I’m a sometime potter. There’s something about getting my hands in the mud that satisfies my soul and some days slapping a few pounds of clay around is better therapy than anyone could ever guess. There are few things that make me happier than when something beautiful and useful spins into being under my hands. My first piece happened mostly by accident and was astoundingly ugly. It took a lot of work to get to the point where I could say, “I want to make a bowl” and I would actually make a bowl. By then I had set the movements required to do that firmly in the muscles of my hands, arms, even my hips because I use them all when I throw a pot.
According to my instructor at the time, the first pot anyone ever makes always looks like a dog food can. It will be ugly but it is precious. She was right of course, nearly everyone in that class turned out something similar to a dog food can and we all treated them as if they were Rookwood. I had no idea how her comment had stuck with me until many years later when I was standing in a ceramics museum in Toronto. In front of me, encased in glass, protected from the environment and miscreants and no doubt heavily insured, was a pottery dog food can. I was staggered. I knew in my heart that I was looking at a young potter’s first piece. This pot, made 800 years before my visit to a museum, was made almost exactly the same way my own dog food can had been created. I knew in my muscles how that potter had shaped her piece and this connection to a long dead person left me breathless. I stared at that little pot so long the guard peeked over my shoulder to see, I suppose, what was keeping my attention. I doubt he realized it was the dumpy little piece off to one side.
A curator at the Michael C. Carlos Museum told me this is called the long echo–that visceral connection to long ago though an artifact or text. It’s an astounding experience and I highly recommend it. If you want to go the mud route check out our collection–we’ve got lots of great titles, not just on making pots but decorating as well. Take a class at either Spruill or Callenwolde and after you’ve got your own precious dog food can, make a visit to the Carlos ( I am particularly attracted to the Ancient American collection) and see if you too can hear the echo.