With handmade ceramics, every piece tells a unique story. They go beyond being mere objects; they embody connection, reflect values, and offer comfort for both the artist and the user. My mother, a collector of functional ceramics, adorned her cabinets with an eclectic mix, each piece perfectly suited for any occasion. Our home, a frequent place of gathering, was a hub of warmth and community, where diverse dishes were served, fostering an atmosphere of comfort. Fast forward to an afternoon in my own home, as I store away dishes, I realize that I've inherited this affinity for curated uniqueness. From handmade mugs to one-off plates, my collection mirrors a dedication to creating moments and memories. It's no surprise that nearly two decades ago, I transitioned from a career in diversity and inclusion to the world of crafting functional ceramics.
Contemplating specific qualities of handmade ceramics fosters connections, embodies values, and provides comfort. I look to my experiences, both as a maker and as a user. Some memories trace back to my childhood, while others are more recent, rooted in conversations with those who integrate functional ceramics into their daily lives.
There was a ritual I grew up with at home – a post-meal invitation to guests to select a cup from the cabinet for their tea or coffee. Our guests never made a hasty choice. Instead, they looked thoughtfully, held each piece, trying the various options until the right cup was found. As my community of potters grew, similar experiences in their homes revealed the significance of this act; the opportunity to choose a cup, whether for practicality or aesthetics, instills a sense of empowerment and connection to the object. In social gatherings, it can enhance the moment between those present, elevating the routine of drinking a hot beverage to a shared experience of awareness and presence.
This sense of connection played a pivotal role when crafting my own set of mugs, designed to complement my daily rituals. I was still in the process of developing a mug when a friend and fellow potter gifted me a mug that became the perfect addition to my collection. It rested comfortably in my hand, was the correct weight, and kept my coffee at the correct temperature. It also provided me with a sense of connection to him as a maker. Having worked in the same studio, I watched him skillfully throw mugs numerous times. In my mug, I read the nuances of his craftsmanship, from the pulling of the cylinder to the attachment of the handle.
Just as my mother's guests thoughtfully selected cups, the choices we make in handmade ceramics resonate with a shared reverence for craftsmanship and the unique narratives each piece carries. This connection goes beyond the mere selection of a vessel; it's an acknowledgment of the stories, craftsmanship, and shared moments that transform these handmade creations into companions in our daily rituals – be it a solitary enjoyment or a shared experience.
Tea has become a daily ritual for me, and the best way to connect to this ritual is to use one of my favorite handmade mugs. Reminiscing about visits to a couple in my old neighborhood, we often began with a cup of homemade chai, signaling the start of a wonderfully long and entertaining visit.
Expressing values through the creation and use of handmade ceramics is a personal and nuanced journey. My initial values in working with clay were rooted in craftsmanship, dedicating time to develop and refine my skills, carefully curating the right tools, and experimenting with various techniques, clay bodies, and glazes. They have expanded to include artistic, functional, sustainable, and ritualistic values. As my values evolve, I discover that the choices we make in handmade ceramics often serve as reflections of our deepest values – individual tastes, preferences, and broader considerations.
Some may be drawn to a piece that expresses the values of minimalist design and geometric shapes, while others gravitate toward pieces adorned with embellishments and natural forms. Recently, at a luncheon, a table was set with handmade bowls – clean in glazing, angular in form, and designed with an elevated foot, making an attractively bold statement. Different from the many other handmade ceramic pieces I’d seen in the home, these pieces prompted me to consider the diverse values that shape our ceramic choices. It appeared that for their collection, a personal connection to the maker was a primary value.
Similarly, with the values of function versus emotion, a delicate balance emerges when creating and using ceramics. As a maker of functional ceramics, my primary focus is to craft pieces that fulfill everyday needs. Yet, when commissioned with the task of creating a custom piece, the emotional value attached to the individual commissioning the work must find equilibrium with the functional aspect. Through discussions, thoughts, and shared designs, a piece will eventually take shape that not only stays true to its function but also resonates with the sentimental significance it holds.
Function, emotion, individual style, craftsmanship – these values intertwine in our choices for handmade ceramics. While they may not always consciously influence our decisions, they play an integral role in shaping what we create and what we choose to use. As we reflect on the values that guide our journey with handmade items, whether as a creator or collector, it’s important to consider the unique stories and connections that unfold within the objects we hold dear.
Macaroni and Cheese
Sometimes, you just want a small portion. When choosing recipes, I’m able to reduce them to one to two servings. But I realized early on that I don’t have dishes suitable for cooking or serving. Motivated by my value for functional and handmade, I created several small baking dishes, and the first recipe I tested in them was macaroni and cheese.
My earliest encounter with handmade ceramics remains a hazy memory from childhood, somewhere around the age of five or six. At a shop on the way to a holiday cabin with my family, a potter was selling their handmade ceramics. As my mother and the artist chatted, I picked up a mug, cradled it in my hands, and in that moment, I became fascinated by the revelation that someone had crafted this object. My mother purchased the mug for me, and it became my cherished object, a vessel for everything from milk and juice to soda. Although visual memories have faded, the tactile sensations of brown stoneware textured by grog, smoothed by gloss glaze, and the rounded form perfectly fitting my hands and lips remain in my sensory recollections. For years, it was my favorite cup, offering both functional and emotional comfort.
This early memory likely pulled me towards functional ceramics, and the belief that every collection should have pieces dedicated to personal comfort. These are the items that hold our favorites, like a morning plate of French toast, an afternoon cup of tea, or a holiday dish. They nourish us tactilely, visually, and emotionally, providing special moments. Through their use, they become part of our rituals, bringing a sense of ease and warmth, giving us satisfaction from using something handmade.
As handmade ceramics bring comfort through use, potters find comfort in the act of making. In the elusive "zone," where time loses its grip, and the work flows seamlessly, the rhythmic process of transforming clay brings a sense of purpose and accomplishment. In these chaotic times, the desire to participate in this creative process has led to an explosion in enrollment in ceramic studios across the country. The opportunity to transform an idea into a tangible creation offers a unique and comforting connection to the creative and the positive.
These experiences, whether derived from the use or creation of handmade ceramics, contribute to a sense of comfort. Reflecting on the unique memories cultivated through our interactions with handmade ceramics, we can come to understand how objects can impact us, giving tactile pleasure, visual comfort, and a sense of satisfaction.
Chicken and Mushroom Soup
Just as the object can nourish and comfort, so can the food it holds. Years ago, I discovered a comforting chicken soup with mushrooms, a recipe that brings positive memories and warmth. This recipe is the closest I’ve come to reproducing it and the positive memories it created.
Connection, Values, and Comfort
As handmade ceramics find their way from the hands of the maker into the hands of users, their narrative expands. The chosen mug, plate, or bowl becomes more than a functional object; it transforms into a companion for rituals and shared moments. In these moments, the values communicated through craftsmanship, connection, tactile experience, and comfort forge a bond between the maker and the user.
These feelings of connection, sharing of values, and sense of comfort are embodiments that are intertwined, not isolated, crafting an identity that includes and expands beyond the practicality of the object. They can transcend the ordinary, creating a unique experience between the maker and the user. The potter infuses their energy and intention, and the user adds their sense of purpose and emotional connectivity to the object.