I have a favorite bowl. It’s the perfect size for cheap ramen. It’s red that breaks to clear showing the white clay in the heavy throw rings under the shiny glass. And I made it. Not that my having made it is anything special. I’ve been making pottery for over 25 years. I’ve assisted the potters that taught me and eventually taught classes on my own. I don’t know why this bowl is special to me, other than it looks nice, but I have a lot of pottery that looks nice, few really speak to me. I guess that’s a lot of the attraction in functional art pieces, and all art itself, once you boil it down.
One time in a studio gallery I picked up a humble little bowl. It spoke to me even as it was obviously the work of someone near the start of their ceramic creation journey. It had a beautiful curve and a glaze that looked immensely deep. I still regret not buying it, but I have so much pottery cluttering my house that I talked myself out of it. I should have given away something to make room for it, or just waited for a piece to break and put it into rotation. The problem is it’s the poor pieces that never get broken.
I had another bowl that was special to me. It had started as a simple demo from Diane Shaw, who was teaching the Advanced Wheelthrowing class that I was taking. Diane makes beautiful bowls. It was the decoration demo that I’d seen a few times before and she described a technique of artfully caressing a handful of thick slip onto the surface of a trimmed, but still damp piece. It was a technique I enjoyed doing. She mentioned it was something took a lot of practice. I said I liked the technique and she asked if I wanted to give it a shot for the demo so I did. I have mixed success with loosening up enough to make that kind of thing really work, but it turned out fairly well. A couple months later she gave me that small bowl filled with her homemade toffee for Christmas. That bowl got broken in the sink.
I used the demo bowl frequently. I liked holding it, and I liked having it sitting where I could see it. It was just one of those things that made me happy to have around. Occasionally I’d reach for it in the cupboard and think, “No, lets keep it safe there in the cupboard a little longer.”
We have cats.
But one of the days it did get used and dropped into the sink. It wasn’t the cats fault. I remember that bowl fondly, and I probably remember it fondly because it got used, and that reinforced the memory of it’s origins, and that’s what was most special to me. I found myself thinking the other day that I’d have some ramen in my favorite red bowl. Then I had the thought, “Today’s the day that it gets broken”, and so I left it in the cupboard. That evening Kayla was making dinner and I heard a big crash in the sink. I heard Kayla say, “I broke the red bowl.” I might have wailed a little. I said, “Earlier I had a thought that it would get broken today.”
It turned out that it was a different red bowl that got broken. It was nice, but I had no feelings for it. Very useful, though, and the glaze was nice. Then I looked across all the possibilities. Maybe if my ramen bowl had been in the sink they both would be broken. Maybe neither would. I kind of get that way sometimes with the ‘what if’s?’ But that’s why the ordinary functional work doesn’t cycle through the kitchen as rapidly. The plain (and I can admit it, sometimes homely) pieces just don’t inspire them to be used. And if it had been my little bowl it would have been fine, because it gets used, and I’ll always remember it. Just having something doesn’t seem to be as valuable as having loved something.