Clay Dancing

For the last eighteen years of my life pottery and ceramics have been my passion. From that first moment when I sat behind the potter’s wheel, struggling to center a lifeless lump of mud, I knew deep within my soul that I had found my destiny.

For many years I devoted myself entirely to learning the craft. I came to understand the language of clay through feeling and when I stopped struggling, I discovered that I had developed my own style and finesse. My fingers danced with the clay.

My own journey, like that of my masters, has been a long one. A quest filled with achievements but more importantly rife with countless challenges and disappointments. It is a craft of patience and humility where our failures allow us to grow and the lessons learned are far greater than the finished product. We strive always to find our voice and it is the power of clay to enchant and renew us with a state of peace and tranquility that gives us the strength to continue onward.

Every hand-made pot tells a story that is millions of years old. From its origins when the rock was formed to when it slowly slaked down into clay. From the waters that carried it downstream to where thousands of years later it was dug from the earth. Only by removing the impurities and working it to a smooth consistency will it be ready to shape. Before I throw a pot on the wheel I observe a moment of silence to listen.  I work with purpose and intent, orchestrating the rhythm of the wheel while my fingers dance with the clay.  Raising the walls thinner and thinner I alter the shape and curvature by the gentleness of my touch.  Only when a pot is deemed worthy will I cut it free from the spinning wheel.  After the finishing touches are applied, the pot is set out to dry leaving behind traces of its creation.  One by one I decorate my wares and carefully load the kiln.  These wares, like all others, will be sacrificed to the fire gods, either to be blessed or to be damned. Those that were blessed may be admired for their beauty and functionality for centuries before breaking down into mud again.

It is the potter ultimately who breathes life into his creations and it is his spirit that resonates within the walls but it is the soul of the clay itself that whispers its intent and reminds us always of its humble origins.

If you would like to clay dance, we have some great selections here at OWL to get you started on your journey.

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park- This 2001 Newbury Award winner takes place in twelfth century Korea. It is the remarkable tale a young orphan named Tree-ear and his passion for pottery and admiration for his master potters celadon wares that will take him on his own journey of self discovery.

Children of Clay by Rina Swentzell- Is a great children’s book to start out with if you would like to search for native terracotta clay along the edges of ponds and streams here in Connecticut. It is the story of the Santa Clara Indian potters who will take you on a journey from gathering native clay to pit firing their wares.

The Art and Craft of Ceramics by Maria Dolors Ros i Frigola, Surfaces, Glazes & Firings by Angela Pozo and The Ceramics Bible by Lousia Taylor- These three books wonderfully demonstrate a multitude of ceramic techniques, glazes and kiln firings. They are filled with beautiful examples as well as inspirational projects.

Pioneer Pottery by Michael Cardew- A highly technical book that covers the geology, atomic chemistry and the entire process of building a pottery from local materials.  Mr. Cardew also provides detailed instructions and illustrations on how to throw a variety of functional pots.

Out of the Earth Into the Fire by Mimi Obstler, The Ceramic Spectrum by Robin Hopper and The Kiln Book by Frederick Olsen-  These three books manage to simplify the geology and complex chemistry of clay and glaze calculation as well as cover efficient and ancient kiln design.

-Tricia loves to clay dance to 1970’s R&B Music

Tricia Messenger is the Librarian Assistant and Publicity Coordinator for the Oliver Wolcott Library.

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