Thursday, January 21, 2010

Looking Back

1976 was my year of ceramic discovery. I was a junior in college and though I enjoyed studies in literature more than any other study, I couldn’t type. That weakness pretty much sealed my fate. Without the skill to type I wasn’t going to be an English major. But I also enjoyed being creative with paint and pencil. And so by default I ended up in the Art Department.

Curiously, by that time in my life (nearly 20 years old) I had still never even seen a potter’s wheel or a potter at work – much less ever worked with clay. I signed up for Ceramics I – a 3-D requirement for my degree. I’m not sure why, but I actually imagined the course would be about painting on cast ceramic pieces. I wasn’t thrilled. But I was about to discover how far from the mark those painting-on-casting imaginings were…

And what a discovery it was.

The small college’s even smaller ceramics department was in the cobbled up basement of a 60-80-year-old bungalow that was living out its final years of usefulness in whatever way the Art Department could utilize it until the college campus expansion plans would finally tear it down.

I entered the basement through the slanted cellar door outside entrance with just a few concrete steps down. That cinder block basement had barely enough headroom to walk beneath the first floor joists. Back in the corner room was just enough space for five kick wheels.

I remember clearly, to this day, watching by the light of a bare overhead incandescent bulb as the instructor threw a ball of clay onto the wheelhead with a thud, wet his hands, kicked the wheel to a whirring spin, and turned a pot completely out of nothing.

What had been -- not five minutes earlier -- an indistinguishable lump of clay was now a vase shape of distinction and beauty.

I bring up this history by way of introduction to a series of posts I intend to do on potters whom I have found to be influential in my life as a potter. In most of them you will see little if any connection between my pottery and theirs. But the gist of the posts – my introducing these potters to you – will be what it is about their work – or the way they work – that I found so compelling.

I intend to start with a post about the first potter –
Richard Aerni – whose work I found so inspirational that to this day I clearly remember the first time – all those years ago in a college library -- I ever saw his work.

In the next few weeks I'll talk about Richard and several other potters who have inspired me, challenged me, centered and shaped my direction in clay.

1 comment:

  1. i like this idea john and richard's platter is beautiful. i can see a slight connection with those wispy and lovely thin slip trails and your lovely thin slip trails. bet it took you both about a 1000 hours of practice to get them like that