the world. Some only see us on the surface – above ground. And some of us potters never make it there. But we’re all still part of that force that keeps clay surfacing through times when it might seem that we’re destined to our anachronistic fate. Together we push on through history. And I take no small pleasure in being part of that force.
Knowing potters as I do, it is an honor.