Whenever I happen across someone I haven't talked to in a very long time, pottery always comes in at the same point, and with a measure of surprise.
"You made this? I never knew you did this kind of stuff!"
In some cases, I get a distrustful gaze as if I've kept some deep, dark secret. But the truth is...in potter years, I am only nearly 5 years old. It's my interest that goes back to childhood, hidden in my internal library of things I've always liked, but never attempted. I wasn't "inspired" by that scene in Ghost. I was inspired by Egyptian ruins, African art exhibits at the University Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and field trips to museums throughout Maryland, DC and New York. I was inspired by local Native American artists featuring their works at local festivals.
But like many kids growing up in a modest middle-class family, I didn't actually think to ask about pottery. Oldest child of three, you feel a bit of reservation asking about something that adds yet another expense to the household. So, I flipped through books and daydreamed in my mind. I imagined what it must feel like, moving your hands through mud, working in time with a wheel, spinning. And eventually, as many childhood curiosities do, it disappeared to make room for other things.
As an adult, I uprooted my life when I moved to Austin. Running from things, running to things. When the dust settled on all the upheaval, I wasn't left with anything as I thought it would be. I look back and realize that those are the moments when you really understand what you are made of. And it's in the greatest heartaches that you find the very best in yourself. And I did. In the midst of sorting me out, finding my voice and learning how to let go, I came back to that curiosity. I remember sitting up very late one evening, watching the silver speckled Texas night from the open blinds in my bedroom and listening hard to quiet as is I was missing some cue. A calm settled over me, temporarily stifling my sadness, and I asked myself out loud,
"No time like the present...so, what have you always wanted to do, that you've never done?"
I got out of bed, walked down the hallway to my office and opened my laptop. I searched "pottery" and "Austin." I found my studio. And right then, at nearly 3 in the morning, I left a message inquiring about pottery classes.
A few days later, I was enrolled. A few weeks later, I was sitting in an airy, dusty studio with eleven other faces, all at varying skill levels. Our instructor introduced herself and handed me my first tool set. A stiff, fresh yellow sponge. A needle tool. A wire tool. A trimming tool. A wooden rib. I collected my plastic bucket...filled it with water, and fell in love.
My first instructor told me after a few weeks, that she was surprised at how quickly I was adapting. I learned to center, fairly quickly. By the end of the first 8 week session, I could make a pretty respectable little bowl. At the beginning of the next session, she introduced me as her "prodigy" to the new students in class. In retrospect, I think she was gilding the lily a bit, but I will acknowledge that I felt very comfortable behind the wheel. And I was not without my challenges: I was left handed, learning to throw right handed, from a right handed instructor. I was struggling with inner ear issues that make balance and vertigo a sometimes persistent nuisance. And because of the demands of my job, I could rarely come in to the studio beyond my one day a week.
Despite all of that, pottery became the calm in a storm. It was..and in many ways, still is my hiding place. The studio space is where I leave everything behind. Clay demands my full attention. When in the studio space with my potter pals, conversations happen - sometimes deep and moving, other times silly and almost dreadful...but then there are these lulls, when all heads are down, bodies tucked over the hum of the wheel. Creating. Centering. Pulling. Shaping. I contend that we're working as much on ourselves as we are that ball of clay waiting for it's form. And there is something deeply magical about those moments for me.
We're all in development. And maybe that's "why pottery." Maybe.