Sherman Hall with a set of ceramic dinnerware

I know there are six place settings here, and there is a smile on my face (and I am indeed proud of them), but I won’t tell you how many sets I made to end up with these six relatively matching sets (but it was less than 20).

At the risk of lapsing into writing about writing right out of the gate (which I try to avoid, as it’s almost always a bad idea and is often a device writers use as an easy way out), I do feel like I should share with you that writing this column can sometimes feel like accidental insight. I tend to start with stream-of-consciousness type of brainstorming, and I just keep writing drivel until something accidentally sounds good. Apparently, a thought needs to leave my brain so I can have a good look at it before I’m willing to either own it or discard it. The result of this kind of writing can be very hit or miss. Sometimes it ends up clarifying something I thought I believed, and just needed to get out in order to articulate. Other times, I think I know something pretty solidly and once I start writing about it, I find that logic refutes the position I’m attempting to justify. Those are rough ones, especially close to print deadline. They make for some late nights.


It occurs to me that I employ this approach in the studio as well. Until I see something outside my own head, it’s difficult to assess it objectively (or at least anything close to objectively). I’m going through this as I prepare for a dinnerware show I’ve been invited to take part in. Now, I don’t necessarily make dinner sets; I make pieces of dinnerware, but not sets—not if I can help it. But I know it’s a really good exercise that helps me clarify what I think about form and surface and maintaining continuity in those concerns across a variety of forms. So I said yes, and accepted it as a sort of challenge to improve upon my current skill as a dinnerware maker, hoping perhaps to get closer to becoming a dinner set maker. Of course, I don’t want to simply reproduce the dinnerware design I made for my own family’s use (shown here in this picture), partly because I want that to continue to be one-of-a-kind, and partly because, by the time I was done with it, I was really done with it—those of you who make sets might know what I mean. So, on to the next step in my set-making life.


Throughout the process of trying to make something new in the studio (a new rim on a plate in hopes that it will catch a runny glaze just right, a new foot on the bowls so they lift up rather than sit down), I cannot help but compare it to the development of ideas for a new column in the magazine. I suppose, on some level—perhaps many levels—you don’t care about my writing process. It’s sort of like how most of your customers may not care about your making process, as long as you end up with a finished product they enjoy and can appreciate enough to purchase. I’m lucky, though; I’m talking to a group of people who I know understand process. Perhaps I fall into comparing studio tasks and office tasks a little too often, but that’s just because writing about the studio causes my head to go to the studio, and if my body is not able to follow, I am left with the process that’s in front of me, which is putting words to paper. I can’t eat off of it, or send it to the dinnerware exhibition, but I can use it to clarify what I think so that I can go to the studio with the right approach to making. It also reminds me that I don’t have all the time I think I have. That deadline is not as far off as I think—it will almost assuredly arrive before I am ready. And the last thing I want to do is empty our cupboard to have work to send to this show. Off to the studio!


—Sherman Hall

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