Pottery worth stealing

When I moved to this part of town back in 1989 there were gunshots heard every once in a while at night, houses were routinely broken into, and I witnessed a mugging a few blocks from my home…..

Thankfully things were changing, and more folks began renovating houses, and new families were moving in. The neighborhood was growing up and settling down. The frontier part of town was getting civilized. Law and order was not just something in the hands a few sheriffs herding outlaws, but a community that finally liked living together.

Still, I wondered about my house getting broken into. I had grown up in West Philadelphia, on the fringe of a sketchy part of town, and we’d been broken into on a number of occasions. It seemed almost a normal part of life growing up that you or someone you knew would get mugged, their house broken into, or some other civil violation perpetrated against.

If someone did decide to get in my house, what would they take? An old crappy hand-me-down tube TV? An ancient computer? The budget model CD player? The cheapest dvd player available? Or maybe they would take from my collection of art. Maybe they would see a Michael Simon pot and lick their lips with avarice. Maybe they would see that Nick Joerling vase that I paid $180 for about a dozen years ago and see dollar signs.

But not likely. Not many people who know pots seem to fit the category of serious outlaw. Our transgressions are mostly infractions of style. We are cultural outlaws in the sense that telling rude jokes violates public decency. Mostly we are pretty harmless. Mostly we are actually trying to do some good in the world. Mostly our expression and support of art is meant to make the world a better place.

So when I put my addition on the studio to have a permanent outdoor display area I had to wonder if leaving all that pottery out there, just a few dozen feet from the road, was asking for trouble. Its been about ten years, and I don’t think anything has ever been taken. Thousands of pots have come and gone in that space, the opportunity for theft has been there for several thousand days and nights, but not once to my knowledge has a pot gone missing.

I used to tell myself that if someone wanted to risk going to jail to own one of my pots, then they were welcome to it. I would be almost honored, in a way. I could picture David Niven dressed all in black darting through the shadows to lay his hands on the priceless pots. Or Cary Grant slinking over roof tops to pluck the golden glazed ware. A person willing to risk jail time for art, even a piece of pottery, conjures visions of Steve McQueen robbing museums in the movies. It conjures the idea of sophisticated cultural and aesthetic tastes. I didn’t think your average drive by thief was the sort to be interested in art, much less know enough about art to contemplate its market value. One of my $20 mugs would seem little different from a Ron Meyers teabowl to most non-pottery insiders. Mine might even seem more valuable, if Ron’s crude casualness was perhaps confused with beginner fumblings….

So this last weekend during my sale I had my first blatant theft. It wasn’t at the sale, exactly. It wasn’t someone there to support the arts. It wasn’t a patron. Rather, I put out one of my ‘big’ pots by the driveway entrance at the street, on a pedestal, right next to the pottery sale sign advertising the event, and sometime on Sunday afternoon when we looked down the driveway it was missing. Gone. The pedestal empty. The goose plucked.

The scene recreated with the brother pot to the one that went missing. Is it likely that this 'pot on a pedestal' was confused with the regular curbside freebies?

The scene recreated with the brother pot to the one that went missing. Is it likely that this ‘pot on a pedestal’ was confused with the regular curbside freebies?

To be honest I’m not that devastated. Maybe it was my most expensive pot for sale. Maybe it was the most expensive pot I’ve ever made and tried to sell. But I made it several years ago, and it hadn’t yet sold. Even among pottery enthusiasts the market value seemed questionable. Frankly, I was a bit tired of looking at it. I had moved on in many aesthetic respects. I might have been more upset if someone walked off with a $20 mug that I actually liked……

Still, its a bummer. I just Hope whoever took it enjoys the hell out of their new acquisition. And then I hope they go to jail. (Not really, perhaps, but it feels right to say so) If it was an honest mistake (Not Steve Martin’s “I forgot armed robbery was illegal”) then I am more than prepared to be forgiving. A fraternity prank would piss me off. Maybe it could have been construed as a curbside freebie. Maybe……

If you see something like what’s pictured above show up on ebay or in your pottery travels, please let me know. And if you didn’t believe it before, be aware that pots apparently are worth stealing. People need art in their lives enough to risk going to jail. People value pots enough that they imagine a market value to offset the risk of jail time. Maybe that’s a good thing? Silver lining anyone?

Peace all!

Make beauty real!

And have a fantastic holiday season!


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, Ceramics, Creative industry, metacognition, Pottery. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Pottery worth stealing

  1. togeika says:

    I am our block Neighborhood Watch captain. I get the weekly crime reports. Around here, typically, burglers steal what can be turned into quick cash: iPhones, iPads, computers, bicycles, digital T.V.s, firearms and snow blowers. A dog seems to be the best protection for your house.

    Not sure if you have them in your neighborhood, but Minneapolis is full of Free little Libraries. I’ve been thinking of putting one up, except filling a pidgeon hole box in my front yard on a pole with free mugs and bowls. Or charging a nominal fee ($10.00) that could be stuck in a slot in the storm door.. My other idea was selling pots out of an old sandwich vending machine.

    Have a great Holiday Season!

  2. Bptakoma says:

    Next time, a little hot glue will make your pot less convenient to snag or pick up accidentally. And the glue is removable and will not harm the pot. I’ve done it to delicate porcelain sculptures in a public and unsupervised art display to keep kids running amok from accidentally knocking the pot off it’s pedestal.

  3. ronpots2 says:

    Bummer. Sorry that happened Carter. Might have just been a stupid kid. I know I did some stuff like that when I was young and I didn’t think of the consequences or how it effected others. Anyhow, it still sucks that it happened and I hope it doesn’t become something you have to be concerned about.

    • Thanks Ron! Yeah, I remember the bored friends of my youth ripping off skateboard shops and stealing sun glasses at the beach. These all had some personal value motivating them, but I can also see the random dare nature of some thefts by kids. So far my luck has been golden, but just maybe I was tempting fate a bit. Won’t give up on my street side display yet! Thanks for the encouragement!

  4. togeika says:

    Been thinking about the theft. I mentioned the usual objects in the reports. A big vase would be hard to turn into cash. I am guessing that someone that was short on money stold your vase as a Christmas present for somebody.

  5. brandon phillips says:

    This is why I never lock my showroom, it leaves people aghast! Pots have a different value set than electronics and you can’t turn a quick buck on them. I’ve never had a pot stolen at the studio…yet. It will probably happen someday but as I stated before pots have a different value set and one could only hope that it could impart some change in the person who took it.

    • There’s always hoping!

      Glad you haven’t been bitten yet. Its not fun. And certainly hard to wrap my head around, for the reasons you mention.

      Maybe we could save the taxpayers countless dollars by putting art into the hands of potential criminals as a sort of preventative measure. Or stick them in art classes rather than cells after they have broken the law. If folks believed in the value set we advocate for, would they be as inclined to steal? That’s a damn good question!

  6. Bummer.
    I’d wager it was the fraternity prank/drunk-person-of-approximately-college-age scenario. When we lived a few blocks from the local college, I used to put out my sale sign in a big jar I’d made in grad school (you’ve seen the photo). One night after closing up shop, I heard a commotion out on the sidewalk, and went out to find that the jar was gone — but that they’d only taken it a short way up the street before leaving it in a neighbor’s yard. (My guess is they didn’t realize what a pain it’d be to haul all the way back to the dorm.) Score one for the really heavy, pseudo-Voulkos style!

  7. Tom Johnson, Jr. says:

    Phooey, the thief beat me to the punch.
    Hope this doesn’t become an area habit.
    That pot looked good out there.
    The hot glue idea seems to be a good one.

  8. S. Dean says:

    Probably just a little too tempting with it out by the road….. Hopefully you have brought some beauty into someone’s life.

    • Its interesting what things are obstacles to temptation. The sad thing is that morality weighs so little compared to a few extra steps.

      If parents taught the difference between good and evil by how difficult (resistant to temptation) things were, I’m not sure where society would end up. But it seems we often do this as a society. Maybe the problem is folks learning that the things that are wrong are the things you get punished for, and that if you can avoid punishment you’ve done alright. Its such a shame that accessibility and consequences are often the standard for morality. Crazy world we live in……

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