Saturday, March 31, 2012

"Most of us are conditioned by the machine-made product"

John Leach
"Designing pots and making them by hand- it's great today in this sort of plastic, push button, want things yesterday age."

The two quotes are from this John Leach video.  There's no pottery making going on, but I was impressed by his description of the process and what it means to him.  The first quote, titling this post, came from the  first five minutes of the video and the second from the last five minutes.  I owe finding this video gem to Beatrice Nathan's Pottery Blog.

I revisited this video in my head this week as I was making berry bowls. I have, in the past, vowed never to make them again. I found parts of the process frustratingly tedious- mainly, cleaning off all the spurs of clay left from making the holes. This time, I accepted this part of the process and the time involved with it. It takes me about three times longer to trim the foot, make the holes, and clean up the debris (what I call spurs) than it does to throw the bowl.  Plus, I have yet to throw and trim the saucers that will go with the berry bowls.

So, is it worth it, and how much is it worth? (Something else going through my head as I was poking holes and cleaning up hole debris.) 
I was interviewed about my work recently for an article on the Empty Bowls fundraiser. The article was primarily about the fundraiser, so I didn't go into the clay process too much.  Like, all those steps from wedging clay to scraping kiln shelves- which I really need to do right now.  (The latter, that is.)  The reporter and I did talk a bit about making functional objects that are aesthetically pleasing.  To me, though, it goes further than aesthetics.  Hard to explain, but I feel there is a certain vitality in a hand made pot that doesn't happen with mass produced ware.  It can be a struggle, however, to sell in this world of cheap, mass produced stuff.  The process of creating is great, but is that alone worth the time and expense put into it?  Being able to sell your art/craft at a fair price is at least as important. Which leads me to the famous Walmart mugs making the rounds of some pottery blogs.  I'm not against the big box stores.  I am against them making claims that they sell hand crafted mugs or other ware.  I took a look:  these are molded, mass produced, made in China mugs selling under $4.00.  If Walmart had not made the "hand crafted" claim I'd be O.K. with it.  But making this claim undermines real potters making real pottery both in the aesthetics department and price-wise.  I'm sure people who already buy from potters know the difference, but I feel this "hand crafted" advertising is going to mislead others who are less exposed to the real thing.



  1. Hey Melissa,

    I guess I've missed the 'walmart mug', but what you said made me think of this video I had seen about a year ago. Its a piece on a California company that produces pottery on a scale much larger than you or I. Until I saw it I had had only negative thoughts about industrial design work, but this video taught me to at least respect some of that process. And I was fascinated that the slip cast handles went on mugs just a bit different each time. Hard to tell if that was creative license or design spec tolerance!

    You can find the video here:

    1. Hi Carter, that was pretty interesting. I actually tried to find something about how the Walmart mugs were made to see how they justify the hand crafted title. Wonder if it's anything like that California company. I have to admit that wasn't quite as assembly line as I had envisioned. I still feel the way Walmart labels these pieces is misleading many people, though. I also wonder about the price difference between the California ware and Walmart's made-in-China ware.
      I certainly respect the designers. Someone had to create the original shapes and glazing styles.

  2. I think the claim is misleading for sure, as you say the original designer must have had a hand in it and perhaps that is there hand crafted claim.

    I think it is a struggle to sell in the world of mass produced products, but thankfully there are still those who appreciate hand crafted items made with care.

  3. Great post! Rang true with my recent experience.

    Heath Ceramics is a phenominal small company- I was fortunate to tour their facility last year and learned so much about making pots (even with molds and jigs), glazing (all done by hand), and firing. The people who work there are artisans (the gentleman who mixes their glazes has done so for more than 30 years!) and the prices of their wares definitely reflect the employees' skill. I wish I'd been able to bring some of their work home with me, beyond a hand-screened tote bag (with skinny la minx's design) and a copy of their book. But as a poor potter . . . . . Thanks for the food for thought.


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