The Essence of Art: man’s selective re-creation of reality (Ayn Rand)
Creating is in our DNA. The earliest documented art, found in Indonesia, are carvings in a shell with a shark’s tooth dating back 540,000 years (pre Homo sapiens). Just this week, scientists in France dated elaborate stalagmite structures in a cave underground back to those supposed stupid, rude and untalented Neanderthals thriving over 150,000 years ago.
Pottery, objects made from fired clay, are the first synthetic objects made by humans. Since clay is found throughout the world, a variety of objects from many places have been found dating about 30,000 years ago. Relatively, new in the scope of world affairs.
Man started making pottery when we evolved from a hunting and gathering into agricultural societies. That makes perfect sense to me. Nomads chasing wildebeests with rough edged arrow heads, hand-carved from rock, would probably not be inclined to haul a lot of earthenware around with them. Crockery, the growing of grain, and cooking seem to all go together not only in man’s development but in my sense of the history.
Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”. Since I retired in November, I have been awaking the inner child artist in me. As regular readers of this blog know, several weeks back I have been busy with papier-mâché (see https://wordpress.com/post/julierobinsonblog.com/2549 ). Starting in March, I took an 8-week beginning pottery class at our local community center. The class met every Wednesday for three and half hours. There were ten of us in the class. Most were seniors though we had one very talented younger woman, who had moved to Boise a year ago, and two young disabled male adults. Several of the retired women had taken the beginner class previously and worked on their own projects instead of following the prescribed class instructions.
Our instructor, Chris, is coordinator of the arts at the community center. He is Irish with bright red hair, a quick smile, great patience and kindness. He holds a degree in fine arts from Boise State and is a master potter, known in the region for some of his works. He told us he couldn’t imagine getting through college until he discovered pottery in high school.
Our class began with learning how to throw pots on the wheel. I found I was not good on the wheel. My legs would shake and subsequently my hands, braced on my legs couldn’t find “center”. “Center” is a key beginning point of pulling a beautiful tall pot. As a beginning class, most the wheel-thrown pots stayed at 4 or 5 inches and were shaped largely like coffee mugs. But my pots were only about an inch and that was after great help from Chris. I couldn’t find one of my pots to glaze but the one I did is glazed in my favorite blue.
Scott, my son, says it looks like an ash tray. But I’m using it on my dressing table to hold earrings. I love the color.
One of my thrown pots started to go off kilter. At about this time, Chris told us to start using our imagination to make our pots more whimsical. He meant different heights and designs on the wheel. But I took his directions to be an invitation to move into fantasy land. I pulled my thrown pot further off center. I subsequently marked up the skin of the pot with wood imprints. Once stained brown and green, I think of it as my “tree trunk” entry into Neverland and the lost boys.
I found I was in my element working with slabs of clay. The slabs are made by kneading the clay into bricks and then pulling the squares through a roller. The resulting slab is about ¼ inch thick when appropriately rolled. Our first slab assignment was a box with a lid.
The box is made by careful measuring, cutting with an exacto knife, piecing together the parts and then hitting the clay with flat wooden spatula to solidify the form for firing. My box has a Daisy on top. I had a grandmother named Daisy and my niece is named Daisy. The Daisy is also the symbol of PEO, a philanthropic organization that provides scholarships to women. My sister is the current state president of, Idaho PEO, an organization of over 3000 women. My mother was the state president of PEO in Wyoming when I was in high school. On the front is a white calla lily. My daughter, Kayla, is named after the calla lily which grows wild in China and Idaho (see https://wordpress.com/post/julierobinsonblog.com/1742).
I have my box sitting above my computer in my office, a reminder of how many strong women have supported me in my life. The colors are a little too greenish for my taste but this is the result of limited choices for our first glazing experience. We had a choice of two whites, a non-shiny copper and the green iridescent. I have learned while watching others glazing in class, glaze is not a precise science. One has to put on the glaze and wait to see what emerges from the interaction of fire and paint.
My final product and probably my artistically best object is a pinch pot. The pinch pot is made by taking a clay in the shape and size of a baseball and slowly pinching it into a pot. As the class went on, we all became more experimental and creative. I created stripes and circles on the pot with waxed paper coated on back with a sticky substance. Areas covered with paper when dipped in the first glaze could be left to turn black, the result of no glaze. This can be seen on the black areas of the daisy and calla lily on the box. I chose to pull off the paper and dip my pot again in the white bubble glaze. This glaze provides texture and resulted in the copper accents where previously I had paper strips. I have this pot proudly displayed in my living room on our bookcase of art objects. It seems to fit right in.
A number of my classmates chose to enroll in another class right away. I love the summers in Boise and would prefer to be outside rather than in a class room. After eight weeks, I picked up my tools, my pots, and donated my left-over clay to the community center.
I may choose to take the beginning class again in the fall or winter. If I choose to take it again, I will focus on the areas that gave me the most joy, i.e. the hand-crafted items. By taking the beginning class and trying both throwing pots on the wheel and creating free-form, I have much more respect for the technical skill necessary to throw a gorgeous pot.
Our instructor, Chris would tell us to listen to the clay and then your art will emerge. He cautioned us against starting with a preconceived idea of where to end up. Using this approach, I created an entrance to Neverland, a strong women’s box, and pinch pot dipped in the glaze called pond scum. I found as Pablo Picasso advised my inner artist.