Moving around is nothing new for me. I’m no army brat–those kids have dozens of more states to claim as former homes and more schools than I’ve attended my whole life (graduate degrees included). My Dad was trained as a quality engineer in the mid-eighties and became increasingly sought-after. To keep grounded, school was my anchor everywhere we went. Sure, being the new kid is really difficult, but it gets easier every time. My Mom was also very supportive of keeping up with our interests outside of school. When we moved from Ohio to Northern California in January of 1990, I left ballet and piano classes mid-year. When we got to California, I re-enrolled in ballet and piano but wanted to try a new interest: ceramics. It was at the same little facility as my ballet classes.
The “turtle thing”
The first ceramics class I attended resulted in a device that you could (supposedly) fill with water and then blow the water out of. It was made of two pinch pots pressed together. Then we added a head and legs and made holes at both ends. I made mine in the shape of a turtle. I made scores on the shell, imitating texture; they were deep and resulted in rough points of clay. I rounded out the pinch pots; they varied wildly in thickness. I made legs out of little rolled logs; they were misshapen and disproportional. A week later we glazed them and the following week I brought the “turtle thing” home. It was imperfect in every way and yet I remember every detail.
Fast forward almost twenty years. It was the first week of work at Nova. I had been attending orientation and faculty meetings galore. I took a risk and enrolled myself in a ceramics Intro Handbuilding class at MIY Ceramics, an open studio in Hollywood. When Wednesday evening came, I had been in meetings all day; I was tired and I was becoming stressed at my growing To-Do list. I called my partner, Mike. “I don’t even want to go. I’m so tired.” I cried. In fact, I thought to myself, “This is so stupid. I’m tired. Why would I want to try something that I haven’t done in 10 years? I’m going to get frustrated and I’m probably going to cry in front of strangers.” Somehow, I pushed past these feelings and went anyway.
My Hands Remembered
When I got to the studio, I was the only one in the class. I met Sam who reminded me of the essentials: tools, equipment, clay handling, etc. I wanted to make a box and a flying pig. When I first sat down, I was a bit overwhelmed. Sam reminded me, “Start with the box. You want your slabs to be leather hard. Do you remember that term, leather hard?” I did remember. My hands remembered. I sat down and began measuring the base of the box (5″ by 7″) and the sides ( two 5″ x 2″ and two 7″ x 2″). I had extra slab rolled out so I made a second box, this time 4″ by 5″. I sent them aside to dry until they were leather hard. Now for the piggy.
Pigs Can Fly
I wanted to make a pig with wings because Pigs Can Fly is the message of my new office. Growing up, I used to giggle at one particular painting in my mother’s office. In the painting, a little pig is captured mid-jump off the wooden dock of a small pond. His little rear hooves have only just lifted off of the wood, his front hooves poised and driving the force of his body upward. The little pig is flying. He just had to factor in the limits of reality, he just had to redefine success for himself, and he could do it; the little pig is flying.
I want my students to consider their definitions of success, factor in reality, and then go for their goals with the same reckless abandon of the piggy that is captured in that painting. When I finished my PhD, my Mom gave me the painting for my new office. The collection of flying pigs just sort of grew from there.
I began forming pinch pots and then massaged them into pre-made forms. I scored and slipped the edges and then pressed them together. As I sat there smoothing the body of the pig, my hands remembered. They both knew exactly what to do; my left hand gently held the piece, my right hand applied pressure to smooth the clay. I was able to escape the usual intellectual tasks of my day and focus simply on my hands. It was so cathartic, so relaxing. My piggy grew with added details: feet, a snout, wings, and a little curly tail.
As the clock neared 9:00pm, I rushed to assemble and smooth my boxes. Again, I was able to mentally vacate and let my hands do the work. Muscle memory guided their use of the tools, slid gently along the clay, and felt the areas that needed more attention. It came back to me more easily than I could have imagine. I hadn’t done ceramics since high school when I took four years of ceramics courses. It was like a passion that sat patiently dormant for a decade and nobly stepped forward that evening.
This week I will call about glazing my pieces and will post again about the glazing process. MIY is an open studio so I plan to return for future handbuilding classes, potter’s wheel classes, and glass fusion classes to continue the pursuit of a passion that began more than twenty years ago and 3,000 miles away.