So I was making handles for mugs the other day; one-fingered handles of a design that I can’t seem to get away from. When I started making them, I was going out on a limb to see if I could make one I liked using. I had used a few one-finger handles that I thought looked great, but they didn’t keep the rest of my hand away from a hot mug. Rather than putting a goob of clay beneath the handle to solve the problem, I tried to come up with a loop that would integrate into the handle. Like anything, it took some trial and error, and now I just don’t make any other mug handle. I don’t try that hard to get away from it, but it does make me worry about getting stuck in a rut, so once in a while I’ll try another design, and I always abandon it—again—and stick with my trusty one-finger double-loop handle. Really, there is something comforting about being “stuck” with a certain process or design, as long as you poke at it once in a while to make sure it still makes sense. I really enjoy messing around with bottle shapes and bowl rims, but I just don’t change my mugs or handles. There is a satisfaction to assessing the subtleties of a simple thing like a mug handle, making it incrementally better with each iteration. Maybe it’s so straightforward that I can see the subtleties more easily (or perhaps I just have a simple mind, and complex forms confound me). At any rate, what started out as an attempt to solve a functional problem on a somewhat academic level, and which really didn’t need solving urgently, has ended up being a very satisfying studio process and has informed other aspects of my making process in unexpected ways. Probably the most important is that the entire handle is measured with, and constructed around, my own hand. Perhaps this is what makes this one little handle feel more personal than even the mug it’s attached to, which was formed on the wheel.
Now, I’m not trying to start a discussion on the relative merits and comparisons between wheel throwing and handbuilding, or recommend against using tools, or suggest that those of us who have more of our actual hands in the clay are better or more informed or more satisfied in some way than others, but I do think there is something nice about being reminded after several years in clay of the reason I first got into it—the amazement at the things one can do with just hands and clay. Clay is just very personal in a way that not many other media are. Again, not better or worse, but more physically intimate and personal. At the risk of outing myself as a jaded curmudgeon, I have never had much use for flowery pronouncements about the spirituality of the ceramic experience, even though I do understand and appreciate those observations. I hate poetry about clay—it’s just so sappy—and I think this is because it is so simple a process that all one can do by trying to convey the experience with words is to unnecessarily smother it in explanation. Of course, it could be said that I am doing that right now—and I suppose on some level what we do here every month is a little like “dancing about architecture,” according to Martin Mull—so I’m not sure I have a strong leg to stand on here. So with that, I’ll stop with the words and offer a few images to explain what I mean.– Sherman Hall, editor.