A City Potter: Married to Clay-Confessions of a Carving Addict

My intensity, a natural part of me, drove him crazy. It repulsed him so much he couldn't bear to teach me. I was foisted upon his assistant. The humiliation caused me to withdraw as each stare of his pierced through me. I was the dunce of the class. I was categorized unteachable and the 1st class was not even over. I was that child thrown in the trashcan reminiscent of my Catholic school days where children were treated like animals to be trained and whipped into submission. It was always someone else. This time it was me. At least as an adult I had the choice to leave. And I did. Yet through all of this there remained a passion to one day reacquaint myself with this marvelous substance of the earth that I only knew such a short time. I knew I had a passion and that I had to find again. Clay was waiting for me to rediscover it.

Fast forward decades...back into "hostile" territory, hesitant, excited yet nervous as I made my way on the M23 Crosstown bus to La Mano Studio at 6th Ave and 26th Street in NYC. Self-conscious to the extreme I was in pottery class always waiting for the inevitable axe to come crashing down and obliterate any moment of creation I might have allowed to surface. Throwing did not come easily to me. I watched pottery video after pottery video hoping to find a clue, some word to suddenly lift the cloud of confusion. I floundered, a fish on a planet without water, the inner voices of shame and doubt and contempt all too loud. It has literally taken years for them to soften, for my self-consciousness to abate and start to create like a child-wide open, without limit, without reprimand.

And now? Clay and I are involved in a passionate relationship nurtured by the wheel-the 3 of us a part of a partnership so intense it can feel overwhelming at times. Throwing clay is a passion of mine as carving is a passion of mine, the surface of the clay inviting, begging to be "written" upon, to be marked for all eternity. A confession: I am something of an addict! The symbols I use repeatedly have become my language, a lexicon I go to time and time again combining and recombining them into a visual dance-my own clay journal reminiscent of an ancient scroll. With black underglaze painted and wiped the carvings reveal themselves more starkly, their secrets whispered as they weave through colored patches of glaze.

Maybe my carving habit is fueled by the fact that I am a City Potter and don't have my own studio where I can use my choice of kiln, clay or mix glaze recipes. Now, a studio potter where I rent space at La Mano I have 24 hour access (ah NYC!!!). I am able to have my pieces (artifacts) fired in their electric kiln using their wheels, clay and glazes which I supplement by buying commercial glazes and underglazes. All this to say these constraints have forced me to push the limits in a wonderful way. As having my own pottery studio in a small Manhattan apartment is not feasible, I needed to find a way where I could express myself. Carving, creating texture through layers by painting glaze and underglaze, then wiping, repeating and repeating...and repeating.

It has been 5 years since I first reconnected with my soulmate, my companion, my partner in creation-clay. Many times it has been a stormy relationship-the fault all mine. Instead of listening to it I fought it. Instead of feeling what it needed I pushed it away. We indeed have a passionate relationship, but now it is one of knowing. We now know each other and can adjust our tempos to fit each other. There are volatile days, but mostly it is a relationship of deep respect and camaraderie. For this reason, except in the beginning, I never sign my work for it is not mine.  It is ours and to claim it as mine only would be such dishonesty; it would be stealing what is not mine alone to claim.

Why this long story, this confession of a carving addict? Simply to say for decades I let someone steal my dream, steal from me a relationship that has become my life. Never ever let someone else steal or tarnish your dream, rob you of the essence of your life burying it so deeply it takes decades to rediscover your soul. That is self-mutilation. As humans we are so much more.

The next monthly?  A City Potter: Lost Innocence and the Clapping African Women Potters 

And please...if you think people can learn from or might enjoy my story kindly pass it on. 


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