The Pottery Spiral

Linda Mosley ([email protected])

My understanding of pottery making grows as a spiral. I repeat the same general process of preparing clay, making, and firing, but with each round, my knowledge expands. While I'm waiting for the first pieces to become leather-hard, I have time to make another series, and then go back to the first to trim and join parts. This exercises my patience and ability to remember what I had previsualized at the beginning of a series. It's very easy for this to become a comfortable routine, but I am constantly on the lookout for unexpected opportunities as the cycle progresses. As with any other skill or art form, repeated practice brings awareness of the subtleties of choice available at every stage. What appears to be a simple mug or bowl is the result of deciding to take a certain predictable path or to explore that less-traveled and mysterious one.

I love gardening for many of the same reasons. It takes several seasons of observation to understand the soil, wind patterns, seasonal light, etc. in a particular location or micro-climate. A few years ago, I imagined how lovely it would be to see through our dining room window the ornamental grass, Miscanthus 'Morning Light' high on a berm in the perfect position that would allow the sunrise to make it's plumes glow. I prepared the soil, planted a small start of the grass, watered, and waited. Sure enough, in two years it was mature and thrilled us with its glory on autumn mornings. An unexpected bonus was that tiny finches made the tall plumes dance with the weight of their tiny bodies as they relished the seeds. Of course, not all plans end so happily, but each experience adds to a depth of understanding. I follow a similar process in pottery making — imagine a vase that is as full of life as a gourd, with a swelling belly and neck like a stem, in proportions that ring true. I sit at the potter's wheel, over and over again, changing proportions and curves with each pot, getting closer and closer to what I had imagined. I patiently wait for the pots dry, fire them to the bisque stage, and then apply glaze and hope that the final firing will "kiss" the pot with flame paths, accentuating the curves, leaving traces of the life of the fire that hardened it.

Pottery is a hollow three-dimensional form and to me, the interior is as important as the exterior: a pot is architecture on a small scale. I like to create a sense of harmony spiced with a little surprise to delight the eye and sense of touch, so subtle that you have to pay close attention to find it. The heat of tea warms the hands and the soul through a well-balanced teabowl, and the tea's aroma is directed to the nose when the bowl is lifted to the lips. I consider all these things while sitting at the wheel with the wet lump of clay passing through my hands. I make a little well in the bottom of the bowl to collect the last sip of tea, I raise the wall to direct the tea smoothly, and shape the rim to fit the lips, I leave a thick base so that a deep foot can be cut when the clay is half-dry, to raise hot bowl off the table and hand. Later I coat it with a glaze that will enhance the tea color. Some days the bowls are wide and shallow for summer, sometimes deep for winter, sometimes smooth and even, others times heavy with ridges left by my fingers to catch a flowing glaze. Every day is repetition, but never the same — a cycle that spirals upward in the way that clay is lifted into a pot by my fingers as the wheel turns round and round. It feels right.

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