By Louise Allison Cort and Malcolm Wright
Rain fell almost continuously in Peters Valley over Memorial Day weekend, 1983. A crossroads cluster of white frame houses, a nineteenth-century church, and a graveyard, Peters Valley is a ghost town that has been repopulated. Its original citizens were relocated in preparation for building a dam that would flood the valley, but that project never took place. Instead, the valley became part of a national park, and the new citizens invited to move in were craftspeople, who were to work and teach. Several of the white frame houses became dormitories, one a dining hall; new workshop spaces were built; the former corner store is now the shop and craft gallery.
Some of the visitors to Peters Valley are Sunday drivers, enjoying the pastoral scenery of northwestern New Jersey near the Delaware Water Gap. Others come as students, seeking out their fellow craftspeople. Over the rain-soaked Memorial Day weekend, some sixty people gathered there for a conference, cosponsored by Peters Valley Craftsmen Inc. and Studio Potter magazine, to deal with "the significance of woodfired kilns in America." Perhaps the topic of fire and the enveloping atmosphere of rain formed a harmonious balance: the result was not smoke or steam, but a paradoxical spark of excitement. Cut off from the outside world, we talked intensely and fruitfully over three days. Some of the thoughts that were raised during the formal sessions (held in the ceramics workshop) are shared here. But the talk went on continuously, undocumented. The craft gallery hosted an informal display of woodfired pots brought by participants, and the church was opened to us, by the courtesy of the original Peters Valley citizens, for evening lectures and slide presentations.
The conference structure was planned by Malcolm Wright, panel chair, Sheila R. Stiven, Executive Director at Peters Valley, and resident ceramist Katsuyuki Sakazume, who built the Peters Valley woodburning kiln in the Japanese tunnel-kiln (anagama) style. Panelists were potters Rob Barnard (Virginia), Richard Bresnahan (Minnesota), Paul Chaleff (New York), Bill Knoble (New York), Mary Roehm (New York), Katsuyuki Sakazume, David Shaner (Montana), and Jack Troy (Pennsylvania), together with art historians Louise Cort and Andrew Pekarik.
Friday morning's panel, “Technical: Kiln Construction and Firing," established a common ground of methodological information and a vocabulary. Sakazume was impatient with what he called the "fashion" of anagama firing, which he linked to the appeal of "mystery." On the contrary, he asserted, the woodfired kiln should be used as a precise tool. "You have to know exactly what you want, and why. The kind of result you want decides what kind of woodfiring kiln you build." But Troy spoke for many American potters when he responded: “You already have a vocabulary to build on; you can select from that vocabulary the effect you need to produce your work. Many of us have to discover the vocabulary before we know what to do."
The issue of "vocabulary'' - both technical and aesthetic and the connection between the two - was a theme that would recur. It was taken up again in the afternoon session, "Aesthetics: A Continuing Discussion Concerning Ash Accumulation on the Ceramic Object." Cort challenged her panelists to explain why they would try so hard for ash buildup during woodfiring to try for an effect that has specific Japanese prototypes. “What is your aesthetic reference? What is your aesthetic expectation? What does the Japanese woodfired aesthetic mean to us?''
Troy: Shortly after I had set up a recent exhibit of my work, a woman who had been raised in Korea came to the gallery for a preview. She looked all around, picking things up, taking her time, then she said, "Nice pots, but what a shame that they'll fade into the background clutter of American life." The woodfired pot demands space in which to exist fully, and space in our time is something to be penetrated and filled with satellites or with background clutter as the Korean woman put it.
What is it about woodfired pots that speaks so eloquently and to so few of us? They look like nothing any of us saw in the china closets of our family homes. They need to be reckoned with on their own terms. The best ones can be read the way canoeists read a passage of rapids. They show quietly or violently their origins, and the best ones will always be few. The pots we grew up with and have seen depicted so often as examples of excellence have the beauty of uncirculated coins. They are cool products of rationalism, control, and a high degree of sophisticated competence. Woodfiring on the other hand represents an alternative intelligence at work about the ceramic process, and an alternative aesthetic may be growing to support our work. At the moment, however, many reactions to woodfiring work, especially natural ash glazed or kiln glazed pieces are primarily polite. We who woodfire purposefully exploit as tools many of the variables that would ravish the intentions of Ralph Bacerra, Ron Nagle, or Patti Warashima. In this respect we resemble Harvey Littleton, who, in the early days of studio glassblowing, sought a variety of ways to introduce bubbles into glass, only to hear his mother tell him, ''Harvey, your father spent most of his life as a glass technician figuring out how to make bubblefree glass!"
There is the issue of the politics of taste and the polarization of preference. Woodfired work represents the opposite end of the spectrum from what I call the Necco wafer school of ceramics - those pastel discs of sweet chalk one sees so much in contemporary clay work. Not that we're right and they're wrong, but that there is aesthetically speaking a "we" and a ''they," and the momentum is not with us.
At this point I hope the appreciation for woodfired work will widen and the tree of contemporary ceramics will grow a strong new branch.
Chaleff: The process of work and the aesthetic values are very close in this kind of firing. It's a matter of what you do, then how you do it, and after that why you do it. I don't think you really know at first why you want to do it. That's something that comes much later.
In order to know what you want to do, you simply have to know what you love. Probably there are some universal qualities to this kind of work that have existed throughout history, that have always made people feel good and probably always will. Most of the woodfired work - not the work we have, necessarily, but the work we'd like to make - is rich and warm and quiet and soft, and those are qualities that generally make humankind happy. The Necco wafer style may be prominent right now, but it's not the kind of thing that will live forever. It takes a bit of courage to say well, it may not be saleable right now, but I'm going to do it, I'm going to stick with woodfired work.
Barnard: There was one potter who came to Japan and liked a tea bowl made by a potter I was working with. He liked the irregular top and he said, this is really beautiful. I said, yes, you turn it this way and you can see how it's been cut. He goes, oh, you mean he cut that deliberately to be irregular? He got really indignant and said he couldn't accept that deliberate irregularity. I said, so how are you supposed to get it irregular? He said it should just flow from your spirit. I said, well, when you sit down at the wheel do you deliberately try to make things perfect? He said, of course.
There's no answer when you think in those terms. He's over here trying to make it perfect, and the other guy's over there trying to make it imperfect, both narrowly rigid in their approaches and not likely to get beyond them. We get involved in issues of accepting old and new and what's this and what's that instead of just forgetting about it and going on to more serious problems.
Cort: What sorts of things did Yagi Kazuo [Kyoto ceramist, Barnard's teacher] say to you specifically about woodfiring?
Barnard: When I first got ready to build a kiln, he said woodfiring is bad, salt glaze is bad, all that stuff is bad, and I was really confused. He meant that with such methods people tend to put things in the kiln and hope the kiln will do all the work. He said that unless you were able to use common commercial materials and an electric kiln and a commercial glaze and make really good work that way - unless you can do spectacular things with the ordinary - you have no business doing wood or salt. You’ll always be working on the outside, you’ll never get to the core of what pottery is. He felt that woodfiring was dangerous. He felt it for himself and stayed away from it because he liked it too much. He thought, if I put the stuff in the kiln and it comes out beautiful, I'll love it and never be able to tell whether I've succeeded conceptually. For that reason he used blackware. I asked, why is everything all black? He said, because I don't want anybody to see the clay, to say, oh, this is really beautiful clay. I want the idea to come out.
Troy: With woodfired work, it seems that the potential for the clay to react with the fire is a big issue. The issue is not so much about the ash accumulation as about the clay realizing its potential. I think the issue is open firing. Sometimes the pot gets ash, sometimes it's protected from the ash. You can't single out ash accumulation; that's just one element among many. Varieties of colors and textures are possible from a variety of clays, and that's what we have to learn about. Native materials.
Pekarik reflected on the historic evolution of the Japanese woodfired aesthetic and also suggested some connections between Japanese and American appreciation of woodfired ware.
Pekarik: I'm probably the only person here who's not a potter, and I look at this from a different point of view. My concern is not the nature of the artistic lifestyle, or how you decide what to do with your kiln, or whatever. I only see the end result. I see this end result not only in terms of the present pot and its effect on me but also in its historical context. Much of what we're talking about here could also have been discussed in Japan in that great era, the Momoyama period [1568-1603], when people got so involved with ash manipulation and woodfiring. Then too the logical question was, why are we doing it? Up to that point, they had done it because it was the only way they knew. They didn't have the technology of the Korean type of climbing kiln until the end of the sixteenth century. So they just did it because they did it, and the results they got were truly accidental. Nobody shut his kiln down or tried to raise the temperature to change the ash accumulation on the shoulder of the pot. It was just the way it was when you opened the kiln. You hoped to get as many useable pots as you could from that particular firing. It was in effect inefficient. Then the efficient kiln came, but at that moment, ironically, the inefficient material became the more desirable in the context of the tea ceremony. What tea people liked in particular was the variety they got with the unglazed, ash-laden, woodfired material, the interesting effects and different colors that enabled them to study these pots in a new way.
There is so much variety that happens simply because the flames are whipping around in there and ashes are falling and water is seeping out of the ground... who knows what happened. As you can tell, the potters don't always know either, but things are happening. In a way, the kiln is an intervening intelligence. The potter is learning how to talk to that kiln, how to get that kiln to respond so that when he pushes in a certain place the kiln does something in turn. But the kiln has a mind of its own. You may push it the same way you did yesterday, but it doesn't necessarily come out the same. You learn to enjoy the spontaneity of result just as the person who sees the pot at the end learns to enjoy the spontaneity of surface and texture and all those other things. They are just more complex, more complicated, more involved than any one person could have planned. You can't get anything quite as rich as what seems to come out of the kiln naturally without your worrying about where to put every dot of feldspar.
The viewer loves this complexity. If he really wants to study the piece, if he wants to take it in his hand and look for something, if he wants to think about it as he would a landscape or the face of his friend, he wants a lot in there. Take the case of the Chinese ceramic, the beautiful Sung porcelain: the glaze is perfect and everything is just wonderful. All the imperfections have been taken out. As a result, when you come to study closely and intensely what's left, well, there it is. You look at it once and you put it down; you still love it and appreciate it, but not in a way that keeps you coming back to it and saying, aha, I didn't notice this little spot of blue here.
Perhaps you in your role as potter are doing the same thing as the viewer of the end product. You are watching to see the kind of complexity and richness in there that you don't think you could get consciously, even with the most variable and unpredictable glaze that you might apply. Something very special is likely to happen. With ash, it's not only color, it's also texture. You're dealing not just in one dimension but in two. Even if you invented a perfect ash glaze that you could put on in advance and that would give you the same depth that you would get by all that work, the great thing about your woodfired kiln is that probably some gunk is going to fall on it or something else is going to go wrong - that is to say, something's going to happen that you didn't think of - and you're going to get some interesting texture.
I haven't heard anyone explain why at this point of time people should be interested in woodfired ceramics. It's not as though they've just started. As you can see, they've been around for a long, long time. The same thing happened in Japan: there were periods when everybody wanted woodfired, ash-glazed pots and there were periods when nobody could care less. We're obviously moving into a period of desire for them. I want to talk about that from two points of view - the viewer's and then the maker's.
For the viewer, the desirability of the woodfired pot lies in the symbolic potential of suggestiveness. The meaning of the pot comes from outside it. The maker cannot predict how the viewer will see his work. That concept the maker has in mind, that wonderful feeling, is a shot in the dark; whether anyone else will pick it up is hard to say. The viewer too wants to be an artist, and this is something we don't usually think about. He wants to feel that he can find something and give it meaning for himself that goes beyond himself. It's something that is more common in the East, where the Chinese, for example, took rocks that they thought interesting and put them on beautiful pedestals on their desks and contemplated them. Found objects serve that function. We're not big on found objects in this country, but in a way this pot, with all of its natural incrustations and so forth, becomes a kind of advanced found object in which the viewer seeks to find some sort of meaning. I don't think he worries about what the potter was trying to do.
From the point of view of the maker, I have a feeling that there's something going on here that nobody discusses, and that is that you who are artists find an affinity with the Japanese in that you want your pottery-making to be a way of life, a way of living. It's not just your business, what you go down to do in the morning at nine o'clock. It's not just what excites you, because after all there are people in business who are excited by what they're doing. You want to think that it is something beyond that, something where process itself is of high value, not just the result, but the act. In this there is a desire perhaps to exhibit to the viewer the sincerity of the making, of the process. We don't give this enough credit. As we think of Shinto shrines in Japan, we recall those carpenters spending all those years trying to make a beam absolutely perfect. Nowadays you can bring an electric planer and make your absolutely perfect beam, and nobody can tell the difference. By one way of thinking, this might be sufficient. But my interpretation is that you wish to leave some mark of your own process and your sincerity. A woodworker who did a planing job on a piece of wood would be unhappy if it looked machine made. He wants somebody to know that yes, indeed, this was made by a person. In fact that's not quite enough, he also wants you to know what person made it. There's a large stamp or signature on the bottom, as if to say that this is coming out of his life, that he is some-one important in this, too. It's a mark of his sincerity.
This is a wonderful thing, and you'll find that it has an interesting historical precedent in Japanese tea-ceremony thinking. There are special Japanese values that come up in pottery-making. One of them is efficiency. There is a special joy in doing things efficiently, of getting the most effect, the most output out of the least material. There is really nothing more efficient and wonderful than taking your local clay, your local wood, and getting something unbelievably interesting out of this simple duo of materials. The second thing that's important in Japanese value terms is that the firing experience in the woodfired kiln imprints the ceramic with a kind of history of its experience in the kiln. That's something that's related to a Japanese interest in pedigree, in knowing where something fits, where it came from, what it was at the moment that it was becoming. You don't want to see just the finished, final object as though it dropped from heaven. That's behind all of those box inscriptions and careful documentations of ceramics. There's great interest in knowing the history, and that's something that we may be seeking in our life that's not given by the machine made item - this sense of what a thing has been through before it reaches my hands.
I would like to add only two more points here. One is a negative one, the drawback of woodfired ceramics. I am a person who likes to use pottery. I like to touch it. If I can't touch it, it's not real to me. What's interesting to the eye, however, especially in the case of ash-encrusted ceramics, may not be at all interesting to the touch. I will tell you frankly that, although I eat entirely off dishes that are made either in America or in Japan in woodfired kilns for the most part (some are gas-fired), I do not use any ash-encrusted eating utensils that I have to touch, except perhaps for a big serving platter. I just don't like it. It doesn't feel right to me. It's rough when you put it to your mouth. This has an interesting historical sidelight in that, in the period in Japan when ash-encrusted ceramics were most interesting to tea people, they were restricted for the most part to certain types of objects that were not meant to be handled - flower vases, big tea jars, water jars. Anything you had to pick up and handle and drink tea out of and really get to know in your hands as opposed to through your eyes was rarely made in this kind of rough clay. Those were glazed wares.
I have a special love of good glazed wares. Woodfiring adds special qualities to the glazed ware that I never seem to find in other work; I wonder if that is because of the positive impact of woodfiring on American pottery. Woodfiring brings to you a very special respect for the materials and the range of possibilities. This respect ultimately shows in the pot. I think this respect would appear even if you gave up your woodfired kiln and went back to your electric kiln. You have a new sensibility to what this material is, the way it reacts, the way it behaves, and what can be done with it. And you have an understanding of the reasons why things are happening. I can't imagine a group of potters in a non-woodfiring context going to this extreme. All this has a wonderful effect on pottery today, as does the necessity of going back to historical examples in search of precedents. You can learn a tremendous amount by looking at the pottery of different cultures in a fresh and admiring way. All of these things will have a valuable effect on the future of American pottery.
Barnard dealt with the problem of evaluating the results.
Barnard: The difficult point is whether the fact that I like woodfired pottery is enough justification for spending my whole time burning wood and doing those objects. People say because it was hard to do, because it took me three or four days, or two weeks, because I've spent three thousand dollars on wood, because I've got tons of it, therefore everything must be good. It's hard to accept the fact that you can spend all that time and energy and come up with a load of crap, but that's what most of us do most of the time. It's just not possible to make excellent things every time. I'm not presumptuous enough to say that I get that many really great pieces. Some everybody will like, some I will like, but those that really present a problem and give us a chance to resolve it are difficult to do, and they're what "art" is all about. Art gives us a problem and it also gives us a chance to resolve that problem. By resolving that problem, we can see farther, clearer, and we're able to go on to bigger and bigger problems. That's the motivation and the payoff: that I understand something I didn't understand before.
Knoble: I wanted to get ash on my pot because I wanted the simplest method of getting a finished-looking piece. I came from a background of salt firing, and I wanted the pot to look fired. It was similar to the idea of getting wrinkles on your face as you get older. Firing a pot is a metamorphosis for that piece. When you take it out of the kiln, it is no longer the material you put in. It is a different object. Woodfiring leaves an indication of that process of metamorphosis on the piece. It's got its battle scars, it's got its wrinkles.
Barnard: If you say this cup is valuable because it is woodfired and looks like a famous old Japanese cup - not because it's a good cup or has anything to do with function - then you do what the Japanese do. We have the same problem. We both say it's valuable because of its association. The Japanese are far more hung up on association than we are. That's probably the worst thing we've copied from them.
Pekarik: The Japanese have a distinctive style. At that exhibition in Washington of contemporary Japanese ceramics, you wouldn't have thought for a moment that it wasn't Japanese. There was a kind of preciousness and an intellectual quality that struck me as being very Japanese. I saw only a handful of pots there that I really wanted. I was impressed by the Japanese potters' skill and technique, but they are hampered by their terrible problem of association. If they were to deviate and follow their inclination, people would say, well, how does that fit into the tradition? They're trapped by their history; they struggle to go beyond that history but the result isn't really satisfying. Isn't it crazy not to be able to pick and choose? There is a sense that Japanese pots don't have and that the kind of American pottery I like does, and that is a feeling for substance, a generosity of form.
The discussion shifted to the question of what motivated American collectors of woodfired ceramics.
Chaleff: There are some important points about collectors and why people collect. Most of the collectors I know, people who buy pottery, have a pretty structured life and won't or can't work the way potters work - with what they would consider that kind of freedom. They have to put their finger on the source. They have to feel as though they touched it, whether it's through owning an object or visiting a studio. There's some source of creativity that they have to feel part of to be human. A collector ensures his place in an eternal way by owning a piece that has a timeless aspect. This is a very important aspect to some people.
Pekarik: There's something to that not just with ceramics but with any art. There are collectors who buy contemporary art because they are secretly envious of the life of the artist. There is also the type that wants one of everything so that they can be taken into some museum. There is the type of collector who wants to confirm his taste among his peers by having one of everything they wish they could have but can't afford. There is the collector who wants to verify a sense of his own special importance in the world by being able to identify the great artists of the future before their time, in a desperate hope that people are going to say, my god, you were brilliant! How did you know that man was so good? He'll say, well, I just looked at it and I knew. The one thing that motivates most of the collectors that I've met is a confirmation of their own uniqueness.
Just outside the pot shop, under its own roof, was the kiln that Sakazume had fired with the assistance of three students just before the conference. Inside the kiln was a potpourri of work supplied by various conference participants and other interested potters. While we talked Friday, the kiln was cooling. Saturday the sun shone. A curious crowd watched Sakazume push aside the heavy iron plate that sealed the firebox, revealing the hulking, ash-covered forms within. The morning was spent unloading, hosing down, and scrubbing, until the flat area in front of the kiln was littered with pots of all descriptions. The afternoon was given to an attempt to discuss what had happened, what we saw, and how to evaluate it - had the firing (or individual pieces) succeeded or failed? Again vocabulary was a critical problem.
By Sunday morning the rains had resumed. Planting our muddy boots on the pot shop's cement floor, we tackled once again the questions that were beginning to follow a pattern, circling around certain key issues. The morning's session, ''The End Result," continued the attempt to evaluate the Peters Valley woodfiring in particular as well as woodfiring results in general. The same themes continued in the afternoon's discussion, "Aesthetics: Winding Up." One source of vocabulary for dealing with woodfired pots was seen to be criticism, published or spoken.
Chaleff: One tremendous minus in this field of ceramics generally, not only woodfiring, is the lack of pointed criticism. That can be negative as well as positive, or positive as well as negative, and I was dismayed yesterday that nobody said I hate that piece no matter who did it. That's something that will keep this field down a long time. You can't just always pat each other on the back. You have to say what you like and what you hate and take a stand. Good written criticism in particular doesn't exist in this field, and that's something that makes us feel not viable in the eyes of all the other art fields.
Roehm: This is a point I feel strongly about, too-the issue of critical writing. There isn't enough of it for clay or for crafts generally. I know for myself that the best work comes from taking a risk, and you have to take risks. I want to provoke some thought or comment. I'm at a point in my own work where I really want some critical writing. I need that.
Chaleff: All of us need that. There's one other point that we should think about: you can be wrong. You can say something, stick your neck out, be wrong, and a week later say, you know, I was really wrong.
Barnard: As a viewer I don't have any preconceptions. As makers the difficult part is to have this sort of naïvete and openness side by side with intention, so that when things come out of the kiln you can be open to see a new possibility.
Pekarik: I don't think that the knowledge of pottery as art is intuitive. Learning what is a good pot, or a good painting, or a good anything else comes only from a lot of time, a lot of hard work, a lot of experience, and a lot of thought. Even in the case where you might think a pot is good or bad, you can't really make that kind of firm judgment on its quality until you've taken it home and lived with it for a while. It's nothing that we can approach as an amateur saying, well, that moves me. If we look at the history of our own development of taste, we find that there were times when we loved things that we cannot believe we ever allowed in our sight. I can talk about this from my own experience because until ten or twelve years ago I didn't think about ceramics any more than I think about the forks and spoons that occupy my life. There's no way that just by sitting at the wheel and making flower vases you necessarily know what a good flower vase is either.
This kind of development of taste is happening generally in America. If you look at the history of popular ceramic taste, you’ll notice that the big commercial china companies are now producing slightly more interesting china than they did ten, fifteen years ago. There's tremendous room for improvement, but obviously a direction has been set, and general taste is moving a certain way.
Now, as you can tell, my preference is for functional things. I have things in the house that stand there and look nice and that may receive a flower when I am blessed with a flower, but living in the city that's not too often. That's okay. But I'm against these decorative pieces, whether in the home of a collector or in the home of an ordinary person, because they fade into the woodwork very quickly. Ceramics are wonderful to use, and you can have a kind of emotional response, a relationship with the ones that you use, the functional pots, that you cannot have with a flower vase, no matter how spectacular. For a couple of minutes when you focus on it, it's good, but then gradually it fades out of consciousness unless something happens to bring it back to your mind again. In Japan, they take care of that by putting things out in a small space for only a short time. They are constantly putting them away and bringing them out again and rediscovering them. But in American life, the only opportunity you have for that sort of rediscovery is when you use things that you pick up and feel. The response to things that you hold in your hand is much deeper than to things that you only see with your eyes. That's the special thing about pottery compared to paintings on the wall. The things that you can touch can get close to you, mean something special to you, and evoke a kind of emotional response
that other things don't.
Museums collect to symbolize human experiences, but in real life, outside the museum, I don't want that. I want things I can be close to, things that are not necessarily simple although at first glance they may appear so. There's a degree of subtlety that is hard to describe. I discover that after a while I don't like to use things that have too much going on in them. They fight
with everything. Then I start to appreciate those really really small points.
Bresnahan: I have thought a lot about the vocabulary of color. We've gone through a quick period in glaze work and raku and salt, and now we're in woodfiring. I think it's just as colorful as the amount of color that we wear in our clothes. We're all in a chemical world, and we get so many changes each year in aniline chemical dyes that our eyes are inundated with color.
When I see a piece of woodfired ceramic come out, there's a breath of rest because I'm seeing earth color or some sort of color that stretches my vocabulary, for it is not fuchsia pink in the vocabulary of the chemical color industry. I am trying to define for myself that spirit of the color that is coming out of woodfired pieces. I wish to create glazes out of my woodburning kiln that have depth, and I strive for that with natural material. If I work hard enough at finding the natural materials, then I am at the point where a mine can't close up and leave me high and dry without some crucial material. I'm always interested in the development of my own color vocabulary and how to relate to that in my daily life. That affects the people who use my pieces.
A Korean couple just moved to my area. I took over some pieces that were covered with ash and not the best pieces. About six months later I went back for dinner. The lady was using one of the little handled plates on the top of her stove for spoons, greasy spoons, and washing it three times a day. I wanted to buy that piece so bad because she had just created my work by her use of it. That's the only chance I've had in my time to see someone make my work better. That's what we're here for. That's what we have to answer for.
Cort: It occurred to me when Richard was talking about color that part of the trouble we have in finding words to talk about the sorts of pieces we're getting out of this firing may have to do not with our own limitations alone, but with the fact that our English language really doesn't have a very rich vocabulary for color. I remember once, when I was living in Tokyo and sharing an apartment with two Japanese women, they were sitting and talking about the kimono that one of them was going to have made. The first decision was that it would be green. But then they got started and they said, well, is it going to be the green of young willow leaves, or is it going to be tea green, or is it going to be rice seedling green? They were talking about pale green, but they had about twenty to twenty-five green options laid out that they could express very clearly and eloquently. Maybe we could start looking for color words or color analogies - Malcolm was suggesting some in the paintings of Rothko, and I'm sure there are other analogies in sculptural pieces, perhaps metal pieces - that could start suggesting ways to go further in talking about color and also registering what we're seeing. One of the reasons that this particular kind of pottery could be appreciated in the Japanese context is that the Japanese turned to poetry. They had a very highly developed poetic vocabulary, not only a language of poetry but the critical language to talk about poetry, and they transferred those words to descriptions of what they were seeing in woodfired ceramics. That suggests to me a couple of directions for looking for further ways to talk about these things in ways that open them up to other people as well as to us.
Troy: There's so much knowledge coming along that it's really bewildering. There's probably the highest concentration of literate potters alive now that ever existed. It means that we have to decide what books to read (and that means deciding which ones not to read) and which shows to go to and which articles to write and which ones not to write and which kinds of work to try and which ones not to try. People who lived in more isolation had just traditions to go on, had nothing to do except think about the medium. That's what we all want to try to do, but then we come to something like this seminar, and we find it very bewildering to make pots one day and account for them verbally the next day. It's very confusing. If anyone can do that, I really admire them, but most potters feel as though that's some kind of burden.