The other day, a new friend asked how long I've been making ceramics, and I had to think about it. When I answered, "38 years" she looked at me, wide-eyed and replied, "and you're only now doing it as a business?"
Well, yes, actually.
I threw my first pot in high school and still recall quite specifically what drew me. It was that the materials were recyclable all the way up until you fired them. If I messed up, I could return the clay to its former usable condition, even if it were bone dry. I could not do that with a sheet of watercolor paper. And, somehow, this concept was very freeing. I did not worry about making a mistake that "cost" something. And so I kept going.
So I went on to college with an art scholarship and earned degrees in Art Education and Interior Design. I still spent all my time in the Ceramics Studio but lacked the vision for how someone created art for a living.
I taught ceramics at a camp during those college summers and kept at clay through the ups and downs of a design career, a marriage, moving away from my hometown, teaching elementary school, and raising my children. It seemed a grounding influence for me.
My kids grew up with wonky cups and bowls in the cupboards. There was not a matched set of dishes in our home a single year of their childhood. I recall thinking there was no point since little hands dropped things anyway. Why invest in the "good stuff?"
Little did I realize, we were already using the "good stuff" and it was only through the luck of this crazy time, that I received the gift of witnessing the connection between handcrafted dishes and ordinary moments.
As a potter, of course, I had my favorite cup and saw how a meal served on one-of-a-kind dishes seemed to impart this extra level of connection. But that was just me. I'm a potter. Potters love pottery. So when I witnessed my family and friends experiencing this, that is when I started paying attention.
But what exactly makes your morning coffee better in a specific cup? And how can pottery contribute to a warm and memorable meal? How what qualities encourage an unspoken dialog between the food and the ceramics, between the user and the cup? You might think I've lost my mind at this point on the post but stay with me. If you're a fan of pottery, you know :-).
By now, I was a 20-year veteran of wheel throwing. I had not one, but two wheels - one for throwing and one for trimming! I continued honing the craft, taking workshop after workshop with some of the best ceramic artists of our time and with decades of skill, I usually had no problem making "their" work.
But what was my work? I knew the work I wanted to make - the stuff in which everything tasted better. But how?
I could feel this question lingering on the fringe of everything, and I just kept making. And then one day, I signed up for a figure sculpture class and the whole world changed.
Figure sculpting is very tactile. Your hands are your primary tool, and I immediately fell in love with the freshness, how simply touching the clay captures the slightest gesture. The wheel was great - its fun and fast, and really cool to throw large pots, but to me, the perfect roundness was always a bit too perfect.
I worked sculpting figures for a few years. And loved the process, but figure sculpture is a decorative object. Beautiful, provocative, engaging- sure, but it sits to the side and observes, whereas everyday dishes participate in daily life and vases serve to contain living beauty. The connection I felt and saw in my home had to do with interacting with the work, the fellowship of passing a plate, the intimacy of holding a cup and of raising it to your lips.
So I returned my focus to functional pottery, but this time, really touching the clay. I believe in hand-crafted and how through making with our hands, we embed the subtle qualities that we later connect with when we use the pottery in our homes.
And I've since worked out how much "space" is needed to encourage the dialog between handcrafted ceramics, the food, and the user. I believe the surface decoration should be minimal leaving space for the colors of food, and the decor in your home. The finish should be soft, revealing texture, and inviting touch. And the vessel needs to feel good in your hands. It needs to be strong and stand up to daily use. And so the clay body porcelain, challenging to create with but renowned for unparallel beauty, quality, and strength.
And so has evolved the body of work that is now Vesselry. I still use my wheel for specific tasks, like throwing spouts for teapots. Some shapes do not lend themselves to coil building. But every piece is 100% handmade by my hands. I believe this touch is the essential human element that infuses the vessel with a feeling of life and thus contributing in a subtle, yet powerful way to meaningful connections that are so increasingly precious in our modern world.
So I suppose, yes, it did take 38 years . . . to find it, understand it, and finally make it.
Welcome to Vesselry.
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