This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Handbuilt Ceramic Conference outside Philadelphia, PA. The presenters were outstanding and their pots, each collectively produced over a 3-4 hour time period, were nothing short of stunning. It gave me a lot of time to think about my own method of working, the type of pots I produce, and how it related to what I was seeing in front of me.; also bringing up something I struggle with in my mind day to day.
Late Master Potter, Ray Finch, in an interview for Interpreting Ceramics, was asked how Michael Cardew evaluated what was important in his pots. His reply was,
‘‘I think his essential philosophy was that potters made things for use, you know that he said somewhere that my chief inspiration in making pots is the idea that they should be used and that’s, that was really the essential thing…’’
That statement really resonated with me and I often think back to it. I want birthday cakes being made with my batter bowls, grandkids eating cheerios from GP bowls, pitchers full of lemonade at family picnics and little ones setting out plates of cookies for Santa. It gives me a connection to the pots and the user – far after the money is exchanged and the new owner leaves my booth or shop. A reason to keep making them.
When I was growing up, there wasn’t any handmade pottery in the house that I can remember. We had ‘everyday kitchen dishes’ and ‘company china’. I want my pots to be special pots that people will use everyday. Pots that are crafted well, but aren’t priced out of reach of the average person. I don’t want them to become too precious, that people put them up on shelves, and are afraid to use them, yet I’m not sure how to grow as a studio potter without the ‘collector’ involved. Galleries and competitive exhibitions aren’t interested in ‘family friendly’ pots – they want art pots that are unique to the maker. It matters not if they think it’s a good pot, monetarily, it just isn’t advantageous, for gallery or potter, to sell through that particular type of venue.
The personal economic factor is not lost on me either. I’m a full time potter, not a hobby potter – it takes a lot of mid range priced pots sold in order to pay the bills. I was speaking with a former teacher about this and he advised that it was important to have a balance, which I understand. I’m just having a hard time finding that ‘sweet spot’ without taking anything away from either style. How to combine both easily and seamlessly seems to be a very daunting proposition for me.
I question how to incorporate more complicated pots that will allow me to grow as an artist, yet keeping true to my personal vision and theory behind why I make pots. Do I create different lines? Market to different venues? How to marry well-made affordable everyday pots for the non-collector, with high end pots sought after by galleries is the goal, but, in the back of my mind, I’m actually not sure it can be done and I think that bothers me the most.