I’ve only been making these sgraffito mugs for about three months, but it finally feels like I have achieved some functional work that is truly my own. Here is a story about an event that helped me get where I am now.
For anyone that’s followed my functional work in the past, you may recall the arabesque teapots, stamped mugs, and ornate embellishments lavished upon every pot. The problem with these previous pots was that they were perfectly competent pots that had nothing whatsoever to do with me or my personality. They were good pots, but they were not personal. And at least for me, when a pot is personal, when it resonates with the maker’s intent and unique style, well, that is when a pot is truly special. I could see this je ne sais quoi emanating from other potters’ work and was frustrated to not see it coming from mine.
This feeling reached a tipping point when a gallery that had been selling my early work reported to me that their customers were scared of my pots. That the pots were too formal, too elaborate, too intimidating for them to ever use. Instantly a couple of things went though my head. Firstly, I have always been a person who strongly dislikes the idea of the “special” plates that sit in a cabinet 360 days of the year and are only brought out on major holidays. As soon as I heard the gallery’s comment, I realized that I had been making that exact type of pot, the 360 day cabinet sitters. How ironic.
Secondly, I had always loaded so much embellishment and detail onto my work as a way to invite people in, to make them want to examine & take in every facet of the pot. It was now clear to me that my strategy was failing, and all the detailing and embellishments were just serving to overwhelm and intimidate.
Thirdly, I had a small moment of panic. I clearly needed to stop making these pots and make something else. But what?
Finally, I was overwhelmingly grateful to the gallery for giving me this information. As an artist, you don’t always get to hear people’s completely candid opinions of your work. Without this commentary, I may have continued making unfulfilling pots for much longer than I actually did. If you are a gallery owner reading this, I encourage you to pass on customer feedback to your artists, even when it is negative. It may just be the catalyst for a new and better phase of their work.
That incident happened probably about two years ago, over which time I have gone through and discarded several other attempts at achieving personal pots. Now I have finally come up with some pots that are inviting, and I feel represent my aesthetic better than my functional work ever has. I have already gotten an overwhelmingly positive response on them from friends, family, and my new gallery, the Appalachian Artisan Center. I may end up changing my work again in the future, but for now I feel like my pots finally have that certain something they have always lacked.
Eastern Screech Owl Mug, 2013