The Ministry of Pots

We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore… whose martyrs they are.”[Saint Jerome]

Artists are the Apostles of strange beauty

And speaking of relics of the Martyrs and assorted other holy personages, check out my newest venerable acquisition! Doesn’t this itself look like a temple? Sequoia calls them “hut Jars”, and they do look architectural, but I’m thinking pagoda or shrine for sure.

All of which ties in to the idea from the previous post that potters are already engaged in creating objects that strike the ordinary public as dizzyingly as “strange unwanted cathedrals”. In other words, as cryptic and alien as the holy objects of an unfamiliar religion and strange gods. Originally I meant this comparison metaphorically, but just maybe there is also a bit of truth close to the surface (None of which is meant to be taken as intending offense or taking the institutions of people’s faith lightly)….

And when you think about it, potters are something like missionaries of a different faith, one that is at odds with the overconsumptive trends of disposable culture, valueless inert objects, and the rat race sprint to the finish. And our pots may seem bizarre and preposterous to outsiders, or quaint anachronisms from folks oddly out of step with the times. Our strange fascination probably makes us seem like the worst of outsiders. Geeks. Dorks. Uncool. Unclean. Dangerous….

But to us potters and to our flock, the insiders to the sacred knowledge, these pots are like holy items. They are our sacred relics and the many gospels we spread throughout the world. From the ancient branch of woodfiring potters, the sect of salt and soda potters, the schismatics of lowfire decal ware, the orthodox kickwheelers, the renegade pedal pushers, and the radical handbuilders, the purveyors of pots are an eclectic group. And we potters are but the ministers in search of a congregation….

Beauty is truth, truth beauty” John Keats wrote in his poem ‘Ode to a Grecian Urn’. Despite whatever differences we may have, isn’t that the foundation of all our potting doctrine? That we find these diverse expressions of beauty as uncovered truth, and that these truths in turn acquire the grace of beauty? Isn’t this the message we are trying to spread?

And its no wonder that so many of us collect the relics of other potting holy men and women. Our kitchen cabinets and shelves are often filled with the pots of others. It is our faith that a life surrounded by pottery is a life worth living. And we leave the sanctuary of our homes to brave the great wilderness beyond, where the word we carry is anything but welcomed….

That we find ourselves on the inquisitorial racks of competing faiths and institutions or slowly marinating in the stew pots of strange cannibalistic tribes should hardly come as a surprise. Potters are heretics in today’s culture. Even in the Art World potters are the outcasts. We preach humble handmade beauty and artful function. We invite our audience to slow down and to consider the small rituals of daily life. And we give them tokens to focus their meditations.

And preaching to the faithful is our worthy mission. But when we come across pockets of unwashed benighted souls, our efforts are those of proselytizing missionaries, our business the business of conversion. We believe that pots add value to the world. This drives us to share our beliefs. And the more believers there are out in the world the more the ideals of our faith will flourish and the more pottery will thrive. In the big picture.


Maybe a bit too much? Maybe a few too many odd dots dubiously strung together with wispy threads? But how else would you explain the difference between folks who see value in pots and folks who couldn’t care less? Isn’t this a difference in culture? A difference in beliefs? A difference in faiths?

Trust me to stretch a metaphor beyond recognition…. Something to think about, at least….


Happy potting, all!

About Carter Gillies

I am an active potter and sometime pottery instructor who is fascinated by the philosophical side of making pots, teaching these skills, and issues of the artistic life in general. I seem to have a lot to say on this blog, but I don't insist that I'm right. I'm always trying to figure stuff out, and part of that involves admitting that I am almost always wrong in important ways. If you are up for it, please help me out by steering my thoughts in new and interesting directions. I always appreciate the challenge of learning what other people think.
This entry was posted in Art, Arts advocacy, Arts education, Beauty, Ceramics, Clay, Creativity, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Ministry of Pots

  1. What a strange and beautiful jar that is!

    I saw a cup today that my friend Courtney had just bought from Sequoia ‘s sale. The cup went around a few times. First to Courtney’s 1 y.o. daughter, Grae who handled it over and over, nibbling it occasionally with her 3 new teeth, and she handed it to me as I proceeded to turn it over and around and around, then Courtney’s turn came and we marveled at the stone-like white glaze and the smooth black clay.

    I say amen to you Brother Carter for this celebratory pottery sermon from the pulpit of your damp GA potter’s studio. I think Norman Mailer once said that nothing was more marginalized as poetry and pottery. But what of the no-till farmer, or the quietly swinging scythe? We are not alone in the margins of our worship.

    • Amen indeed, Brother Kline!

      And thanks for the link to Courtney’s new website. I’ve got her blog in my reader now. It looks like she got one of the teabowls I had been drooling over. Quite a dandy! Strange beauty indeed!

      That was an interesting read on the no-til farming. Made quite a bit of sense, actually. And I’ve always been a fan of the scythe! My dad’s best friend had one for his cabin in the Pocono mountains in northern PA, and I took it as my solemn duty while vacationing there to scythe the grass.

      These days I’ve moved so far away from promoting grass in my yards that there is no need for a scythe, but I haul out a small swing blade every once in a while to help my neighbor control her yard. (A lawn mower is my metaphor for the one size fits all solutions that fail to take into account the nuance and subtleties. A lawn mower is the scourge of paying actual attention to the effects one is having. It is a laying waste to diversity in the name of homogeneity.)

      So I’m with you Brother Michael. The margins are where the interesting things all seem to happen…..

  2. Scott Cooper says:

    OK, Brother Carter. You and me, two bikes, starched white shirts, big smiles, no caffeine. Let’s do this thing.

  3. Carter you make me smile. I have had moments when I check myself preaching the way of the pot. I’ve caught myself worshiping an idol potter’s words, works and philosophies adoration plastered all over my face. I have come to consciousness abruptly out of a throwing trance quantities of beautiful pots freshly thrown laid before me, myself fresh and rejuvenated reborn wondering where time has hidden my lingering feelings something akin to enlightenment. Your remarks (and mine) are entirely outlandish but, they have the ring of truth about them even to a skeptic like me.
    A word on the scythe. It is the best. Working for Forestry I took it upon myself to clear encroaching willow year after year with the soothing swing of an ancient specimen used by many hands before mine, where the hand naturally settled wood smooth as silk from decades of callused hands. A winter in my absence they opted for new outpost buildings and burnt my tool shed all sturdy tools left inside (hand drill and pipe cutter included!). R.I.P scythe. Sacrilege indeed. For some nice and comforting symmetry the ash was contributed to leveling the PH in my garden- dust to dust n’ all.
    Also, may I suggest some dandelion root lattes, I think the holies will let it slide, and it will keep you awake and rolling for your mission.

  4. Pingback: Is the value of pottery a material object? | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

  5. Pingback: Repost: Is the value of art a material object? | CARTER GILLIES POTTERY

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