When people ask me what I do, it is extremely rare that they don’t tell me about a connection they have to ceramics. The memories the medium invokes are strong, whether it is something they made when they were younger, going with their father to check the kilns, or telling me about their Grandmother and the bisqueware she painted. All of these are magnificent, and the conversation that comes from it is a good reason to be a ceramist.
But last night when I heard a friend’s connection to clay, it knocked my socks off. He started by telling me that his Grandmother did ceramics. He moved his hands to explain what he meant. I didn’t get the meaning at first. I couldn’t tell if it was hand-building or throwing, as he went on, I realized why. He told me that his Grandmother made all of the family’s pottery. She sent him and the other kids to the river to collect smooth stones that she would use to smooth the pots after she had built them. Again, he moved his hands to explain, and I understood the use of an anvil in a way I hadn’t imagined. The smooth rocks on the inside and outside, working with water to smooth and create the form.
I didn’t have to ask the details, my friend was eager to share. They would gather wood and build a fire around the pots she made. Sometimes they cracked from the flame, but she would just make another. The clay, I wondered about. They had to go outside the small village where they lived to collect it. It took a lot of work to get it to a consistency that would work, so they would knead it and press it to get it ready for her. When he was describing the clay he told me about what it could do, more than how it felt. His Grandmother made large jugs that would keep water cool no matter how hot it was outside. Good science, but mostly, an incredible relief in the heat of Mexico. And that they would gather other types of clay to build houses and apply to the walls so that they would never have to be painted. Again, he swirled his hand to show me how he did it.
This was almost too much for me to take in. I could have talked for hours, finding details, but I didn’t want to lose the magic of that conversation. At the end my friend told me that his favorite memory of working with his Grandmother was, after they were done, he and the other kids would go dig for old shards of clay and find broken pieces with faces carved in from long ago. I could imagine the wonder of a boy finding a connection to the past, and had the honor to see the excitement of a middle-aged man being taken back to that moment.