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A SCULPTOR’S STUDIO


Heartbeat of the Earth 2 “Heartbeat of the Earth”

This anguished face came to me in my dream, and seemed to exemplify centuries of pain and isolation. His drumbeat reverberated through the earth in olden times.

Step into a sculptor/potter’s studio and you are surrounded with the “home-again” smell of wet clay. Delicious in its earthiness, for who of us has not dabbled our hands and our toes in mud as a child of summer? The other earth smells of glaze materials, iron, copper, tin, magnesium, plus the thick powdery odor of dry plaster fill your nostrils. Odious perhaps if this is not your venue of choice, and as singular as the “divine” fragrance of oil paint and turps to the painter. If you have been obliged to be away from these smells as I have for the past year, it is a treat to visit a fellow potter’s studio and smell the familiar odors of creative art being made.

People have been making things out of clay for longer than anyone can know. Food utensils, ornaments, and images of people and animals are found all over the earth, and the art is as fresh as when it was made by these ancient hands.

The same skills are used today in building a pot or a sculpture as was used so long ago. We recently visited an exhibit of the Terracotta Army from China at the Asian Museum in San Francisco, and I marveled at the enormous clay warriors and horses all made by the same coiled clay method used today by the potters of the Southwest.

This strong connection with ancient potters fills me with peace and a longing for something indefinable. My own connection only goes back for a couple of hundred years to England and then to Canada, where my ancestors had potteries. I have a glaze recipe which was used for Royal Doulton pottery, which calls for enough material to keep several artisans supplied for a lifetime!

I have worked in clay, wax and bronze, molding the clay and wax into recognizable shapes for most of my life, and clay has given me the most sublime pleasure. Your hands are your implements to create what your mind sees, much as writing in that respect. Both are solitary endeavors, demanding focus of thought. Working with clay, I feel I am connected in a small way to something timeless yet ongoing.

in the studio 2 This is my studio with a work in progress.

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8 comments on “A SCULPTOR’S STUDIO

  1. Your sculpture seems to express the anguish of the American indigenous perfectly. In Australia we have the almost complete demise of aboriginal culture. There are many fighting for survival with alcohol and isolation contributing to so much of their plight.
    The aboriginal artwork of Australia is wonderful, so is their music. It is in their genes. Do you have a large kiln and is it electric or gas?

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    • Our native people also have the problem of alcohol.  Such a shame.  Their work too is quite beautiful and we collect both Southwest and North Coast.  I had a complete shoulder replacement last year along with massive jaw surgery, and had to sell my studio equipment unfortunately.  I can still paint however, and write, so that is something.  I had a large studio, with both large and small kilns, electric.  For gas, I used the kilns at the college where I taught, because gas gives much lovelier effects to glaze for my pots.  As you can see this has been in my genes as well.  I’m still earning to write!  It was my substitute.

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  2. “Delicious in its earthiness, for who of us has not dabbled our hands and our toes in mud as a child of summer?” Your lovely words put me right back there dabbling my hands and toes. Wonderful description of the potter’s art and methods. And the sculpture, too…Great post.

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  3. Such a marvelous post, and so memory-filled for me. Of course I tried my hand at coiled-clay in grade school. A vase and an ashtray resulted, and stayed with my mother her whole life. Such a surprise to find the terracotta warriors utilized the same technique.

    I’m thinking you might know something of another – far better! – potter I once met. I lived in Berkeley for three years in the 70s, just when Catherine Hiersoux was beginning her work. I often stopped by her studio, and finally saved enough to purchase a marvelous pottery jar of the same shape as the large one shown on her home page. It’s sitting across from me now – one of my most treasured possessions.

    When I bought it, I only knew I had to have it. When I looked up Ms. Hiersoux about five years ago on the web, I was astonished to see how she had developed artistically, and how her reputation had grown. I’ll not be buying another of her pieces now!

    As for the mud – I’ll never forget vacationing in Colorado as a child and having my dad hand me a rock and tell me to lick it! I had no idea why, until I did as he said and smelled that rich, muddy scent. I suppose it was shale – but I can smell it now.

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    • How exciting!  Of course I have heard of Catherine Hiesoux.  Did not know her when I was busy working in the 70’s, but I did know many of the potters who worked there then and who gained fame later.  I bought my kilns, clay and other supplies from Leslie’s in Berkeley for many years.  There has to be some connection between us and the ancients which comes out when we are close to the earth.

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