Ruminating on the intimate connection between making wares, and who will use them, I thought of ceramist John Christie from Scotland, and his process.
This is made for you by another person…it’s not made by a machine.
His work is modest, and fully intended to be functional and practical, especially in the context of food preparation and presentation. He speaks plainly about not making works that distinguish him from others, but reveal his similarities to those who’ve come before him. He strikes me as a “show up to work and work” kind of person, rather than reinvent the wheel and run.
As time goes on, you benefit from the disasters that you experience.
Again, further validation for the notion that all of us, myself included, learn by doing: in particular, we learn through mistake making. Push the clay and form past the point of no return in your learning process. Eventually you will metabolize it and your ever-changing limits, and meet somewhere in the middle with a piece or two.
Another reason I wanted to share this video is that we gain a privileged glimpse into watching Christie fire his wood kiln. “We’re not really masters of the kiln…the kiln is the master.” He fires for 28-hours straight, and makes a variety of ash glazes sourced from materials nearby his studio. A most gratifying moment is towards the end as we see him pull one of his finished baking dishes (the clay of which came from a mile away) out of the oven with a delicious crumble baked by a local chef using local ingredients. What a challenge that would be to do here in NYC, but no less a point to ponder: where do our materials and ingredients come from? “The best of my pots have a message for the person using them.” And my message to you is to keep your hands happily immersed in clay.
It’s not difficult to imagine how important the harnessing of fire and clay has been to the development of clans, societies, and cultures.
Today we examine a potter who uses local clay gathered, processed, formed, and fired in-situ:
Look around you at this very moment, and if you’re near a window, you’ll likely have within view the countless bricks that constitute a majority of our urban structures. Let us not forget that bricks are essentially low-fired clay: clay dug up, processed, formed, and fired from other states, imported to our archipelago.
Manhattan and Brooklyn, in fact, have abundant clay supplies…buried beneath our concrete streets. Construction sites yield some of these original, geological and glacial deposits: deposits that 17th century Dutch potters used in the making of New Amsterdam’s house wares, storage containers, clay water pipes, and roof tiles. Chelsea was once a pond and an active clay site. Beneath the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge, it too was one of the first European settler/potter’s source of clay. Beneath the Jefferson Market Library in the West Village, vestiges of the Minetta Creek (for which nearby Minetta Lane is named) still pools underground; where there’s a creek, there’s usually clay.
Next time you’re out camping and have access to clay and a camp fire, give it a shot: make a few pinch pots and fire them up. Just don’t attempt that in a national park: collecting or manipulating natural resources on park grounds is very illegal. Take it from me: a former Badlands National Park park ranger.
Translated from Japanese to English, we get 金継ぎ, meaning “golden joinery/repair.
Kintsugi is a process of repairing broken ceramics using urushi and 24 kt gold dust. The repairs are evident rather than hidden, drawing attention to the fractures. Like pottery itself, it is an art form that takes much practice and trial and error.
On a philosophical level, kintsugi embraces the broken, acknowledging that nothing in this world is perfect, that fractures are intrinsic marks of existence and impermanence. But why use gold to fill in fractures? Watch this video, and enjoy.
And why did I chose this particular concept to share? More or less, I ask each of us to examine what it is that brings us to shape and collaborate with clay. Whether you come to the wheel or hand-building table to add a little beauty to your home, to work relaxation into your day or week, to learn something new, to participate in an ancient art form, or for something more personal, the form that emerges before you is but one part of a larger continuum.
For every crooked handle you pull, or wonky pot you try to center, or tumbler that decides to take a tumble off the bat, there is beauty to be found in the evidence of these endeavors, however unexpected or frustrating they may be in the moment.
These mishaps or scars are narrative potentialities. At the very least they reveal where and what your hands were doing in relationship to gravity. On the other end of the spectrum, these bumps and chips, warps and cracks, they reveal a more essential quality of being predicated on the all unifying notion that change is inevitable. A little gold dust to soften the blow of a fall; now isn’t that a most gentle appreciation for that which we try so hard to hide or negate.