Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hoosiers and Humility

Hoosiers are way more humble than Minnesotans. Ironically, that keeps us mostly from often pointing out that fact – and the fact that we -- not they -- invented the humor that circles such humility. But Herb Shriner was Garrison Keillor before Garrison Keillor was copping Will Rogers.

And Hoosier humor is fraught with pitfalls and traps meant to ensnare well-hidden hubris. Such was the weekend at Cincinnati Summerfair – a gathering, it turns out, of many Hoosier potters. Potters practicing some of that subtle stuff.

The Indiana potter contingent included
Sandy Finney with her whimsical planters and beautiful shino-glazed functional ware, glaze guru Larry Spears , and Jeff Unzicker , whose HUGE, masterful, award-winning vessels have taken the art fair world by quiet storm

All of the above got in on the game.

For instance: On Saturday, Sandy Finney’s husband, Mark, needed to make a stop at a "big box" store. At the big box store were some really large, really cheap imported planters. Mark barely made it out of the big box without one of the planters – his plan being to put one in Jeff Unzicker’s booth, displayed amid Jeff’s huge pieces. The thought was almost too much of a subtle practical joke to pass up.

Okay, so he passed up the planter and the practical joke. The joke still counts. It counts because I am writing this and so I get to include the stuff in it that I want to. Besides, the concept is still funny. And funny in a very Hoosier way. Because this is how a Hoosier pulls a practical joke:

1. See, Mark would never have let on that he’d been the one pulling the practical joke.
2. Jeff would never let on that, in fact, a practical joke had occurred.
3. There would have been no laughter… ….just a growing smile in the quiet solitude of our vans as we Hoosiers who figured out that a practical joke had, in fact, occurred, drove back home after the show was over.

And so it was on Sunday morning as I approached Jeff’s booth that I noticed (from about fifty feet off) that Jeff and Larry were talking. Well, they were talking as Hoosiers talk. That is – they were each looking at their own feet as they uttered short sentences in the other’s general direction, only glancing upward when politeness required that brief eye contact to let the other conversationalist know that they had, indeed, been heard.

So I made my way over toward the two of them for a short visit before the show started. As I walked up, Larry became a bit more animated as if he suddenly remembered something important that he’d meant to share with Jeff. “Hey, did you notice that Richard Aerni got an award?”

Jeff, hardly skipped a beat. “Yeah, that’s great. I especially love that big platter he had hanging in front…”

The trap was set. Now it was up to me to pass or fail.

I, of course, could have failed by pointing out what Jeff and Larry already knew – that, while Richard Aerni had, indeed, won second place in ceramics, I had actually won first. But for ME to point this out would be Hoosier failure in two ways: 1. A Hoosier would never tell anyone else (this blog notwithstanding) that he’d won an award, and 2. I would have given Larry and Jeff the satisfaction of having gotten so much of a rise out of me as to have “corrected” them – exhibiting my pride in the award (rather than showing the Hoosier humility that would have assumed a great injustice had been committed in the judging for awards).

But, being the dyed-in-the-wool Hoosier that I am, I passed with flying colors. I merely looked at my feet and responded, “Yeah, Richard’s really great, in’t he?” (Richard is one of my favorite potters).

Then, upon reflection I smiled in the solitude of my long drive home.


  1. funny post... in a hoosier sort of way, interestingly i heard a show on npr about ky mountain people (they included tenn. and others too) and they talked quite a bit of the origins of the staring at your feet thing and not making eye contact often and when you do, it's very brief. apparently in times past... not doing this little dance was considered a threat and resulted many times in death. it was a wild show and chris offat writes some about it in his fiction.

  2. Way to go....she says staring at her feet........