I was all set to sit down and write an inspiring observation of studio life when I realized that I have spent precious little time in the studio over the last few months. Once in a while, I wonder if I could really even make it as a studio potter, even though clay has so much to do with my identity at this point in my life. It’s been more than a decade since I tried actually being a full-time studio potter, and I’m the first to admit that I did not put my best foot forward in those efforts. I wonder how many of us really do want to be professional studio potters. Perhaps more to the point is whether or not we would even agree on what that means. At the risk of making this one of those missives from an editor that simply restates the contents page, I would like to point out several items in this issue from various sides of the conversation around the lifestyle and livelihood of studio pottery. I do this primarily because studio pottery is—let’s be honest—a hobby for me, regardless of how seriously I feel about it, and these folks have been involved in studio ceramics in ways that I have not.
The first item you’ll run across is on the very next page in the Letters column. In last month’s Letters, we published a response to my January letter, which in turn has prompted further dialog on the subject of quality work, life and lifestyle choices, tradition, and our place in our own culture.
This next piece I think adds an inspirational tone to the topic, and that’s the Studio Visit from Euan Craig (p. 32). Two years after the earthquake and associated tsunami and nuclear disaster on the eastern coast of Japan, he has rebuilt a home and studio on the other side of the mountains, and his perspective and insights on making pots are probably close to the hearts of many. Not only did he refurbish a house and add a studio, but he rebuilt one of Shoji Hamada’s kickwheels for the space—and he has what I’ll call “humble big plans” moving forward. The simplicity and clarity with which he approaches making pots is a joy to read about, as is his perspective on home and studio.
Tony Clennell’s career progression [“Rough Edges,” p. 40] from stoneware potter and workshop presenter to graduate student, to part-time ceramics professor, to production potter, to earthenware majolica maker, and back to wood-fired stoneware potter sounds tumultuous until you realize he fit all that into several decades. What we come away with is a sense of a potter who has taken many different paths to more or less the same place, which is self fulfilment through creativity, balanced against making a living.
From there, I’ll draw a line to Simon Levin’s article [“Paired Views,” p. 47]about his collaboration with another potter, Amy Smith. One of the intriguing observations made in this text by Simon is that, “Good dialog has clarified and motivated my investment and presence in the studio.” Throughout the article, both Simon and Amy comment on their perceived successes and failures of the pieces being shown along their collaborative path. They are, in effect, inviting you in to the conversation (but I’m not going to give you their email addresses).
It’s possible that this topic began where this issue ends, with a specific question we asked Scott Cooper, a once-part-time, then-full-time, now-part-time-again studio potter, about his conscious decision to back away from pottery as his primary livelihood (see “Killing the Dream,” p. 80). I think there are some interesting questions here for all of us having to do with our own motivations, circumstances, sense of worth, romanticized versions of the potter’s life, and other personal ideals. We all wear many hats (or jackets, or aprons, as the case may be), and I think the primary concern for me is not so much the size of your pottery hat, but simply that you have one. –Sherman Hall