Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Making pots, making bread

I am deeply involved in these two ancient crafts. Just noticed how many similarities there are between them, when I was given a very unfamiliar bread recipe by a pottery teacher.

Both come straight from the hands. Kneading dough and wedging clay are only slightly different preparation processes, different because you don't want to leave air bubbles in the clay and they are welcome in bread.  Bubbles in clay mean air expanding inside the pot wall in the kiln and a crack or explosion. Gas bubbles in bread dough raise the bread.

Both start with a handmaking and end with a baking, a stage when the maker can only adjust conditions and let the processes go on their own.

Clay is only slightly more directly from the earth, dug and processed clay and glaze materials. Bread is basically ground grain, water, yeast. One is geo, one is bio.

Culturally both are world-wide, ancient and as variable as that suggests. So many techniques, traditional and newly invented or rediscovered. The unfamiliar ones seem deeply peculiar, and they all work.

Both bread and ceramics have become industrial products; some of us still make them joyfully by hand, participating in something elemental and human. I love it.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why "The Village Potter?"

What is a potter anyway, in the 21st century?

Making pots has been a useful craft for maybe 12000 years, providing utilitarian, ceremonial, elegant and fun products for local use and trade. Ceramics may really be the oldest profession. There's a long, widespread set of traditions behind us, sometimes simple, sometimes extremely sophisticated. Does that matter much to potters now?

The traditions give us many ways to do every part of the process of pot-making. We tend to learn how to do it "right" and then expect that our way is the way  -- just like any other skill, knowledge, cultural practice. I found it a great shock to discover a Japanese tradition in which   --  impossible!  --  people turn the wheel the opposite direction! I bet that sounds silly to non-potters; what difference can it make? It makes several technical differences, but mostly, it's not the way we do it! Not the way our hands have learned so well  and automatically that it feels natural.

Potters often say there are no new ideas; sure, copy what you see. With centuries of work at our backs, there are more ideas out there than we'll ever have time to try.  Do we need new ones? Can't help coming up with new ones? Find the fun in new ones? Do we value the traditional?

We stand in a historic and prehistoric line of traditional hand producers and a world-wide community of interest. Archeology is us! Literally, we can make archelology.  Pottery traditions vary so much  that archeologists use the variations to track cultural changes, ranges, contacts. And there is an increasing linkage of contemporary craft makers to archeologists, to work out the processes that produced what archeologists dig up. Sure we can show you how they made those Moche pots.

Personally I love the traditional anchor of  the craft, though I rarely make very traditional pots. I do copy, more or less, interesting pots I've seen. I meant to be an archeologist, until I found out how much patience it takes.Over the years since, I've made several forays back towards archeology; making pots is definitely one of them.

Still, most potters now are not old-style craft makers whose work is needed by their communities. The continuing traditionalists, the revivers of old traditions (Pueblo potters, for example), and contemporary ceramic makers are now categorized more as artists, ceramists. Many really are sculptors, perhaps using traditional or functional forms as a jumping off place. Beautiful, symbolic or inventive pots have their place in collections and museums as well as kitchens and gardens. I am uncomfortable considering myself an artist, though I do see that I follow up ideas that attract me.  Does it mean we should have art training first? Try for individual expression rather than service to a community? Relate only to the appreciated few people who want handcrafts in their daily lives? Concern ourselves more with beauty and invention and not with function? Is craft necessarily art these days? Low art?

We do distinguish studio pottery from industrial ceramic production and think handcraft has different value than the factory produced wares.And there is still a small niche for production potters, people who hand make on a small mass scale  --  dishes for a restaurant, favors for a wedding, in my area Mexican garden pots.

I am unsettled about all these points. I would like to be the village potter in the 21st century, and am still working on what that means. If you want to talk about any of this, please write. I'd love to talk with you.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

November sales, 2011

Hello. I will be selling pots in November

  --  on November 5, at the Marie Curie Elementary School , 4080 Governor Drive, University City in San Diego. Hours: 9-3. Parking is off the side street. I'll be in the northeast corner of the booth area.

  --  on November 19 at the People's Organic Food Market, 4765 Voltaire St. in Ocean Beach, in San Diego. Hours:11-4. Booths on the sidewalk next to the store and parking lot.

  --  on November 20 at the Encinitas Fall Festival, on Hwy 101 between H and I Streets, facing inland. Hours: 9-4. Come walk down the middle of the highway and pay a visit.

Come by and see if there is anything you like. Or just to say, really loudly, "Wow, look at this!!"

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Hello. This is a new blog about my pottery and pot making, for friends, potters, buyers. I am new to blogging. Please tell me if you find mistakes.

I am after function and grace in pots, not asking much. I do understand it takes time to do this well and people make pots for their whole lives. I've started late, but why not be ambitious?

People have been making pottery for at least 10000 years, all over the world. There must be hundreds of traditional styles and ways of making, as well as individual variations and inventions. It's huge field. What a pleasure to join it, to look around and see no end of things to learn, try, and develop.

Here are a few pieces I've got available now.   These cups are made in porcelain, fired to cone 10, so about as durable as pottery will be.

And this fish is low-fired, just at 1800 degrees rather than 2350 degrees. Sounds still plenty hot, but not so tough. Not likely to be so handled and washed.