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art craft children culture

updated sat 28 aug 04


Ben on fri 27 aug 04

A friend of mine, a potter from Australia, a charming German woman, who =
used to translate technical publications, spent most of her life in =
Australia and has for many years made a decent living making pottery =
told me on a recent visit: the last thing I want to do is make perfect =
pottery. Kind of set me free.

It's funny how much trouble we go to to make things look rustic. My last =
interlude away from clay was starting a rustic furniture company for =
some friends of mine. It was easy (aesthetically) because the raw =
hickory sticks were inherently rustic, add some southwestern hand loom =
styled upholstery and Voila. All I had to do (besides work my tail off) =
was maintain carefully (craftsmanship) control over proportions =
seasoning, sizing etc. All fairly mechanical. High quality hardwood =
furniture. Very rustic. Kind of pricey. Couldn't make it fast enough. =
(They're still going strong at

But clay, that's much harder. There's no inherent aesthetic =
characteristic. Those ancient Japanese potters weren't striving for a =
"look". At least not 'til the tea masters got 'em going. Someone wrote =
that the korean potters made bowls without even noticing (the fact that =
they were making them.) They were ingenuous. Like my children. Give =
them a piece of clay and they come up with the most amazing textures. =
Ask them how. They don't know. They didn't think about it. They just =
did it. They're not artists. They're children.=20
Try to imitate it. Impossible.
In any traditional culture that produced pottery, or otherwise, there =
was a system. Like Mel says, think like a 14th century Chinese potter. =
But it wasn't an aesthetic system, it was a vital part of an =
agricultural economy. "Gotta have something to store the- rice", =
vinegar, wine, molasses, whiskey, sauerkraut, pickles, kim che, fruit, =
olive oil- you name it(I have a 2 gallon jug, made in MO, that I found =
in barn, still has the deisel in it. But my favorite piece is a nasty =
old fruit jar, salt glazed, fire scorched on one side, slightly immature =
albany slip glaze liner, and chipped all around the rim where =
somebody's great grandmother pried the lid off with a butter knife year =
after year making peach cobbler for sunday supper. ). Walk out of your =
front door. Use what you can find. Take your children with you. =
Beautiful. Difficult.

So we extract the aesthetic. Try to reproduce it. Can't do it with out =
the system. So we fire wood, raw minerals, native clays... To get "the =
But what about the system? The aesthetic without the culture; that's =
craft of another sort. But that's why people buy rustic or hand crafted =
whatever. Its an instinctive reaction against industrialization, =
dehumanization and the resulting loss of culture, not simply in the =
material loss, but something deeper.

When I was growing up, I'd have been voted least likely to have an =
artistic bone in my body. I long to have my father show me how to cut a =
board, make a bird house anything to work with my hands. But I cut the =
grass, raked the leaves, split the firewood, washed the windows, =
shoveled the dog stuff.....Wax on Wax off. In my twenties I taught =
myself to throw. Hardest manual skill I've ever learned. Took =
something deeper than natural ability. Something passed on by my father =
in his own cantankerous way and for which I love and respect him.
This is what I want my children to have. And more. =20

Gotta go,