Sometimes Frances Palmer the Potter shares little pearls of wisdom from the clay, when she isn't applying little pearls of clay to the rims of her vessels. She sits at her wheel all day long, so it isn't surprising that she notices what bubbles up from the primal ooze. And she's in a frenzy of throwing these days, in preparation for a Meet the Artist (with work for sale!) on April 20th at the beautiful shop Terrain in Westport, CT.
Head Butler and The Child and I went to visit Frances at her studio recently, so that we could play with clay. The Child was being exposed to a new experience that might Broaden Her Mind if she would but open it. (Though honestly her mind seems open to everything, she's just secretive as life is more fun that way.) These days I am intent on one goal: Broaden My Play. Head Butler took one look at the muck, and felt he was quite broad enough, thank you.
There is always something beautiful to gaze on in Frances' studio so while The Child sat at the wheel I poked around, peered into the scrap bucket, admired pieces that were drying before being baked, played with some flowers.
What a lesson I got when I finally sat at the wheel. It annoys me when people complain about the prices of handmade items, and then turn around and spend three times that on stuff that is mass manufactured. Support Your Local Artisans! They have to make a living, too. When I tried to make a pot, something I have not done since high school, I was stunned at how incredibly difficult it was, how forceful I had to be, how many things can and do go wrong.
I learned many lessons from the clay that day, beginning the moment I sat down: It is hard to find the center. Hard to stay on center. Hard to dig in, and not be thrown off balance. Hard to know when you've pushed it far enough. Which I did not know.
My little vessel was looking good, I was thinning the sides nicely, beginning to feel the clay, and I was just asking Frances to come admire a lip I had drawn up and out and then pushed in, when --zip-- I lost my focus, my fingernail cut right through the wall and my pot got thrown for a loop. Perhaps the pot was expressing my mortal clay.
However, I immediately became attached to the thrown loop and announced that a crackled glaze would finish it perfectly. Frances promised to let it dry, and when I asked how my pot was looking a day later, she said: Patience. Clay cannot be forced to dry faster than it wishes. Clay cannot be forced to do anything faster than it wishes, lest it explode. Same with our mortal clay.
And then Frances reminded me that we must do everything in stages lest the process become overwhelming.
As for my accidental pot, Frances says that it is good sometimes to follow a mistake through and see what happens, and that some of her best shapes have come from accidents. I like the idea of fortunate accidents. And happy accidents. They can have great beauty and charm.
Mine, however, did not. I threw it away. Sometimes it is better simply to let go and move on.
You have to focus, Frances said, so that you move the clay and the clay doesn't move you. However it seems to me the clay has a mind of its own, I said, as I dug in and the thing pulled away, isn't that part of its beauty?
Well yes, says Frances, the clay does have its memory, so you must have a firm idea in mind before you begin to shape a form, and Go As You Mean To Go. I will have to think about this one for a couple more years.
And stop when you are tired, as that is when things fall apart.
The Child, of course, made a near perfect vessel on her first try. Head Butler was not surprised. But I could tell, he was pleased.