Saturday, December 11, 2010

Old Pots, yeah, my old pots

mixed cone 6 red and white stoneware, fired at the PotShop at Cornell University ca: 1994

white stoneware, cone 10, fired at UMASS/Amherst ca: 1992

Tonight I had a phone call from a woman wanting to talk about buying our studio slab roller. There is something very odd about selling off your old equipment. I didn't choose to leave clay. Clay didn't leave me (although the thought had crossed my mind...). I simply can't work in clay again. Trying to explain that to folks when they call or email is always a tough proposition. In the past, I could be counted on to be the one doing the calling. I've probably helped empty a dozen different studios where potters decided to close their studios, or in some instances, where the potters died.

This made me think about that timeline. The continuum and where we all fit on that line of history snaking off into the distance. This month's mail has been kind of strange. First my current issue of Ceramics Monthly arrived the day after we shipped out our entire collection of CM dating back to the late 1960s (to present). So here I was, shipping away almost 45 yrs of Ceramics Monthly (giving away really, not selling....) a total of over 200# of magazines by the time we added in all of my Pottery Making Illustrated, Clay Times, Ceramics:Art & Perception, Ceramics Technical, American Craft, American Ceramics, Craft Horizon, and Ceramic Review. The whole shootin' match..... boxed and taped. I had hauled this mountain of magazines from Florida to Massachusetts, to Ithaca NY, to Utah, and back here again. Twenty years in the making. And in one afternoon, they all vanished.

So here I was, the day after shipping out this stack of boxes, holding this month's issue of Ceramics Monthly... thinking about the state of ceramics in the United States. A few days later, I went to the mailbox again and sorted through our daily stack of incoming mail. Another issue of Ceramics Monthly? How? Sure enough... except this one was over a year old. Wrapped in plastic courtesy of the United State Postal Service (special mutilation services included). Tattered and torn, I looked at the cover of October 2009 and realized I had never seen this issue.

For folks just joining the blog this year... last year, in October, I was doing my best to stay alive in my coma in the ICU of the local hospital. I was doing a lousy job of it too. Between the multiple surgeries and the ongoing pneumonia, the plural effusion... on and on... my body did its best to keep on going. It was more than an uphill battle.

On waking from the coma, (on Nancy's birthday!) ... I looked up into Nancy's face as she patiently tried hard to explain why I was unable to speak or move. Over her shoulder was Mary Ellen Salmon. I could tell from the looks on their faces, something was amiss. Mary Ellen said it best. I couldn't speak due to the trach tube in my throat, so I cried. Hot burning tears. Trying with my eyes to say what my voice couldn't. Mary Ellen, in her wisdom said it best: It just sucks Alex. As Nancy was explaining what had gone wrong and as I tried to take it all in, I kept thinking about how I couldn't move. Nancy was patient and tried so hard to explain that nothing was broken... but that my muscles had atrophied (we didn't know then by how much!)... but that someday I would regain full function.

A few days later, when I was given my passy-muir I was finally able to speak a little bit. At one point Mary Ellen asked me if I was going to try to get back into clay or if the coma experience had changed my desire to make pots. I had no idea what to say. Clay was my life. For over twenty years it was my morning noon and night. It was there when every single person I cared about wasn't there. It was the solution to the epic loneliness I had know since childhood. Clay allowed me to reach out to the world in a kind way... a useful, functional way.

So here I was, staring at my future in clay and suddenly the road degenerated into barely a broken trail. I knew well where I had been, but the path ahead didn't seem so clear.

How could I respond to the question. I had to say it. "I'll always make pots... if I can."

It would be less than a month before my first hernia appeared. The second one popped up about a month later. Since then they've grown to the point where now I really need to do something to resolve them. That means more surgery. It also means that post-surgery, NO MORE LIFTING.

It breaks my heart. So when the latest issue (Oct 2009) of CM arrived, and it was over a year old, after having been held up by the USPS for so long... it made me cry. I felt kind of like the magazine represented me... torn, tattered, stuffed into a clear wrapper with a stupid apology that meant absolutely nothing on the side of it, no explanation... and outdated beyond words. It didn't help that it was from the month when I was comatose. Looking briefly at the articles, I found myself strangely detached. It was kind of like looking at someone else's high school yearbook. You recognize the hairstyles or clothes, but have no clue about the faces.

It made me take a hard look at our collection. I pulled aside two pots from early on in my pottery career. The first image is a tumbler I made at the Cornell PotShop back when I first moved to Ithaca in 1994. I had been playing around with the idea of swirling two (or more) different types of clay before throwing. By and large it had very little effect on the glazed surfaces I was working with, but seeing that swirl of clay at the foot always put a smile on my face. The only reason I still have this tumbler is because there was a tiny S-crack in the bottom, so it never sold. The glaze on the outside is the infamous Floating Blue... probably the most often used (and sworn at) glaze in the history of cone 6 electric firing.

The second tumbler is from about two years earlier while I was still an undergraduate student at Hampshire College, and making pots at UMASS/Amherst. I typically fired cone 10, reduction using a nice white stoneware. This tumbler was part of a set of "milkshake mugs" I made for my housemates in Belchertown. They commissioned the order and then decided that paying for the tumblers after they were made was just not going to happen. I was not happy. So I kept my favorite one, and the rest became holiday gifts that Christmas season. Screw shitty housemates. Who needs em?

Now I look at these two tumblers and laugh. They are both very heavy, awkward and such amusing examples of where pots begin (and for some potters, end). When compared to the tumblers I made a year and a half ago, one would be hard pressed to recognize any of signs of family resemblance.

So where was I going with all of this? Just looking at old pots and thinking about where they come from, and where they go and what it does to all of us along the way. Anyone want to hear more stories about the old pots in my collection? Or should we skip ahead to more exciting stuff like my coma stuff? Or have we had enough of that? Should I just write about all the crap we're selling off? Seems kinda ghoulish to me, but who knows? Maybe someone really wants to know what we're selling. Hint: everything. Clay, glazes, chemicals, wheels, tools, slab roller, mason stains, buckets, seives, you name it. Got a shopping list? Call me.

1 comment:

  1. I'd love to hear more stories about your pots. I think everything has a backstory.

    Myself, I'm just starting out in pottery, at the ripe old age of 42, and have fallen in love with it.