I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It is the area that attracted the Amish to settle and establish a farm-based community due to the rich soil. Each winter I watched the earth lie dormant for months. In the springtime it was awakened for a new season of growth by teams of mule-led plows turning under the winter-crusted soil. Flocks of birds followed on the heels of the teams, feeding on the abundance of grubs and insects revealed by the plow blades. Watching this each spring and the growth that followed I became tied to the earth.
It only seemed natural that I found myself working in clay as I grew older. I work in clay because of the connection it gives me to the earth. I am attracted to the connections my finished work makes with other people. Making strong functional pieces that become a part of people's lives is an underlying motivation in my work. The potential shift in consciousness of the user is something that I find incredibly compelling. In our age, machines have replaced many of the handmade objects, which previously added richness to our lives, with objects devoid of meaning. When someone uses one of my pots, I feel a shift can occur because something of who I am comes out in every pot, and I believe many people want to connect with that. I am hopeful that my pieces impart some measure of additional significance to the daily rituals of eating, drinking, and using handmade objects.
Forms and images from the natural world draw me in each day as I walk around. I strive to see better each day so I can allow these things to seep into my work. Patterns on orchid flowers growing in my greenhouse are translated to the surfaces of my cups. Newly emerging bamboo shoots influence the swollen, patterned, geometric forms I make. I work in clay because it continually asks questions of me and how I live my life.
What does it mean to be an American Potter in the 21st century?
How can I effect change in someone with my work?
How can I weave my life and my pots together so they begin to speak about who I am?
Each day questions like these keep me investigating my ties to the earth and to humanity.
I've often been asked why I like using black glaze so much. When I was a little kid, I would read the name of the color that a coloring book requested. I would pick the crayon and use it, only to discover later that I had colored a fire engine a weird brown. The burnt sienna crayon was a particularly bad one because it could trick me in both the brown and red directions.
The photo on the left shows a color blindness test that I took at Penn State in a design class in 1991. If you have perfect color vision the graph ends up being a perfect circle at the center. I have color perception problems all the way around but fairly major ones in some areas. Color can be a struggle for me but black is always black. I love form and using just one glaze allows me to focus on highlighting the form and I don't get distracted by my issues with color relationships.
I had an oil painting class in college and we all went outside and picked a place to paint on the campus. Students spread out everywhere and it was about an hour before the instructor came around to me. He looked at my painting and what I was painting and in a somewhat exasperated voice asked, “ Why did you paint the building that color and why did you paint the tree that color?" I said, "I'm kind of colorblind and that's what I see.” Relieved that his color mixing lessons weren't a complete failure he just shrugged his shoulders, smiled at me and said “Carry on."
People often say "look at the beautiful flowers in that tree!" I can't see them at first, especially as distance increases. However, my vision has compensated and I can pick out forms incredibly well. I can look at that same tree, find the form of the flower and differentiate it from the leaf. The wonderful part is that at that moment the color will appear because I discovered the form. It might not be the color everyone else sees but it is brilliant and beautiful nonetheless.
I heard recently that doctors had developed a cure for color blindness and that trials were underway. Form helps me see color from a very unique perspective, but I would never give up my way of seeing the world.
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