Thursday, May 21, 2009

"I could never drink out of that cup"

I took eight tall, bulky teabowls out of the kiln last week, pots created by digging out clay from the inside of a roughly wedged two-pound cone of brown stoneware clay. Holding the raw clay in my right hand and digging out the inside with a trimming tool in my left resulted in uneven sidewalls, holes accidentally dug through the walls and then patched, rims that broke apart and had to either be left that way or also patched with raw clay. Some rims flared upward on one side of the rough circle, some stayed more or less on the same plane.
None of those things mattered to me. In fact, that was what I hoped would happen. Throwing on a wheel results in even rims, one quadrant on the same plane as its opposite. Even cutting the rim after the first pull, which I often do, still results in ups and downs that play with the plane of the rim but don't deviate from it very much. In these dug-out teabowls, deviation is the norm. Sometimes substantial deviation. I like that.
But it also scares some people. I knew it would. I often take new mugs or teabowls to the coffee shop to try them out, make sure they work, give myself something new to drink from in the morning, make sure people know I'm still making new pots. I brought one of the new teabowls - the left one in the photo above - to Coffee Obsession in Woods Hole Sunday morning. It came in for some informal and lighthearted (I think) "criticism" by the people at the table. One coffee drinker said, "Well, everyone has to start somewhere," to much laughter.
Tuesday at Coffee Obsession in Falmouth (there are two branches of the same great coffee shop), a woman said, "I could never drink out of that cup," speaking of the teabowl on the right in the photo. Another woman agreed that she would spill coffee all over herself if she tried to drink from that particular cup. Which either means she can't figure out how to avoid the single gap in that particular rim - and I know that's not true - or she's just more accustomed to drinking from the kind of vessel you see in the center of the photo.
The fact is, we all become accustomed to certain forms in our lives - whether it's sitting on the left side of the automobile to drive or drinking from a round, evenly rimmed cup with no disturbing unevenness. Take us out of our comfort zone and we're ... uncomfortable.
All of which means I can't stop making mugs like the one in the middle and turn all my production to rough and uneven handbuilt teabowls. No matter how much I like them. Not, at least, if I expect people to buy enough of my work to keep me in clay and natural gas.
I do like the temmoku mug in the middle, in spite of the fact that its funky neighbors make it look rather ordinary. As always, the trick is finding a way to make pots that I like that people will buy.


tsbroome said...

It is hard to find that balance of making what you like and what will sell, considering there are so many people out there with absolutely no taste whatsoever! I love shino, but it is such a hard sale. My favorite comment about shino once was, "it just won't match my kitchen! Who the hell cares, it's SHINO!! I personally like the tea bowls, and I like that process of digging out the clay. I have a friend that studied in Japan and she has a great story about sitting next to a Japanese potter that dug out all of his teabowls. He threw one away one day and she dug it out and fired it. It's wonderful, but much like yours, holes that are patched and ripped rims. Love it!

Hollis Engley said...

Thanks, Tracey. I used to have that kind of shino reaction from pot-buyers, but I think most of them are past that. Not sure why. Maybe Cape Cod people's kitchens are full of mismatched stuff.

Anonymous said...

well it's not surprising really that education is half the effort. it's a funny statement though "i could never drink out of that cup", i mean what would happen?... an explosion perhaps? the other statement about everyone having to start somewhere is just insulting, i'm always amazed that people feel comfortable venturing into areas where they have less experience and still being overtly critical... strange, i dig the cups btw

Hollis Engley said...

Thanks, Jim. I always wonder about educating people. I guess we need to do that if we want our unconventional stuff to sell, but it does get tiring after a while. To defend the guy who said, "Everyone's got to start somewhere" ... he said that with tongue firmly in cheek. He's close to 70 and he and his wife bought a plate of mine last year and tell me about using it all the time. So, I think he was mostly kidding. He knows I can make pots. But it's that kind of group at the Sunday table.

paul jessop said...

Hi Hollis, what you have done there Hollis is make something that's in your head, which has to be made other wise you would go mad. we all have stuff in our heads but some people cant find a way to express it. in my mind I love the one in the middle. by making the other ones you have got people talking about pots, which leads them to talking about the plate they use all the time, and word will spread , and in time more of the people will come and visit you, but they will buy what they like, and the story will continue.
Isn't that how us potters make our living, by enriching peoples lives.
And making the odd, ODD thing ?

Hollis Engley said...

Good words, Paul. I do make the occasional odd, ODD thing. I think we all should. The same old thing gets very tiresome.

mudheartpottery said...

I love those dugout shino cups - but I have a love affair with shino and its magic works best on just this sort of patched and ripped form.