Let’s Play!

My students and I went to The Met Museum on a “field trip,” wandering their galleries in search of exquisitely baked vessels and sherds. Profoundly so, different pieces exercised different gravitational forces on each of us: some were drawn to the humblest of teapots from centuries ago, while others were grabbed by torqued abstractions made in more contemporary times. But as one pottery student said last night in the Korean gallery of The Met, “I need to play more [with clay], I just need to play more!”


Today’s sherd is inspired by the celadon ceramic flute from that Korean gallery. While its function was primarily decorative, clay has been put into the service of vibrating air to musical or ritualistic means: as drums, whistles, or otherwise. Here, from Peru, a few whistling water vessels: h

As you can imagine, the engineering and physics involved in these instruments, not to mention aesthetic and craftsmanship values, are outstanding.

If you’ve ever attempted to make a wind-instrument, you know that they can be particularly complex, even the simplest of designs.
I hope you enjoy this video.

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Shapes

This Pot is here, and I am the Potter who was.

George Orh. The Mad Potter of Biloxi

This line of his, impressed upon the walls of the museum, says it all for me. How true, and how fitting that a clay vessel should stand for where and who we were. I have yet to make the pilgrimage to Bolixi to visit his museum, which is shared with the collection of artist, Georgia O’Keefe…two iconoclasts under one Frank Gehry warped roof: https://www.georgeohr.org/  

The self-professed “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” George Ohr’s work and life are an inseparable amalgam of person, place, time, and endeavor. He is considered by most to be America’s first studio potter, and was responsible for every phase of his works’ ontogenesis: digging and processing of the clay, production of pieces, glazing, firing, and marketing. His forms are most often noted for their torqued, feather-light bodies, flamboyant handles, and experimental glazes. Working primarily during the Victorian era, his work was a virtual temporal displacement, and could have easily been made in the 1950s or 60s…100 years ahead of its time. As such, he was largely an anomaly, and not quite appreciated in his lifetime, though he was by all means a prolific and successful artisan.


There is also something quite mythic about how Ohr metamorphized from the somewhat conventional to the experimental via his studio accidentally burning down: a phoenix of sorts.

The very notion of fire transforming both the pots and the potter is not something that is lost on this author, and is a theme I certainly return to again and again as we work together: how the clay shapes us as much, if not more than we shape it.

If you take anything from Ohr’s praxis, let this be close to the core: play, experimentation, embracing the unplanned, and obsession are powerful agents for deep learning.

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