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traditions and context, (was teabowls, etc.) long winded.

updated sat 17 feb 01


Wesley C. Rolley on thu 15 feb 01

When I see the term "tradition" on Clayart, it is usually a reference to a
type of work that someone is specifically going to (study, make,
revitalize), or NOT as the case may be. But, we must put those traditions
in context. I would like to make some observations on two traditions that
I have closely observed, but first I must put myself into some for you to

First, I am not a proficient potter. You might find my work crude or
amateurish. So, I do not speak from the point of view of a highly skilled
practitioner of the art. But, I have lived with pottery for a long time,
beginning with the fact that I grew up in Flagstaff, AZ and spent many
Sunday afternoons at the Museum of Northern Arizona being mesmerized by the
Anasazi, Sinagua, Hohokam, Mimbres, Sinaloa, etc. pottery in their
collection. I learned enough to roughly date a small ruin that I may have
stumbled on in the back country by the type of potsherds that could be found.

My wife in Japanese, a graduate of the Japan National Women's Art
University in Tokyo. I have a direct connection into the pottery
traditions of that country also. One of her cousins (from the richer side
of the family) had a collection of Momoyama period (1573-1603) Bizen
pottery. But, I would not claim that there was reverence for pottery in
her family. Mostly, their taste ran to recent florid Kutani or Imari
wares, generally mass produced. In my trips to Japan, I had developed a
taste for Bizen and Shigaraki style pottery and even went so far as to
purchase (in 1975) a plate by Shimaoka, but only because I could not afford
to buy Fujiwara Kei.

When I finally began to make my own, I reached into those two traditions
for my source of learning. I even took a workshop conducted by Emma Lewis
Mitchell and Dolores Lewis Garcia, two of the daughters of Acoma potter,
Lucy Lewis. I made bowls that my wife calls "chawan". Neither of these
facts made me Native American or Japanese. I am who I am and I work on
what I please. Right now, I am giving variety to my drinking of sake.

So, what do I want to say about tradition and context.

First, potters who love their art see other cultures through their pots and
their relationship to pots. Engineers see the world in other terms. I have
been both. I spent five years in Tokyo working for IBM. During that
time, I had a lot of Japanese co-workers who were very interested in
computers, software, computer games, modems, etc. I only met one who knew
or cared anything about pottery. I knew a family that had a fine vase
that belonged to an ancestor. They kept it out of respect for the ancestor
and not out of respect for the pot. Where Vince told Cindi to "not
condemn all contemporary Japanese because of the bad taste of a few." I
would remind Vince that you are both seeing the culture in different

Tradition is something that all artists must deal with in the context of
their own lives and work. If you are a realistic painter in Japan, you
must deal with Mt. Fuji, just as a realistic painter in Austrailia must
deal with the outback. It is there physically, and in the traditions of
your art. You can choose to find your own way or to intentionally not
depict it, but there is always a choice.

Pottery has two characteristics that make is all deal with those
traditions. As useful objects, pots have for all time been items of trade
and commerce. There is also a permanence in pots which provides us with
examples that are not only from another culture, but also from many
previous states of that other culture. So, we have to deal with it all, in
some way. But that means we have to really look at those pots and
understand what made them great. Then we have to look at our own and
understand what keeps them from being great.

Finally, I would like to quote three potters concerning traditions and the
past, all three of which are being quoted out of context.

"My aims as a potter are all drawn from studying superlative works of
antiquity. ... But I do not try to imitate them in any superficial way. I
try to go straight to their inner value, their essence and spirit."
Kitaoji Rosanjin

" is not possible for us to go back to the forms of times that are
passed, to the standards of beauty of other countries--those of Greece or
China or the 18th Century or others, be they ever so excellent. We are not
these people any more; we live, think, love differently, believe in other
values, move on other planes and have a greatly accelerated pace. So other
forms, not theirs, will become necessary for us, just as we wear other
clothes, have other houses and travel in other vehicles than they did."
Marguerite Wildenhain

"potters need to look at all of it. respect history and what made us."
Mel Jacobson


Wes Rolley

"Happiness is to be fully engaged in the activity that you believe in and,
if you are very good at it, well that's a bonus." -- Henry Moore