Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On Family, Time and Serendipity

There is nothing like family. They knew you when and they put up with you now. I realize "family" is different things to different people, but to me it is my husband and kids, and in-law kids present and pending, sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces, aunts, uncles and cousins, and my closest friends. This makes a sizable group to be blessed to possess. Sometimes it has been hard for a relatively reserved person to have an individual voice in this noisy and opinionated crowd, but individuality will find its way, with persistence.

Recently the sibs and I marked the 7th anniversary of our mother's passing. There's no denying Time; we are not immortal. So I am living the moments as they arise. Today I am in Israel visiting my closest-in-age sister. It is quite something to consider all the years between sharing a bedroom (and squabbling) in the house on the Turnpike and spending time with my sister's family more than a quarter century after she moved to Israel. Later this week, I will be in Amsterdam, visiting my youngest child (wasn't I just putting a little pony tail on top of her head?) and getting the feel of her life in her semester abroad. Wasn't I in college yesterday?

But when I was in college, I had no clue that one day I would wake up each day pondering what to work on in the pottery studio today.

In the same vein, there is no way to know what tomorrow will bring even though I have an agenda at work. Sometimes it brings a surprise. Here in Israel, where my studio is an abstraction I think of from far away, I am thinking of textures and slabs, and do not want to know what I will assemble from them yet. I think I will let the ideas roam free when I get back home next week, and see what transpires. It's time for some serendipity. I have a show in April, and want some experimental work in it.

Hey- thanks for reading the blog, friends. I have about 15 people in the mug lottery (you know who you are), so your chances are excellent for drinking out of a new mug in March if you are one of them.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Seven Minutes of Isaac Button at His Wheel

Taken in 1965, this is a black and white video of Isaac Button (England) throwing cup after cup with regular rhythm and speed. (Note: It helps that he has someone else to wedge his clay and take the ware from him as it is done!) His aura is calm- check out the pipe, the whole demeanor. His fingers are capable. Watching this is mesmerizing and soothing. He died about 30 years ago; it is very cool to have this footage of him at work.

Click on the title of this post to watch the video.

As an odd aside, he is missing part or all of his left pinkie. I hadn't noticed that till I just re-watched this video. Is pottery-making hazardous to the limbs? Holy moly, I hope not.

Back to pack for my trip!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On Taking a Break, and One-Handed Goblets

Soon I will take a two-week break from all things clay, and travel to Israel and Amsterdam to spend time with family. I will leave rawware drying, and bisqueware waiting, ready to be glazed. I will visit parents' graves, and gather for joyful meals with siblings and their families in Israel. In Amsterdam, I will see my daughter who is studying there. I will come back, I hope, with a spirit refreshed and hands ready to take up my work in the basement again.

Until I leave next week, I am making goblets and little plates. The goblets are new in the repertoire. I am throwing them in one piece (stem and cup as one unit), and trimming out excess clay from the base once they harden a bit. They're sweet vessels.

Something that has changed from 1985, when I started working in clay, is that now there is YouTube. I learned to throw one-piece goblets this week from videos found there. There is a marvelous British potter named Dick Unsworth, with a video I especially liked. (I have enclosed a link.) I followed his process, though my shape of cup is more tapered, with less belly, and the goblets are smaller in general. Mr. Unsworth seems to have lost his hand at the wrist to some vagary of fate, and so he throws pots using one hand and one blunt-ended wrist. The wrist, interestingly, seems to be to his advantage in some respects. It makes a nice supporting and pushing tool.

Human ingenuity and drive are beautiful. I learn from all my teachers as I find them.

See you in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Toshiko's Pots at the Newark Museum

Hello from the view at my computer instead of my potter's wheel! It's been photography and photo editing (for clarity only; I promise I'm not making them look other than they should!) and working with Web-a-Deb on the website. Oh my gosh, this stuff takes a year and a day. You know when a pottery woman's fingernails are growing that she hasn't been handling the clay lately.

Down in the studio, the kiln is firing away, cooking up a load of small plates and a few other things. A few lucky duckies get plates from me in a few weeks on Purim. The rest will be for sale. I hope they come out as nice as I think they will...

I haven't exactly been idle. With the anniversary of my mother's death coming up, I am thinking of what to say, since I usually speak at our annual family gathering on this date. So I have been trip-trapping over the bridge of time to letters and relatives' memories of an era before I was born. It is like existing in another dimension for a little while, then resurfacing. I am fascinated, and honestly, it is bittersweet, because my mother is close to my heart.

But back to art, since I digress here from clay ruminations, as I have in life recently! The Newark Museum in Newark, NJ, is a strange configuration of rooms with all sorts of items grouped in relatively small collections, into time periods and art movements. I had to wander a bit, even with map in hand- and it was interesting wandering, with some highlights!- but eventually I found my destination.

Off in one little room, all by themselves, are the ceramic objects that I had come especially to see. To nourish my curiosity and my heart and mind, suffering clay withdrawal due to all the other things that have occupied me, I stood before each piece and took it in. It may sound crazy, but I felt myself absorbing their presence almost with a little whoosh of induction. Toshiko Takaezu's forms, in smooth stony colors, like moons, some round, or tall, cylindrical, like rocks: these closed forms are so quiet and yet so strong at the same time. Some have vestiges of an almost-opening, a tiny conical peak at their very top to remind that these were, indeed, created in the same methods as utilitarian vessels. They are meant to be part of a landscape, I think, though when grouped together, they are a landscape.

There is nothing showy about them, but Takaezu's forms satisfy something so powerful within me that I seek them out wherever they are on display. One of the forms was a garden seat. It is just a sort of short, voluminous round stalk that flares out as it proceeds upward from the ground, terminating in a very slightly convex top that can be used as a seat. It is easy to visualize it set in grass or sand, a perch from which to absorb the smell of earth, sound of birds, feel of wind.

The garden seat form is symbolic to me. Sometimes I am reminded of what it is to just be quiet and observe the life around us. Eventually, I find, it likes to spill over into my work.

Toshiko is in her 80s now. Long life to her!