A couple of years ago I was at the Cambridge Pottery Festival in Cambridge, Wisconsin (outside of Madison) visiting my potter friend, Jordan Taylor, who was, at the time, apprenticing with Mark Skudlarek. The festival is an all clay art fair as well as the Pottery Olympics. I was in a bit of heaven for the weekend. I bought a couple of pots from different potters selling their wares. One of the pieces was a simple little temoku bowl with a triangulated rim and rutile brushstrokes on the interior. When I brought it up to the checkout area of the booth, the wife of the maker was tending the sales. Even though I had already decided on my purchase, she began to inform me of the bowl’s many uses. “It’s perfect for ice cream…just the right size for a snack of yogurt…measure out and set aside ingredients while cooking…” I didn’t really say anything at the time – like “I think I can figure it out,” but the whole idea of being told what a bowl was for seemed a little ridiculous. It’s a moment that often comes back to me. I have probably used it for all it’s suggested uses – but I could have figured them out all on my own. I don’t blame her for offering up the list of suggestions, I often get the question “what’s this for” when I sell my pots at a fair or out of my studio. To me, as a potter, it always seems obvious to me. When I think it maybe not as obvious, I try to use a prop of some sort. Probably the most common pot that has it’s function questioned are my wall vases.
I try to display at least one of them with dried flowers in them, but I guess some people just have a hard time imagining it. Sometimes they want more of an answer of dried or fresh flowers, so I go into stories of people using them to hold real live plants, toothbrushes, or kitchen utensils (depending on the size) or how they’re great for your deck (Chicagoans treasure their decks). But as a rule I don’t offer up this information unless it’s asked. I do understand that the more unusual objects might be a little bit hard to figure out – like the wall vases, oil lamps, butter dishes – but I often get asked the “what’s it for” question for the most mundane pots like little sauce bowls, an oversized mug, or even a teapot. I happily answer the customer’s questions, but I just wonder where people’s imagination and logic have gone. I might think about a really specific use when I’m making things – like a shallow bowl-plate that is just perfect for a fresh salad – but I don’t want to corner my pots into one specific use. I want people to take them home and discover new functions and incorporate them even further into their lives. It wouldn’t have really occured to me to put kitchen utensils in a wall vase, but why not? I think it’s a great idea.
We live in a cluttered world of things that all have a single purpose (and usually aren’t that nice to look at). Think about all the small kitchen appliances that clutter our countertops: rice cookers, bread makers, vegetable steamers, waffle irons, pitzzelle makers. People seem to want to be told what to do. Along with the above mentioned appliances, hair dryers and other electric items all come with very important instruction manuals that tell us things like: “do not operate while in the bathtub or while asleep.” I suppose it’s a combination of our litigious society and, again, the lack of imagination and logic. I came upon this legal notice for the usage of mugs. I think it’s pretty hillarious, but I hope that it never actually comes to this.