The Community Vessel

Recently I have spoken with Courtney M. Leonard and Paul S. Briggs to deepen my understanding of their intentions with clay and who they are as creative people. In our conversations I used the terms pots, containers, and vessels interchangeably, as they are metaphors for ways to see, understand, and ideally connect to something larger than ourselves. Our community is an aspect of the vessel as well – a container we all have made. 

As an educator and an artist my hope is to look at what, how, and why we do what we do with our intentions pertaining to anti-racist work within the ceramic community and our other walks of life. This is a story about abundance, oppression, humans, life, and the desire to hold ourselves to a standard we all deserve.  

During my latest conversation with Courtney, she said something that stayed with me. When the wind blew open their porch door, her great-grandmother, Blanche Eleazer Carle, would say, “Come on in, take your coat off, and stay awhile.” This act of welcoming the wind struck me as a delightful metaphor, bringing me to this question: What does it even mean to be in relationship – with ourselves, one another, and the material of clay? 

Another bright moment came when Paul shared this nugget from his classroom philosophy: “Beauty is in the ideology of the beholder.” A quick search defines ideology as, “A set of doctrines or beliefs that are shared by the members of a social group or that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system.” Paul’s observation clarified for me that an individual’s viewpoint connects to a set of standards for beauty, history, and power. With this model we are able to tease out the cultural values, the ideology, of Wedgwood porcelain, Japanese teabowls, the Greek amphora; it can be applied to any aesthetic canon. Standards such as these are ever-present in who we are as makers in the US today, which leads me to wonder, can we examine these canonical structures and alter our ideologies, to behold and hold more?

Can we enter into an unknown space, take off our ideological coat, and stay awhile?