Wednesday, November 19, 2008

meditative mood

It has been relentlessly sunny and warm here in Northern California, except for today when we woke up to a nice fog bank and cool temperatures. Frankly, it was a relief. I live here for a reason: I love mild weather that does not challenge me. Some would say I'm soft, and I won't deny it. When you live in this temperate climate, you lose track of the seasons, what month it is, and sometimes, yourself. My theory is that Californians come by our reputation because: 1) the rest of the country is jealous; and 2) because your brain does get a bit lazy when you walk out into the same kind of day for years on end. Back when I was an anthropology student and exploring the origins of human behavior, one idea I was fascinated with is that inclement weather pushes evolution forward, because it forces one to innovate and invent in order to deal with the problem of changing seasons.

Last weekend was particularly spectacular and show-offy weather, perfect for visitors. In my ongoing quest to get out of the studio and interact more with the pottery world, I went to Trax gallery to attend a workshop with Linda Christianson, a renowned potter from Minnesota. Linda and I could not be more different as potters. She sat in front of the room on a treadle wheel (the kind of wheel you pump with your foot) and get it barely moving. She threw down a chunk of clay, raise the walls twice, and done. The process took about 2-3 minutes, and the thrown piece was chunky, even irregular with lots of action on the sides from her throwing rib. It was a very meditative and thoughtful process. I thought about my own method of throwing in production, where the wheel is going at about 100 mph and I'm throwing off piece after piece, totally smoothed out and perfect looking, like it just came off a lathe.

Linda also talked while she threw, and the topics ranged from the sound of the train whistles nearby, to how she prices her work. She wood fires her pots, so she builds up a big collection of work, fires it off, and then wants to sell it as quickly as possible so she can make more. Her work is pretty inexpensive for someone of her stature, with cups in the $30 range. I think it can be a little insulting to say that someones work is too inexpensive. It implies that they don't value their own work enough, or don't have the confidence to raise prices. I don't think either is the case for Linda. I thought she regarded making pottery as a practice, and a process of her life. The getting paid part of it is important, of course, but not the point exactly.

Speaking of points, I'm not sure I have one today. Maybe Linda got me into a meditative mood and that, combined with my soft California brain, is making it hard for me to wrap this up. I'm off to the studio now to make more pots, and hopefully sell them off as quickly as possible so I can make more.


  1. Whether or not you had a point for your post, I am glad you posted. I clicked through to the Minn Potters Tour page and found a bounty of artist statements! I am currently writing mind and this was a needed gift. Thanks!

  2. I have a theory about living with no seasons. I have lived in CA & Fl & it seems to me there is more emphasis on not aging or maintaining a youthful appearance in both CA & FL. I think it's because you don't notice a year has gone by -- why get a year older?

    I also enjoyed your description of Linda & her work & her work ethics -

  3. I got to meet Linda at Arrowmont during the Clay Conference and I was also walking around in that "meditative" state after watching her demo. I know exactly what you mean. I have really slowed my wheel down since then and I am a lot happier with my work.

  4. Anonymous1:39 PM

    I would hazzard a guess that what you gained from this experience is a new appreciation for imperfection. I've always been drawn to potters whose work shows the touch of the hand, or a random quirky result from their firing. These are usually your 'seconds,' which I'm sure has p'd you off immensely! What I love about these pieces is the clear evidence that they are not made on a lathe, or in a mould, or by a machine. From my perspective, there in lies their true beauty.

  5. Hmmm, not exactly. I don't regard Linda's pots as "imperfect" to begin with. I'm more interested in process, the why and how of people's work, and the results they get in the end. Everything touched by the human hand has its own quirk, and while certain objects may resonate more with my own aesthetic, I don't judge other people's work through the same filter that I judge my own. I'm not that dogmatic, I hope.

  6. I think that when you put yourself
    out there on any level, you become
    open to range of reactions.

    I have experienced Linda's
    work first hand, and find it
    very well thought out, in a natural
    sort of way. I have never had
    the experience of touching your work (which is at least half the sum total experience with pottery),
    but in general, I thing that peoples reactions are really different when it comes to very
    refined work, especially in porcelain.

  7. meredith7:24 PM

    I love Linda's work, and I am so happy you got to have this experience with her. It is true that your work could not be more different from Linda's, but you have obviously been touched by her process. Maybe she has been touched by yours as well! Keep it up with the getting out of the studio, it's good for you.