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Monday, November 28, 2011

Clay and Me and Human Proclivity

When I was in Kindergarten... really, when they handed out the clay, the kids automatically passed theirs to me. Insisting that I do what I did. Whatever you called it. I took requests but mostly made some things just for myself, and really played in the clay, but always with fascinating results. So it was when I was five years old that I knew I had something other people did not. Whatever it is.

It is kind of hard to describe the feeling, when someone like me sinks his hands into the clay. It's like grabbing ahold of... infinity. The whole Universe. You think for a moment, that you could just about make a facsimile of anything, if you had enough clay. It is a natural high, to hold the clay and press it between your palms and begin to imagine what you might make with it. When I was five it was horses and Indians and cars and monsters. That was the Universe as far as I was concerned.

The bear above was my first clay object that actually got fired in a kiln. I was thirteen years old. Later when I was enrolled as an art major I was told by my professors in art school that I was not an artist, but an illustrator and not to come back to major in art at NTS the next semester. So I have been trying to give it a name, whatever it is, ever since. I finally forgot semantics, and decided that I liked to do it, and other people wanted to own it, so I would continue, whatever it was.

Some stoneware I "threw" on the wheel while at SHSU.

Later when I finally got my art degree at Sam Houston State, I was required to take "Ceramics." Begrudgingly I paid my tuition and bit at the bullet, the very idea of requiring me to.. plaaaayyy! In the claaaaay! Seemed like such silly thing... I loved it so much I took it again happily. I had forgotten how much I loved forming and shaping and creating. I finally learned to throw on the potter's wheel. Learned to mix glazes, fire in a Raku kiln. Had a blast. Later my younger brother married a real potter, Titia Arledge at Mudpie's Pottery, and I have worked in her studio in Salado long enough to create my own line of sculpted stoneware. These whimsies are just some of the fun I've had.

There is such a fine line between a potter, and whatever it is you call what I am, that I feel like I really understand potters and pottery. But I am just a novice with throwing stoneware. You can see from these examples, some of my efforts on the wheel, that help me appreciate the wheel and what it can produce. But the wheel is only that half of it.

Stoneware "Temperance" jug made by John L. Stone

It turns out that potters, and people like me, whatever that is, have been playing with the clay for eons. A fellow named John L. Stone in Limestone County, Texas made the vessel you see above... not so different from the results I had when I let it fly. Thanks to Brandt Zipp, and his wonderful website article, we know that Stone was a master potter, trained in the "Anna" Pottery school in Illinois, throwing for the Firebrick & Tile Company, who had the talent of a sculptor, and who ocassionally allowed his gift for form to trump his knack for function. There were probably lots of potters just like him, but perhaps they never gave themselves permission to play in the clay. And that's why one of Stone's plain jugs bring around $50.00, (unidentified) while the one here sold for an astronomical amount. People seem to recognize the difference, whatever it is.

It is "high craft" to some, called folk art by experts, but it is much more... this human proclivity with clay. That only a minority can do.

If not some form of art...

Then what?

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