My dad was a coffee drinker to be reckoned with. I remember when I was little and we were in the garden together on a hot summer day in Pennsylvania. The sun bore down upon us and sweat was pouring off him as he turned over the soil with a shovel. After a time he stopped, leaned on the shovel, looked at me and said, "Would you mind going in and getting me a cup of coffee?" I thought he was loony for wanting hot coffee on a scorching summer day, but I went inside and poured a cup from the pot brewed early that morning. I brought it back; he thanked me, put it to his lips, and took a sip. A smile crept across his face, and he sighed pleasurably as if he had just taken a drink from an icy cold slushy. I just looked on in disbelief.
I discovered clay in high school. The possibilities with clay were endless, but I knew I wanted to make pots that people could use. I made plates, bowls, cups, and anything else I could think of for the kitchen. My dad drank from my mugs everyday and had favorites that he would often take the time to wash instead of getting a clean one. If anyone was qualified to critique my coffee cups, it was my dad. I once sent him a mug out of kiln that I thought he might like. I received an email thanking me and he shared a few comments as well. My dad-a coffee drinker, and not a potter- proceeded to share some very perceptive observations. He discussed where the weight of the cup fell on his finger as a result of the handle style, talked about the overall balance of the cup, and even touched on body ergonomics related to the use of the piece I had sent him. It was a cup he liked, but I knew it would not be one he would look for first. My dad wanted me to be a better potter and closed that email with the following:
"When I was in the carpet business we used to have an expression that might translate into some of your work. After a carpet passed all the visual inspections and technology tests, the ultimate test was very unscientific: How's the hand? That meant, as you've probably guessed, how does it feel? Once a customer likes the look of a carpet, what do they do? They run their hand over it. Maybe you already do this with your mugs, but before I would fire a mug, I would take it in my hand and try to imagine what it would be like to drink a cup of coffee from it. I would say to myself, "How's the hand?"
My dad wasn't a maker but an avid user and that credential carries tremendous weight for me. In the years that have passed since, I have often heeded his advice. If strangers had a window into my studio they would surely wonder about the odd potter taking phantom sips from unfired cups, holding bowls aloft as if passing them, or pouring from an empty pitcher.
A few years ago I was in my yard on a particularly hot summer day. I was digging a 40-foot trench to the garage and it was getting the best of me. It was in the high 90's; I stopped for a break, wiped my forehead, and reached for the coffee mug sitting on the fence. It was blazing hot in the sunshine as I sipped from the steaming mug. It was at that moment that I remembered for the first time… that hot summer day in Pennsylvania when I thought my dad was loony.
My dad passed away a little more than a year ago. I wish you could have been here, Dad; I would have had coffee ready. This show is dedicated to you.