Look mom, no hands!

At least, I am hoping that I can still make pots on the wheel without needing my hands too involved…..

I’m guessing that it was just a bit of cosmic irony that a bare few minutes earlier last night I had been teaching my students that there are no rules, that there is no one way you have to do things to make pots on a wheel. I had just shown one student that you don’t have to start out with the clay centered but can open your hole on an uncentered lump and then extrude the clay under your fingers to a centered shape. I also made the preposterous suggestion that you can still do this to walls that get uneven during the thinning process until the walls have become either too flared or too thin. It ain’t over ’til its over! How’s that for overturning some cherished student teacher dogma? 😉

I had also just shown a student that the cup she was about to put a handle on still had too much clay left in the bottom sides and that (if it is still wet enough) you can put the cup back on the wheel, get it centered, and then rethrow that bottom portion to make the walls more acceptably thin and even. Crazy, right? But whoever said that a pot taken off the wheel couldn’t be thrown again (unless it was on a bat) had one too many rules, obviously.

If I see a rule I want to test it and find whether what it is telling me is necessary or whether its just convention and our traditions that make it seem important. Maybe I was just begging for the Universe to call my bluff. Maybe I was asking to be challenged to put my money where my mouth was…..

So I finish telling my students all these ‘rule’ bending/mind blowing revelations and then trundle back home where a sink full of dishes await. I must have been primed for the bushwhack or too ready for sleep at barely 10 o’clock, because my sophisticated art capable hands suddenly turned off the nous, the practical intelligence dissolved, and I got all inexplicably fumble fingered. There was this bit of soap on my hands, you see, I reached for the next pot to wash, and then suddenly the Universe explodes into chaos. BAM! The pot I was holding squeezes from my finger tips, shoots out into space as I lunge after it, and then there is a sharp pain, shattered pottery, and a whole mess of blood…… My left thumb and my right #4 finger were the main casualties, along with, unfortunately, my go-to smoothie mug made by Ron Philbeck.

Tragedy strikes. There were fragments flying through the air and blood just started seeping and then dripping and then gushing until the sink was just one big red mess.....

Tragedy strikes. There were fragments flying through the air and blood just started seeping and then dripping and then gushing until the sink was just one big red mess…..

My fingers are hurt bad enough that I sincerely doubt I will be making pots anytime soon (unless I can learn to throw without use of those fingers. Curses!). But you never know. The Universe is obviously challenging me. I’m on a roll right now in the studio, and it would be a shame to interrupt that. But that’s just when you know to expect the worst, right? (The Universe, if it had a sense of humor, would be laughing by now….)

I might give it another day to find out, but I have a track record of improvising myself through injuries in the studio. I had been able to do class demonstrations the day after severely hyper-extending my right thumb (and its still not correctly healed a year on) so maybe even yesterday’s tragedy can still turn into a makeshift studio practice.

The real pisser is that this mug of Ron’s has now bit the dust……

I liked it for so many reasons, but one of the truly great things I got from owning it was what it taught me about handles. I had been making thinner and thinner handles year after year, and then suddenly there was this unapologetic stout handle with a generous backfill on the bottom connection I had to account for. It fit my hand so well that I started to doubt the value of thin. And I really liked the way it looked.

All of a sudden I saw my own trend in tiny handles in a new unflattering light, and I didn’t feel so good about what I was seeing. Ron’s mug gave me the incentive to look at handles differently and to start experimenting in a new direction. I can’t even contemplate my thin and tiny handles anymore without cringing.

And I have my many smoothies with Ron’s mug to thank for that! I can’t imagine where my pots would be if I hadn’t made that connection with this mug. I owe so much to what it taught me. It will have an honored place somewhere in my studio. Or a decent burial at sea……

Why does the phrase “Look mom, no hands!” always seem to end in disaster?


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, Ceramics, Clay, Creativity, Pottery, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

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