For most of my life as a potter, I was a production potter, and that’s a situation where change almost has to be evolutionary, rather than revolutionary. A production potter mixes glaze by the big bucketful, he or she must value consistency in many things that non-production potters can vary at will– a consistently rewarding clay body is very important, a good and repeatable firing schedule, and so forth. Change is sometimes an uninvited and often destructive enemy. Forms evolve slowly and carefully, surface treatments must be reliable, and so on. None of this is to disparage the creativity of production potters– all my favorite potters fall into the production category. The best way to make great pots, in my opinion, is to make a lot of pots.
When I was a young, invulnerable, and immortal potter, in the mid 70s, I became interested in clay pipes. I made many of these pipes, and they helped pay the bills. But time passed, and I gave hostages to fortune, in the form of a family, and I decided the risk was too great a risk to take. I stopped making pipes.
The children are grown now, and I no longer have to worry about what would happen to them should bad things happen to me as a result of making politically incorrect objects. So I’ve taken up pipemaking again, and I have to admit that I am enjoying it greatly. One of the reasons for that enjoyment is that almost no one with first-class skills is making wheel-thrown pieces in this category, so I get to be a trail-blazer. Even better, clay pipes have a history stretching back millenia, and yet there are so many forms to make, including many that I’ve never seen in any collection of ancient pipes. My central gauge in assessing the worth of a pot is how intimately connected to the user it is– thus my love of mugs and bowls. Pipes are also extremely intimate objects for those who use them. When I began researching this market, I found that many users actually named their pipes, and referred to them by these names– something I found fascinating.
I’m not exclusively making pipes, because I enjoy making other things too much to not make them. But this new category of forms is tremendously exciting to me, because almost every thing I make is something that has never been seen before– in a much less subtle way than the mugs and bowls I make (which I hope are different from the work of other potters too.)
For me, excitement translates directly into creativity. These days I have trouble going to sleep, because I’m always thinking about new forms, new glazes, new decorative treatments, or how I’m going to explain my new works to everyone I know.