I’m taking my first pottery wheel class this month at 4Cats in Mount Pleasant and, upon agreeing to try it out, I suddenly felt waves of anxiety.
The innate desire to create has been a part of my nature since childhood. Much of the inspiration behind that desire came in the form of snail mail packages, sent to me by my grandfather as surprises. I never really knew when I’d receive one. He was a creator, my Grandpa Irving. Sometimes I’d get paintings of birds; sometimes stuffed animals fashioned painstakingly out of yarn. My favourite, though, were the watercolour cards, always painted in soft hues and accompanied by a note in his shaky cursive, telling me about his day at the old folks home and how much he loved me.
After his passing and as I got older, the significance of his gifts — made lovingly by his own hands — sunk in. I knew early on in life that the way I expressed myself best was through words, and so I did, building a life around it. In the back of my mind, though, was a lingering curiosity to explore my creativity in other mediums, but hesitation and self-doubt always overrode that curiosity. Would I be as good a crafter by hand as I am with words? Would the end results look juvenile? Would my grandfather be proud?
I’ve marvelled at those who build beautiful things by hand, particularly in pottery, where the process seems to be a practice in preparation, patience and discipline.
The vibrancy and detail of porcelain from the Ming dynasty were what first drew me to pottery. This Chinese dynasty is often revered as one of the greatest political and artistic eras in history, a time when literature, poetry music, painting and philosophy evolved to new heights alongside economic abundance. Every stroke, pattern and unusual shape in the porcelain of this time denote an era that respected artists and an expansive mind. From the telltale imperial blue and white of the Xuande period to the bright painted goldfish designs from the Jianjing period that often remind me of my grandfather’s paintings, Ming dynasty porcelain represents a regal era in history, a resplendence that seems rare in the world today.
A recent resurgence in pottery’s popularity — and my own attraction to architecture and design — has led me of late to a new crop of ceramic artists, who favour a more minimalist shape. Japanese and Scandinavian influences flow through the work of Andrew Molleur, whose designs are functional and architectural, given his days as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. While still minimal in form, graphic patterns of his ceramics are, in fact, inlaid pieces of tinted porcelain done by hand, giving each work a distinct character. It’s a reminder to me that all of us, like this pottery, are layered, varied and much more than meets the eye.
Local potter Lisa Henriques has worked with clay for over 20 years after a life-changing trip to Ghana and is even more minimal in her aesthetic, crafting large oversized bowls by hand in West Vancouver. For her, the joy in pottery is in using her whole body to create a curve. I find the cleanliness of these lines and curves are a reflection of my current state of mind, an inclination toward the act of meditation through repetition and patience, and the strength of simplicity.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Molleur
Photo courtesy of Andrew Molleur
Photo courtesy of Lisa Henriques
Kurt Vonnegut once said, “To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.” In the days following my pottery class sign-up, the anxiety began to subside. It felt like time to quiet the noise in my head. This was my moment to let go of the notion that creation is about perfection when it truly is about pure expression.
Just like my grandpa, I’m finally ready to create with my own hands. And I’m certain he’d be proud.