Hayland and Penstack
Every now and then someone asks me, “Which do you like better, Penland or Haystack?” My answer is always the same: “Yes.” And when they give me the identical bewildered look, I don’t blame them a bit.
If you’ve attended workshops at these remarkable institutions – unique to the world; deserving their own genre of patriotism – you may know what it is to ogle one of North Carolina’s most cherished Blue Ridge views from a picnic table in front of The Pines and imagine a Maine island just beyond the mixed hardwoods enclosing Cynthia Bringle’s studio, or maybe you’ve gazed off a deck overlooking Penobscot Bay and conjured up a spot on the southeast horizon where an imagined mountain-gash represents the geological C-section where our soda feldspar originates, near Spruce Pine. Something we breathe at both places induces the same sensation that made Emily Dickinson an “inebriate of air.” Penland’s llamas graze across from what might be the little harbor-bay whose curving shore mimics the last turn on Conley Ridge Road; bamboo and rhododendron thickets thrive where vaguely spooky moss and springy duff might clothe spruce-roots. Is that a predawn train or lobster-boat guttering out early? How can rain on the kiln-shed’s roof mimic a high tide shredding itself on granite, just below your cabin? What measly proportion of these irresistible breakfast calories will I really need to make a couple dozen cups and show a tray of teabowl slides before lunch? (Logo on a T-shirt fetching $65 at a recent auction: PENLAND, WHERE VEGETARIANS EAT BACON).
Because the view from Penland’s outdoor picnic tables is becalming enough to be an eating meditation, I ate most meals there, and during the last supper of my recent session enjoyed watching the llamas rolling in their dust-pit, when a nighthawk – a bird I’d never seen at Penland – swooped over the pasture, catching insects. Soon it was joined by at least a hundred others, soaring and cavorting for an hour or more over the knoll and pasture-pond, gliding, then crumpling as if shot or having a seizure as they changed course abruptly, opening their huge mouths, eating on the wing at this migration stopover, heading for their winter range in South America. As I write this, they are probably somewhere along the Gulf Coast.
The last official contact with workshop participants for Chuck Hindes, my teaching partner, and me, had been that morning, when about half our group of 22 signed up for one-on-one talks summarizing whatever seemed most important to them, such as ceramic anatomy and dermatology concerns: “Does this handle look as if it belongs on Aaron’s pot?” “Any suggestions about lid options for my jars?” “How come this glaze looks so luscious and ghastly on the same little bowl?” “I’m not sure about the relationship of this brush’s width and vocabulary-potential to the scale of my bottles. What do you think?”
And squishier issues: “Can you recommend any grad programs I might look into?” “I wonder what of Penland these pieces will retain when they inhabit my life away from here.” “I can’t do wood-firing at home, so this has been a little like having an affair, without the interpersonal hassles.”
Unloading 3 kilns the day before was a smorgasbord challenging Mae West’s observation: “Too much of a good thing is simply delightful.” The noborigama itself had 4 “zones” – the firebox, where we’d stacked two tiers of shelves; the first chamber, primarily for glazed work; the salt chamber; and the low-firing boxy one in front of the chimney. Then there was the soda kiln, and small salt kiln that took so long to fire it may have been designed by the propane distributor. During the first day we had loaded Norm Schulman’s “Babygama” with bisqueware brought from home for a 3 1/2 day firing. Our group scored high on the cooperation-IQ index – a real catalyst in appreciating one another’s work.
These cornucopias of freshly-fired pieces so typical of workshops inevitably occur just before the session’s end, and embody a maelstrom of information. Each pot, sculpture, or imaginative construction poses its own query: “Hey, buddy, ever seen a faceted cup like me, made from Phoenix clay wearing Malcolm’s shino over Roe’s white slip, stacked behind an Oribe-glazed teapot on the middle of the third shelf up from the floor close to the bagwall, fired with poplar and red oak slats, and soaked at cone 10 for 4 hours during a falling barometer by 22 stokers between the ages of 19 and 73 who came here from 10 states?” Multiply that scenario by 800+ pots made from 8 clays; try to give every piece the look-see it deserves, while stiff-arming sensory overload.
Somehow each member of such a family of work owes something to every other one, because strongly directional atmospheric firing makes siblings of each piece in ways no other process can claim: gutsy bottles run interference for shy bowls, a tall vase imprints its shadow on the sculpture behind it, a timid pitcher hovers in the lee of a bolder one, and a covered jar saggers an exquisite carbon-trapped shino.
How does a person lasso such an unruly herd of aesthetic sensibilities, or corral this group of objects we created together, separately? What to make of the whole befuddling, yet cohesive anarchy they present? Often, it happens later. Miles and states away from the workshop, the first sip from a new cup engages us the way a bite of apple evokes the orchard where we picked it. The bowl whose rim we flick musically says one of its two tones: the first happy note in its lifetime of well-being; the second we hope we’ll never hear: a clattering shriek, on a hard surface, falling from a height it couldn’t survive.
“So how do you judge the success of a workshop?” someone will ask, and I say, ”If the learning and teaching interface so you can’t tell one from the other, it sure feels like success.” Privately, though, I’m thinking of the young woman who once confided that the session she was taking with me at Haystack had been an anniversary gift from her parents, who had met there nearly30 years before. Then I realize how comparatively glib my response seems; how some workshop participants must come away embodying a success they couldn’t really define.
Hayland and Penstack overlap in what they offer and provide: to work daily among committed studio-mates from many generations in safe settings, free from the distractions to which we accommodate “in real life” is, in fact, life made more real; privileged, even. No telephones interrupt gull or crow; the only TVs are occasional turkey vultures passsing overhead. Empty ware-boards thirst for damp circles of fresh pots, studio-mates create work to animate and define the shop’s identity for a couple of weeks, and all the while dedicated cooks slay the fatted eggplant, muscle up the cookie dough, and wrest feta from its brine. Like nighthawks feasting on the wing, we arrive by the same migrational urge that brought so many hundreds of others flocking to the studios we inhabit and vacate for those who follow.
Is it any wonder you reach Haystack on Sunshine Road, or that a sign behind Penland’s clay studio lets you know you’re headed for Road to Heavens Above?
And here, as a bonus, is the proposal for my class next semester:
SPECIAL TOPICS IN SCULPTURE: CERAMICS AND MIXED MEDIA
An experimental studio class using clay as both a primary and secondary material for forming sculpture. Beginning with a variety of life-studies of objects from natural-history and industrial contexts, we will explore the formal elements of sculpture: mass and space, proportion, form, scale, texture, and balance. (An assignment might be to render a piece of popcorn as accurately as possible to a scale of about 20”). From life-studies, we will move through increasingly abstract challenges, sometimes working in pairs, or cooperatively, as a class, on temporary installations to be documented photographically.
We will use a variety of “found” materials such as bamboo, twigs, stones, and industrial cast-offs in combination with clay, to build structures, while solving and originating problems that increase our sensitivity to materials, as well as to the ways sculpture interacts with our environment; for example, we will make forms to be complemented by snow falling on them. (Snow and ice will be some of the materials we will incorporate in our work).
There is no prerequisite beyond a willingness to develop original ways of problem-solving with a variety of materials, sometimes outdoors in winter and early spring weather. Participants who have had Modes of Clay will be at only a slight advantage over those who haven’t. There will be a fieldtrip to Storm King Mountain Sculpture Park, Mountainville, NY. in early April. Enrollment:10
Barter: The Feeling Bond
A few years ago, browsing through a clothing store, I noticed a coat that appealed to me until I turned the tag over and saw the price. Inquiring if it might be marked down after Christmas, I learned I was speaking with the manager, who told me politely it wouldn’t.
Then he asked, “What do you do?”
When I told him I was a potter, he asked me how long I’d been at it, and when I told him, he confided, “I love pots; have them all over the house. I’d like to see what you make.”
A few days later, I brought in a box of recent pots, and we made a straight-up swap that must be familiar to anyone who discovers that clay is an alternate currency. Any gathering of potters is likely to engender a round-robin of bartering stories and anecdotes as numerous as the endless bear-stories told in Alaska.
Oh yes, Alaska. Over 20 years ago at a workshop in Anchorage, one of the participants asked if I liked to fish. A relative of hers owned a salmon-fishing camp a half-hour’s flight away, where she sometimes helped maintain the cabins, cook, and prepare wood for the sauna. She selected a group of my pots at the end of the workshop, and the next morning a small plane delivered me to my destination, where, for three days, I caught, ate, and froze silvers to bring home as I were performing a public service. It was the only time in my life I’d ever become physically tired from catching fish, and I remember sitting beside the stream, lunching on a just-caught rainbow trout, and having a garden-variety epiphany, hoping that box of pots would bring at least as much pleasure to their owner as I was having at that moment.
I could have gotten a coat and gone fishing by exchanging my work for money and paying the shop owner and fish-camp proprietor; the difference is that I think very differently about the coat and remember the fishing experience with special poignancy because of the nature of the exchanges. In bypassing common currency, we established an uncommon currency, with direct barter. The result carries with it a feeling of satisfaction deeper than the sense of “having pulled something off,” or “getting a bargain,” either of which would have cheapened the transaction. Lewis Hyde’s book, The Gift summarizes this point when he writes, “It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling bond between two people, while the sale of a commodity leaves no necessary connection.” The satisfaction we achieve from exchanging our work for an object, an experience, or professional service, comes from the “feeling bond” Hyde mentions; the intangible counterpoint to the swap itself.
If we think of what we make only as a commodity to sell in exchange for rent, groceries, and other “necessities,” then we’re just “manufacturers” who happen to use clay to make a living, whereas bartering enlivens the qualitative aspects of what we do. That is what remains years afterwards when we reflect on the person-to-person encounters in which a pot or pots changed hands; the same can’t be said of the many trips we made to deposit checks in our local bank.
Let’s see, there was this bowl of granola someone offered me at a firing outside Christchurch, New Zealand in 1983…beautiful morning, good heat-rise in a new anagama built on the edge of a sheep paddock by 40 or so locals…then, CRUNCH went my tooth when I bit down on a little Kiwi geology in my cereal. “Let me call my dentist,” the host said.
Soon Dr. Ian Satterswait delivered the cheery news: my molar would require a gold crown at some expense.
“Say, didn’t I see your picture in the paper this week? Aren’t you heading up a firing in some special pottery kiln out in Canterbury? You see, I raise exhibition-quality dahlias and display them in competitions. I don’t suppose you’d have a very special vase in that kiln, would you?” “I think I know just the piece!” I told him.
And I did. And I began wishing for all the good karma of the Canterbury Plain to become focused on that kiln and on the particular shelf where I remembered setting that vase.
Meanwhile, Dr. Satterswait made the mold he needed, and back I went to resume the firing. My “crown of gold” has seen me through every meal and snack-session for 23 years, and I can only hope that vase, which fared exquisitely well in the firing, was a fit match for hundreds of prize dahlias, way off in another part of the world.
Courting the Diva
A potter’s best friends are those glazes that “step and fetch it.” Reliable, well-behaved, even dutiful, they emerge from firing after firing, faithful to the dictates of the closet fascist thriving in the left side of our brains — the control freak with the sextuple-beam balance accurate to 1/1000 of a gram, the memorizer of specific gravities, hoarder of discontinued materials, and ruler of atmospheres whose sceptre is the oxy-probe and whose work is the by-product of exquisitely consistent computer print-outs of past firings. Alchemists in lab-coats, sifting the dust of ground-up mountains, river-bottoms, and the ores from many continents, such potters turn dross to gold when glazes behave as they are intended.
Enter the soda ash-based shino glaze family, some of which behave with aesthetically undistinguished predictability, some with rogue-ish disdain for consistency, while others are divas, capable of exceptional beauty or coloratura hissy-fits, depending on their placement in the kiln, the relative humidity at the time they were applied, bisque temperature at which the clay was fired, water temperature and pH, time during the firing at which reduction was begun, the body composition, glaze consistency, granular size of soda ash, degree to which glazed pieces were dried before being stacked, the type of fuel employed, whether they are saggered or open-fired, the rate of cooling, and the astrological sign under which the potter was conceived, if not born.
Who hasn’t seen a dozen identical pots bearing the same glaze, fired side-by-side, come from a firing with confounding differences in color or texture? Who hasn’t been blessed beyond the wildest imaginings, in the absence of kiln-gods or prayer itself, by pots that are strictly a once-in-a-lifetime, shoot-the-moon, cosmic endowment? Who would play it safe to the exclusion of serendipity? Who would believe that serendipity could have such a demonic twin: pallid, frothy, creepy and crawly, as if to say that even without cobalt, both pots and potters can get the blues.
Working with shinos makes me wish I’d begun years earlier, say, in elementary school. The best I can hope for is that in the next life I’ll have a leg up on understanding these glazes. This life is strictly a trial run.
Dear Henry Glazier:
Lots of people come up here to the cemetery to walk around and watch the sunsets and make sure the valleys and ridges are all in the right places. When we look out to the west and south and settle down from whatever we’ve been doing before we got here, a calm takes hold of us, and pretty soon we’re thinking thoughts we never have anywhere else. It takes an especially foolish person to want to wake up someone who’s been asleep as long as you have, so don’t go to any trouble replying. A good many of us would like to share a thing or two with you, but since I regularly have some clay under my fingernails, I decided to speak my piece.
As far as we know, there isn’t a single picture of you, so we can only imagine what you looked like. The tiny stamp with which you marked some of your pieces leads us to believe you were humble enough to let your work speak more for itself than for its maker. And out of the thousands of pots you made, just a small percentage have survived, but it’s through those pieces that we have come to respect and honor you. There’s something about them that appeals to us. I suspect that what takes our eye is pretty much the same thing that made you feel you had put in a good day — a nice crock or jug makes us reach out for it just the way your customers did. The fact is, you’ve never run out of customers, who by far outnumber your surviving pots.
Thanking you is almost as complicated as being grateful to a cloud for spring water arriving by way of rain that fell miles from the place where we drink. So, to thank you, Henry, we must first thank Dean Reynolds, who you certainly would have enjoyed knowing, for if there is one person who has acted on your behalf in our town it is Dean. Born 30 years after you died, he trusted the magnetism drawing him to hand-made pottery in the 1940s and 50s, when he bought crock after crock and jugs by the dozen, many of which you had made, at farm sales, often for a dime or two; mostly because he thought they were beautiful. People watched, politely amused, as he carried them to his car for their journey into the future. Until I stood among the hundreds of pieces Dean owned in the late 1960’s, I never felt quite so grounded in what I do; never had the sense of carrying on something important that had almost been lost. I think of Dean’s pottery-love as bridging the distance between what you made and what I make. Dean helped a lot of us contract the infectious appreciation for pottery that has grown to zany proportions . We can only guess your response if you could learn that a single large pitcher bearing your stamp might one day command a price greater than the assessed value of your entire pottery-making business.
For me, the only truly sad aspect of being a potter at this moment in time is that I feel cheated from contacting potters like you, who, in the late decades of your century, almost certainly felt they were the last to practice their craft. When they clammed up their kilns after their final firings, then cooled and unloaded their last pots; when they, their children, or their widows saw the kilns dismantled, they had every reason to believe their skills had become outmoded. Human needs for containers continued as they always had and always will, but glassware and standardized ceramics spit out by the thousands from factories, must have confused, angered, and humiliated hand-potters like you who earned your expertise from your parents and through your willingness to work hard at an honorable job.
There are still no shortcuts; no correspondence courses for learning the craft and art of pottery. The skills we make look easy come heavily mortgaged to the Bank of Constant Practice. Converting a ball of clay into a 5-gallon jug in the time it takes a skilled surgeon to remove an appendix accomplishes no less a miracle. No books can ever explain how to fire a large wood-burning kiln, and the aptitude to learn is both a hunger as well as a source of frustration pointing towards satisfaction. The same goes for making handles on jugs appear so naturally “right” as to seem they had grown there because of jug-genetics rather than looking as if someone had stuck them on. Some of the world’s best pots have been made by illiterates who were wonderfully articulate with clay, which has its own tactile vocabulary; its own 3-dimensional syntax. Even if books had been available, they would have served no purpose. Eye, heart and hand, guided by curiosity and the capacity to learn by discovery, have always been the main assets in acquiring pottery knowledge, which, in the final analysis, may be nearly impossible to teach, but quite possible to learn.
Clearly, eyes, hearts, and hands lead us to appreciate the work of earlier potters, like you. It is as if values invested by the maker thrive in surviving crocks and jugs, even multiplying, the way good investments should. It would seem that our level of appreciation for the work has enlarged with each generation of stewards who passed the pieces on to us knowingly, or by simply saving them from falling into the wrong hands. Some of the finest crocks and jugs were simply forgotten, and later discovered like booty in cellars or attics. Others have changed hands after spirited bidding, like the first Glazier crock I ever bought. “Sold!” said the auctioneer, “to the man in the back with the big smile and the yellow cap.”
Henry, so many things have changed. Neither eels nor shad run in the river any longer . Hardly anyone remembers the weekend street-fights that were part of your time. It is even forbidden now to keep hogs in town. In ’36 a flood took the town bridge. Sledding parties are rare. The last public hanging was held in 1913, the year Dean Reynolds was born. Every street, trolley tracks and all, has been paved over. Even the change has changed — the faces on our coins are different now.
But I’m happy to report that change is more than loss. About 80 years after your death I brought a potter’s wheel to Huntingdon County, built a kiln, and commenced making the first pots on a regular basis since Austin Hissong quit potting here in 1885. The Myton Pottery shut down in 1874, followed a couple of years later by the Thomas brothers. You, of course, closed up in 1854. One of the most difficult things for you to imagine, I am sure, is that I have taught hundreds of students to use a potter’s wheel in the 24 years that I have taught at the Brethren Normal College, which has since changed its name. (We both know what the founding fathers would have said about that!) While I have no idea how you felt about teaching others, it’s safe to say that nowadays many people have become curious enough about making pottery to want to give it a try. Strangely, now that pots are no longer required in our daily lives the way they were needed in your time, the more we need the making of them. Along with that have come new forms to make; new ways to enjoy them. You’ll have to take my word for it; it’s truer than I can prove.
A couple of things that probably haven’t changed a bit are the feelings of satisfaction when you enter the shop in the morning and see the previous day’s work that you almost forgot overnight. No matter how many years you’ve been at it, they always take you by surprise — the damp pots imparting that rich cavesmell; that fragrance of freshly-turned gardens. If dreams have aromas it is that of pots drying just after they’ve been formed.
And then there is the matter of fire — that ancient living tool, changing everything with its gluttonous touch. When you fired your kiln at the corner of 3rd and Washington Streets, smoke rising on a south wind scudded over the ridge where you lie buried, and I hope you were too busy to give it a thought, but seeing the dawn in after stoking half the night can stretch the boundaries of thought, which never snap back to their original dimensions. Maybe you had such a vision, of following your smoke to this place.
Then there are those pots of yours, that bring us such pleasure. Many left town and have been brought back again. Living with some has made them as familiar as a favorite shirt or pocketknife. Reading their cool, stippled surfaces, our fingers trace ripples yours left in the making. Crocks that held sauerkraut, apple butter, and cream. Crocks African violets have lived in. Crocks that jostled one another in spring houses. Others, kept under the bed, must have served their owners well. Crock rims have honed many a knife, and, traced on rolled-out dough, made circles for many a piecrust.
Jugs. The heft of them; their taut stone hides defining space. One by one you filled them with your breath while anchoring a fresh handle, your thumbprint’s whorl echoing that cut-off mark on the base. We have nearly forgotten how to swig the clean stonetaste of spring water from a jug cradled in the angle forearm and biceps make, as haying hands so often did. We’ve sniffed jugs’ dark interiors, hinting of pickling vinegar, maple syrup, Northern Spy cider, and whiskey. Those liquids all took the shape you stretched for their safe-keeping. Once, in a widow’s cellar, I squeaked a waxed corncob from a Glazier jug, poured 40 year-old blackberry wine into a glass, and left her place with three gifts: the jug, its delicious contents, and this memory.
Henry, if there is one thing I could share with you from my time, it would be a plastic gallon milk-jug, and let me tell you why. It is the highest point so far in the evolution of containers, and would stop you in your tracks. Feather-light, nearly clear, flexible, well-planned and well-crafted, it is my century’s solution to a design problem you tackled nearly every day in your shop — how to contain a gallon of liquid as efficiently as possible. One plastic gallon milk jug in Huntingdon in the 1850s — well, you could have charged admission to see it. Somehow they don’t compete with the work of potters, but that might take another letter to explain. And of course it’s anybody’s guess whether in a hundred years collectors will be hunting them down; after all, they’re nearly as common as your own jugs used to be. People reading this today will laugh exactly the same laughs your acquaintances would have if you’d tried to tell them that somewhere down the line folks would bid against one another and put out good money just to own something so much taken for granted at the time it was made.
But that seems to come with the territory. Each generation discovers for itself what to keep and care for, and what to toss out. We’re grateful to you for making the pottery we’ve learned to care about so much, and for the chance to pass it along to others not even born yet, who will most likely feel the same. I’m just as thankful for that small but caring percentage of the population that makes a place in their lives for my own work. As you must have learned, a potter never completes a piece of pottery — that can only be done by those who take it away and use it, thereby completing it again and again. We both have people to thank for that.
Rest well. You’ve earned your rest.
Sincerely, Jack Troy. January 29, 1992
A Pixiegama in Pennsylvania
When I moved to Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, in 1967, I had no idea of the bounties that awaited a potter in this area. A dozen miles to the east was Harbison-Walker Refractories, a source of bagged fireclay, high-duty firebrick, and, best of all, silicon carbide kiln shelves. On my first visit, I was startled to see a 5-foot high heap of 12” x 24” and 8” x 24” shelves behind a beehive kiln. I asked a worker what they did with them he replied, “Well, a lot of us use them for steps and borders around our gardens.” There was little or no recycling of silicon carbide in those days, and I designed my first kiln around the off-spec shelves. Equidistant to the west was Maryland Refractories, where at most times several hundred pallets of high-quality firebrick were waiting to be ground into grog (8/12 mesh was preferred to spread on icy driveways.) For 20 years, the novelty of buying bricks to build kilns was something I learned of from friends in far-away places. And then there was Pennsylvania Glass Sand Corporation, 7 miles away, that donated all the sand and silica we needed for glazes and clay bodies at Juniata College, where I taught. It was as easy to feel blessed by the fates as to make friends with the management of these industries, who were quite happy to accommodate the needs of the first potter to work in Huntingdon in 82 years
A few years ago, while teaching at Penland School of Crafts with Chuck Hindes, our class fired Norm Schulman’s Babygama, the smallest single-chamber wood-kiln I’d ever seen, which Chuck designed. I enjoyed the way it behaved and began thinking about building a smaller kiln myself. The anagama I built in 1987, pictured in my book, Wood-fired Stoneware and Porcelain, is my all-time favorite kiln, but its capacity seems to have increased every year, so the allure of a quicker turn-around was appealing. Working with a number of friends on and off in the spring and summer of 2005, I began putting together a kiln that seems appropriate for firing with several friends, although it’s at least three times the size of Norm’s. Local access to bricks and shelves isn’t what it used to be, but a friend whose business involves exotic refractories lives a few miles away, and provided most of what I needed, albeit the shapes and sizes were so varied as to constitute what Australians call, “a dog’s breakfast.” I believe there were at least 23 different sizes and shapes of bricks and “brick-like refractories” from which to choose. He also provided the massive (#300 each) sandstone slabs for buttressing the walls, and suggested we move them into place with the ingenious technique of sliding one over the other by layering crushed ice between them.
Maybe it has been the availability of bricks, or my inability to visualize 3-d from a drawing, but I have never built a kiln according to a plan; never had so much as a sketch to start out. Time, space, materials, and intuitional hunches comprise my kilns, quite like making a hand-built pot. Another factor is input from other experienced kiln-builders, and this time Donovan Palmquist’s help was invaluable. When I saw his presentation at an NCECA conference, I thought, “I’d like to work with him sometime,” and an unexpected modest windfall made that possible, so I hired him and his working partner, Al Saks, for one week in December, ‘05 and another in April, ‘06. By December, the walls were up, and though we’d never met, Donovan and I hit it off instantly, and the Pixiegama became the first kiln (of more than 150) he’d help build without a plan. Although confronting so many different sizes and shapes of bricks unnerved him at first, as did one week in December when we worked in sub-freezing temperatures, we devised our way along, and the kiln was fired the first time during a workshop in June, ‘06. Each day Donovan would exclaim, “I’ve just GOT to see how this thing fires!” He and his wife, Colleen Riley, participated in the second and most recent firing over New Year’s 2006-2007.
Although the first firing went well, I think of it as the “bigamy” firing, since it was conducted simultaneously with an anagama workshop for 20 I was teaching at Juniata College, a mile away. We started both kilns about the same time, and fired them on similar schedules, keeping stoking crews on giddy alert for most of 4 days and nights. (I have occasionally considered firing Huntingdon’s 4 anagamas simultaneously as the ultimate small-town blow-out extravaganza; perhaps this was, so to speak, a warm-up for that mythical event.) Thankfully, with the help of Gwendolyn Yoppolo and other experienced firers, all went well; our fuel was primarily the oak and yellow pine cut from the hillside where the kiln is built, in addition to thin hardwood slabs from local sawmills.
“What do you want from your kiln?” is perhaps the irreducible question, the one focusing design, structure, process and aesthetics. “Economics,” in the common sense of the word, and “firing efficiently” have never interested me in the least; the quantitative aspects of my work have always lagged way behind the qualitative, and with respect to firing, the work done by heat over time develops the features I most enjoy. (Besides, who was ever smitten by a pot because it was “efficiently” fired?) Daniel Rhodes once wryly compared firing an anagama to filling a burlap sack with water – “If you hold the sack under a big enough waterfall, you can fill it,” he told me. Also, it may be that if a firing doesn’t go on long enough to share meals and shifts with other participants we might feel that we hadn’t invested enough of ourselves in the activity. Short firings, no matter how they are defined, are, to me, similar to having exactly 10 minutes to briskly walk a dog; the dog’s chance to sniff its way along is sacrificed on the altar of pragmatism. We owe a similar measure of attentiveness to the work we fire and the dogs we walk.
I favor natural-ash glazes derived from oak and mixed hardwoods that develop over 4-5 day firings, holding the kiln between cones 9-11 for about 30 hours, mostly so the flame “draws” patterns on the work rather than producing “gravy-yaki,“ or clay-dominating, runny glaze. Shinos and temmokus make up about 5% of the load, and, typically I use 4-6 porcelain, whiteware and stoneware clay bodies. Generally, my aims involve exploiting the various atmospheric “zones” in kilns, and formulating the clay bodies accordingly. Just as there are aesthetic “dead-zones” for each clay, producing dull, homogeneous surfaces that seem spray-painted with unbuffed shoepolish, appropriate clays can be brought to life in that same zone. The smaller the kiln, the fewer the zones, and vice versa.
Several years ago, Dan Ody, Pam Lau, and Mike Holter helped rebuild the front end of the anagama at Juniata College, and we hit on the idea of making a slotted sprung-arch grate with some heavy-duty bricks I had available. The arch has a 15” rise with 1.5” – 2” spaces or “slots” about 6” apart, and proved so effective I decided to duplicate it in the Pixie. We found that inexperienced stokers could maintain steady temperatures more easily than with any other grate system we’d devised, that embers fell through it in just the right amount for preheating air for combustion, and the bricks were strong enough to hold wood of any size we’d stoke. We weren’t aware of such grates from our experience, but surely someone else must have hit on their simplicity and effectiveness
The second firing, however, taught us how critical it is to space the grate-bricks according to the wood being used. Stoking primarily unseasoned hardwood slabs blocked the slots between bricks on the 4th day, so we blocked off the primary air, pulled several bricks in the door just above the grate, and mixed in some “rocket-fuel” – 2-year old bone-dry, split white pine – gaining the whip hand. Next time the bricks will be spaced closer to 2” apart. While maintaining a large ember-mass on the grate is critical to color-development in the work stacked foremost in the kiln, the size and nature of fuel, which varies for me, will determine the spacing of grate-slots.
The Pixie’s grate is 41” long, 32” wide and has a 15” rise from the floor to the bottom of the grate-brick. It is 39” from the top of the grate to the underside of the firebox arch. The stacking place is 48” wide x 100” long x 54” high. The bottom half of the rear wall is a checker, or “sutema” (“stemma”), and the back wall is cobbled in with rounded bricks, then topped off with castable shaped like half a paper circle, bent downward slightly. A side door is 25” wide x 52” high.
Behind the checker is a secret chamber (“himitsu”) 24“ deep and tapering in width from 38” to 18” in a distance of 30”, then reducing to 12” x 12” at the base of the chimney. The chimney is 16 ‘ tall, and its interior dimensions are 9” x 18“. As well as a sliding damper, the chimney features 20 soaps (half bricks cut the long way) for passives, permitting infinitesimal control that’s especially handy for firing the secret chamber. Two 4” holes and another, 6”, through the castable, permit cooling through the top rear of the kiln so soaking the himitsu without exit gases passing through it to the chimney is an option. Insulating firebricks (IFBs), drilled, and strung on 5/8” steel rods roof over the himitsu, and are sealed with slurry-soaked newspapers during the firing.
After achieving the desired time/temperature ratio (c/12 over in front, with a 30-hour soak in the range of c/9-11) followed by 6 hours of side-stoking through ports in the door to achieve a soft c/10 in back, we sealed every loose hole, stood around and talked awhile, and opened the holes in the castable. Beautiful wispy flames rushed out, and when they died back we went to lunch. About 4 hours later, with the interior still at a strong red-heat, we dropped slivers of pine through the vent-holes amongst the fine-grained, high-iron stoneware pots for the coppery-brassy metallic tones common to Bizen-style reduction cooling. (I’m paranoid about such reduction backing up towards the front, where the porcelains are stacked, because it muddies them, so we monitored that eventuality at the side door.)
If a kiln is as enjoyable to fire as it was to build, there’s a good chance the gratification will extend into unloading the work, and that was the case. Everyone involved came away with quality work, vindicating the 12 years of gentle, persistent inquiries I’d put forth about buying the land adjoining my studio where the Pixiegama is situated.
My thanks to the following, who, among others, helped get the project under way: Andrea Xenidis, Luke Maddux, Janine Dudash, Carolyn Wyland, Jake Johnson, Evan Wagman, and Don Swartz, who documented much of the building and posted the images at kilndog.
David Shaner: A Quest Worth Sharing
Dave Shaner is throwing a teabowl. Seated at a Randall wheel in studio #2 at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee on a Friday afternoon in September, he is one of 5 presenters working simultaneously at various locations, as part of a conference entitled, “Utilitarian Clay.” His presentation, “Teapots, Teabowls, and Taking Care of Yourself,” has drawn dozens of participants. If he weren’t here, he might be seated at a Randall wheel near Bigfork, Montana, making a teabowl. It is hard to imagine an hour of the day or night when a Randall wheel isn’t turning or someone isn’t holding a Shaner teabowl.
The gaze he directs at the clay has entranced a bowl into being, his hands just guiding that magic. The wheel’s momentum paces his words. He works and talks easily: “The amount of energy you put into the pot reflects out.” (He ought to know — having absorbed for at least 40 years the energy radiating from an eclectic assortment of favorite pots). “I always feel good when I make teabowls. I don’t make anything I don’t enjoy making.”
Shaner’s lucid declarative sentences aren’t gussied-up with polysyllables — they are the verbal equivalent of his strong, direct pots, described by Garth Clark as “reductivist.” Though his speech and manner are casual, his words are as carefully chosen as his working methods; he is as self-editing with language as with clay:
“Make friends with yourself …Always watch what the clay gives you…
Work patterns flow into a whole life…An artist must be like a sponge, soaking up all the influences and perceptions and making them part of a working vocabulary…
We must participate in our own landscape and make our own pots that grow from our own environment.”
Even after a big lunch, the group is with him in easy repartee. He respects the fine line between didacticism and being preachy; never smudging the boundary, still, his words have an authority born of conviction. That same conviction fuels a high productivity Shaner has maintained over the years. It might be enough, offering us only his pots and sculpture, but in teaching sessions like this one, he shares human values that impel the work while simultaneously residing in it. Emerson was right on the money when he said, “The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression.”
He kicks the wheel again, squeezes up another another future cup, and eighty eyes watch what we all know is going to happen. Perhaps the quality that has consistently brought hundreds of potters into Shaner’s company at workshops over the years is the bottom-line believability — integrity— so obvious when I first saw him at a SuperMud conference at Penn State University in the 70’s. The implicit message in those days was that if you made enough clay frogs riding dirt bikes you might become successful as a ceramist, and perhaps graduate from a person to a Personality or a Persona. Shaner’s soft-spoken straightforward style seemed anachronistic to the prevailing showmanship of the era, which included one artist pulling a bra out of a ball of clay he’d centered on the wheel. It was probably the closest a ceramics-oriented audience has yet come to expecting stardom from a peer-professional onstage, and it was Shaner’s lot to be booed during the course of his presentation when he mentioned that his health insurance happened to be covered by his wife’s policy. (Ann is an elementary-education teacher). He just continued working, absorbing or ignoring the nonsense until it passed. He might have pondered the event on the long flight back from State College, though by now the incident must lie deep within his subconscious compost heap, where such things moulder.
The crux of Shaner’s message that day hasn’t changed fundamentally: making the best pots you can possibly make needn’t be an entry-level position in ceramics — something success in the field will someday mandate that you jettison. His daily life demonstrates better than language tells, that it’s possible to link vision and hard work to the escalating support in our country for quality ceramics. We, too, might be accommodated on the vehicle gaining momentum. He told us that “the public taste” isn’t fixed on the lowest common denominator; that well-made, well-priced pots can find good homes. (Even cowboys might enjoy drinking bourbon from a teabowl if the price is right). And what we read between the lines in the 70’s is as true today: loving what you do is a valid, essential, and powerful gift-force. We’d be fools to ignore it if we found it alive within us to any degree. Living with Shaner Pots
From the corner of my porch hang sixteen thrown, flattened stoneware spheroids, one above the other, strung on fine braided stainless-steel wire.
They arrived a few years ago, unannounced, in several boxes from Bigfork, like the six daylilly plants Frank, the UPS man, brought today. Each spheroid was numbered with masking-tape, and when hung in sequence made a kind of vertical abacus, employing from bottom to top, the colors of earth’s interior, then they read upwards through components stained like granite, culminating with clays body-stained to sky-hues — pinks and blues.
It is a 40-pound idea, hanging in mid-air. I have seen it stop in his tracks a man weighing five times as much, when he observed this cross-section through earth and atmosphere, documented with material from our favorite planet.
Much of what David Shaner makes has the same arresting quality. It was evident in the first cups of his I saw over 25 years ago during a Christmas show at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. There were six of them, and one had a classic shape — like 2/3 of a goose-egg, on a semi-Sung foot. Stoneware, it had been slathered in an unctuous porcelain slip, the striations gauzy as mummy-wrapping, under a thin tenmoku glaze. I drank tea from that cup all winter, reading it as I would a map, relishing its visual depth; getting a sound lesson about one potter’s notion of what a cup could be on a given day — perhaps # 5, 280 in one of the the miles of cups a potter makes but never measures.
Another piece — a stoneware slab, about 16″ x 20″— has earned a place of continuing attention hanging in my living-room. It is a masterpiece of complex simplicity: wax trailed over a clear glaze, Mashiko slip over that, followed by more slip-trailing of chrome-green glaze. The effect is of looking off a bridge at eel-grass wafting in a slow stream. One of a series, it embodies the dynamic imprint of our medium, when the human and material coalesce. As in so much of what David Shaner has done best, it exemplifies the work of one who has mastered the temptation to master the craft, by using glaze as naturally and directly as if it had come from a gland and flowed off his fingertips.
Then there is the porcelain teabowl with a most intriguing and maddening surface — iridescent crystals all chockablock on a ground of sandblasted black velvet. Easing off the lip during the last hours of firing, the glaze has thinned out to amber, freckled with iron-specks, and at the juncture of bare clay and glaze near the foot has formed a pencil-line gold halo. Hassling my preconceptions about how ceramic materials “ought” to behave, while mysteriously hyping those neurons triggering an aesthetic response, this pot keeps me from saying, “Glazes aren’t supposed to do that!” Such a pot, perceived directly, enlarges my appreciation for the ones I’ll enjoy in the future.
Paul and Louise Heberling, Huntingdon friends, own a Shaner piece I enjoy visiting. Woodfired, it evokes the shape of an ancient stone scraper, adze, or bishop’s hat. Barely reflecting light, its surface and color mimic the crust of freshly-baked French bread. The outlines of airborne birds have been cut from an inner-tube and rolled onto the gutsy Helmer clay, then peeled away, leaving an irresistibly tactile, low relief — as accessible to the blind as to the sighted.A Sense of Place; a Sense of Being
Until I turned off Highway 35 for the first time, in 1976, and stood in Shaner’s driveway, I had only a limited sense of the work itself, but everything changed after that visit, and has kept changing with each return trip, for it has become increasingly important for me to ground the origins of pots in a specific environment. Until that happens, I can never be certain just what it is that I’m beholding. (Only after touring the logging museum in Humboldt County, California, could I truly comprehend San Francisco’s oldest remaining redwood structures).
Gardens — the bounty of over 30 years of composting. Boulders and river-stones by the ton. The sky that seems to begin at knee-height. Family centering everything. The closer we get to Bigfork, the more idyllic Shaner’s life and work appear; yet, facts elbow their way into our comprehension until we understand what the writer William McIllroy meant when he said, “You only grow under pressure.” Varieties of pressure, including a wildfire that very nearly destroyed the studio and home, have brought almost unlimited opportunities for “growth” in the Shaner family, whose resilience has been severely tested, strengthened, and re-certified on a regular basis over the years.
I could write about Shaner’s devotion to gardening as a metaphorical aspect of his work in clay but it is too obvious. (Having cultivated over 100 varieties of exotic daylillies, he has more than a passing interest in the subject). My sense is that his work springs from and simultaneously reflects uncommon unity, the gist of which was revealed once during a workshop I attended. A questioner remarked on how rewarding it had become over the years to recognize Shaner teapots and still have the sense that each is different: “How do you manage to explore the same form; to bring forth and discover that newness?” As if the question had pressed on his forehead, Shaner sat up straight at the wheel. He chuckled. “Well, I guess the answer to that one is similar to why I’ve been married to the same woman for so many years.” Love for family and love from family actuates the gardening, claywork, and personal identity.
The world sees what it deserves to see of Shaner pots, but there are others, as there ought to be, special enough to be kept home from the marketplace. In spite of being a full-time potter/sculptor for nearly 40 years, he has reserved certain pieces for sons or daughters, while others are traded for contemporary or historical pieces to join the extended family of pots-to-be-lived-with, enlivening the home. As Lewis Hyde has written, “It is the cardinal difference between gift and commodity exchange that a gift establishes a feeling bond between two people, while the sale of a commodity leaves no necessary connection.” This “feeling bond” was evident to Shaner’s teacher, Daniel Rhodes, who recalled his student’s preference for pots rather than money as payment for occasional work.
If Shaner has an agenda, it is authenticated in the materials he works with, rather than existing apart from them, as doctrine, myth, or abstraction. At the same time, he supports environmental, peace, and human-rights issues with the same passionate dedication he brings to the studio. Compassion and empathy, said to be important components in the making of strong functional pots, are equally active in Shaner’s sense of himself as a family member and global citizen. “David Shaner, Potter,” his return address labels read up until recently, when they were revised to read, “David Shaner, Clay Artist.”
Another ceramic artist, Robert Brady, has written, “I would like to encourage people to attempt ….. to make things from a basis of honesty, love, and trust for that which they feel and believe is most essential, while making thoughtful choices and decisions directed at clarifying their intentions.” Putting those values to work without wearing them on his sleeve, is, in large part, what David Shaner stands for and stands behind.
Owning a Form
“The more you enter into a long campaign of exploring the inner character of even a simple form, the more completely and excitingly it reveals itself with each new realization of the wheel. This is what my life is: for me this is what it means to be a potter.”
Quoted in A Potter’s Companion, by Ron Larson, Park Street Press, Rochester, VT. 1993.
In the summer of 1972 a visitor to my booth at an art fair raved about the recent visit she had paid to several potteries in the Seagrove, North Carolina area and suggested I look into it. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen,” she said. “It’s better than anything you’ve ever seen! It’s more real than what goes on in college ceramics studios.” The following month I showed up at the Jugtown Pottery outside Seagrove, North Carolina in a VW van with a tent, sleeping bag and potter’s wheel, having made arrangements to work there for a while, doing what might be needed, and simply experiencing daily life in a traditional pottery.
I remember looking through the vocabulary of forms in the sales cabin, and noticing the confidence with which they had been made; how simple most were; how easily they might have been cast, instead of thrown, but the longer I looked and handled the cups, bowls, pitchers, and other pieces made for daily life, the more they revealed of human, touch-based investment – unlike clay whose life-blood has been sucked into plaster molds.
I asked Vernon Owens what forms they could use, and he suggested I make some wren-houses – a form I’d made with some regularity. (In much of North Carolina, “wren” is a 2-syllable word – “ray-un,” said fast.) I set to work, and by lunch-time had 44 of them, with holes and perches, on ware boards. Vernon looked them over quite carefully. “Well,” he said, “I guess we can use this one, and this one, and… that one over there, and, uh, maybe these two,” and went on about his business. Though I’d been making pots for only 10 years, I’d made dozens of wren-houses and knew birds would have nested in any of the 39 I was about to wedge up, but they weren’t Jugtown wren-houses, and I was working at Jugtown.
After lunch, with a Jugtown wren-house in front of me, I did what many of the ceramics teachers I’m glad I never had would have abhorred – I threw one after another of those Jugtown wren-houses, as if pitching ringers in horsehoes or hitting that little circle on a dartboard, all the while knowing it wasn’t anything I’d ever do again unless I came back. “Throwing to the mark,” you might call it – training eye and hand, which aren’t easy learners, but have great potential, to perform in synch with will.
While there is no way to measure the experience of that day, my training delivered something vitally important – a permanent, intricate refinement to my nervous system – a currency to spend or invest in work having nothing to do with wrens or their houses. It was the equivalent of the many thousands of chord progressions musicians play in practice and that underlie and infuse the best of their performances.
When I taught on a regular basis, about every 5 years or so students with a particular keenness to learn throwing would stand out amongst the others, and I’d inquire if they’d ever thought about choosing a form and making 100 of them. (About every 10 years one would take me up on it.) Often the objects were bottles – enclosed forms requiring no trimming – usually made from roughly 1 or 1 ½ pound balls of clay. The idea was to keep every one with no thought to decorating or firing any – “forms to inform the former.”
There always seems to be a variable point – different for each person – when a rhythm develops in the throwing, perhaps when the most intense conscious thoughts and observations go on a little sabbatical, and body-awareness heightens. It’s as if some aspect of our self yearns to find its own expression apart from obeying conscious orders. When that happens, the pots change. Since no one but an expert with an agenda can possibly throw 100 matching bottles, the potter experiences many nuances of the form – width, height, resolution – all the while gaining confidence that will invest itself as only experience can bestow, in future work.
Looking at 100 bottles in profile always leads to reaching out for certain pieces and inevitably, to discussion: “What does this one say about balance? Asymmetry? Stability?” “Why does this shallow S-curve make the bottle look taller than the one next to it that’s the same height but is more bulbous?” “How can this piece look so heavy, yet feel so light?” “Isn’t it amazing how, without even trying, you’ve made the feet so precisely similar? Does that make you feel comfortable or subconsciously robotic?” “Can you remember which pieces you thought hard about, and which seemed to make themselves?” “Which ones, if any, do you intend to fire, and why?” “What would you have left if you recycled everything you made from this exercise?”
To “own a form” is, in a way, to become “pregnant” with it in some neurological way. We retain the power to manifest it in our work, not the way a queen bee lays cloned eggs, but by investing something of that deep-seated experience in whatever we choose to make.
38 years ago I came to “own the form” of those wren houses. These days I have the feeling that in some sense I am happily “owned” by every form I have studied seriously – cup, bowl, pitcher – and they embody whatever fluency helps articulate my work in clay.
Seeing in Cross-section
“…….breakage, whatever its cause, is the dark complement to making.”
— Louise Gluck, “Disruption, Hesitation, Silence.”
One of my pleasures as a teacher has been to put my students in touch — literally in touch — with some of the old pots I have lived with over the years. All came to me in trades or as gifts — a pre-Columbian cup, its hollow handle doubling as a straw for a child or an invalid to drink from; an early 19th century redware pitcher sent me by a friend who said he “just thought it ought to be back in Pennsylvania, where it was made;” a Song Dynasty porcelain bowl from a young man who discovered it at an ancient kiln-site we visited together; a small German salt-glazed jug from the 1700s, its neck threaded for a stopper, offered in trade by someone who admired a pot of mine; a wonky old stoneware crock exchanged for a couple of loads of firewood in the 70s.
I have become one of many stewards of these pots, using them, making them active in my life as they activated the lives of so many unknown owners before me. I want my students to experience these pieces directly, adding their fingerprints to the countless invisible layers put there by long-gone generations of previous owners, and the makers themselves. It never fails, that expectant hush in the classroom accompanying the unwrapping of a Chibcha bowl given me in Bogota, Colombia, exerting its power hundreds of years after the maker’s death. The students are shy about reaching out for it. “It’s okay,” I say. “Turn it over. Feel in your own way what others have felt in theirs.” Watching them look and touch amplifies my pleasure in owning the pots.
Handling old pots, especially small ones that fit in the hand, validates our perception of history in ways that purely visual information denies. We can stand before any number of glass cases containing world-famous pots, peruse superb books devoted to ceramic art history, enjoy dozens of slide and video presentations that come our way over the years, but excluding touch from learning about ceramics is like looking at food without tasting it.
I first realized the power of touch-based learning nearly 30 years ago when Martin Amt, a curator of ceramics at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery, invited me to examine some saggers excavated at Chinese kiln sites. The hare’s fur teabowls I had long admired had each been placed in individual saggers, often stacked several meters high in the kiln. The intensity of the firings sometimes shifted the saggers, fusing the teabowls to their containers. Dr. Amt kindly let me examine some of these artifacts, and in handling them I saw and felt the fingerprint of someone who had wadded a bowl in its sagger, and who then went on to do it again and again as part of the day’s work, and part of a lifetime’s work, and then just went on entirely, leaving a single fingerprint as a life-clue. Driving home that day, I knew I could never again teach my classes without getting old pots into the hands of my students.
A couple of months ago, I wrapped up a dozen or so bowls and put them in the big basket I often take to class. Among them was a Song Dynasty porcelain piece, somewhat underfired, so its waxy-soft, pale celadon glaze glows, but doesn’t glare. The earth in which the bowl was buried until its excavation had stained the bare clay under its foot a warm orange. I first saw it in a sculptor’s studio in Beijing, where it was being used as an ashtray.
“Is that ashtray 1,000 years old, by any chance?” I had asked. He replied that it was, and after touring the facility where he worked, my host and I were preparing to leave, when he appeared with the bowl, still damp from being washed, offering it to me, saying, “Maybe without this ashtray I can quit smoking easier!” (We should all do people such favors).
I unwrapped the bowls and after introducing them to the class, showing how such objects are handled and offered, person to person — one at a time, using two hands, both people looking at the piece — I passed them around. Most were contemporary, several were in use most every day at home. The Song bowl was the last to make the circuit. “This has got to be the oldest thing made by a human being that I’ve ever handled,” someone said, turning the bowl over, fingering the scuffed bare clay under the foot-ring. After everyone had examined each bowl, I wrapped them, put them back in the basket, nestling the Song piece on top, and prepared to leave for home. I set the basket on a stool, put on my coat, and, turned to help a student throwing a tricky lid nearby. As I did so, my coat caught the basket, tipping it over.
What happened next seemed to take forever: I saw the bowl leave the basket and fall independently, then I heard the sound a pot makes only once, and felt the sensation in my solar plexus, where that noise registers, and where, sooner or later, every potter and appreciator of pots feels that visceral bullseye take the hit.
A palpable silence settled over the studio as each person within earshot watched me pick up the three pieces.
“A thousand years of caring, or at least benign neglect, and it had to be me ! Jack, you dumkopf!” I groused out loud.
Then, to the class, “Well, I’m glad you were the last people to handle it in its original state. Now let’s look at that beautiful cross-section!”
Under magnification, the raw edge of the bowl looks like vitrified Wonderbread, with dark impurities scattered about in it like little flecks of vanilla bean in ice cream. The glaze is a watery green line, thinning out where it is most vertical, then shading to a deeper hue where the heat released it in a eutectic glissade, to gather in a triangular cross-section under the beaded rim, which had been thrown extremely thin, then turned over on itself, trapping an air-pocket the size of a needle. Jostled among thousands of tiny bubbles frozen in the microns-thick glassy skin are minute dark specks — most likely coal dust or ash from the firing, blown in through a leaky sagger. Such compelling details I would rather not have, like seeing the wrong person naked.
I beat myself up a bit over the next couple of days about what I had done, but when I told the story to a friend, she said, “Well, you must be thankful it wasn’t somebody else who broke it. At least it involved only you!”
Would I have risen to the occasion had someone else somehow broken the bowl? Would have I said, “Please don’t feel bad. I could have done it myself. Look, it was my risk; an honest mistake in the line of duty. I could have put it in my safe-deposit box, or left it home where it would have been safe but out of touch, but after all, it was made for people, not to be hidden away. Don’t feel bad. Really! Look, once in a studio in Germany I read a beautifully hand-lettered sign that said, ‘A potter’s best friend is a broken pot.’ Don’t let a broken pot come between friends! Let’s look at the cross-section. That’s what the potter would have us do.”
Would I have risen to the occasion?
“Of course!” I presume, hypothetically.