Encounters When I was a little girl, my grandfather had a wonderful piece of property on the Elk River, just outside of Athens, Alabama.
I had a whole bunch of sisters, cousins and friends, and together we learned to swim, ski, catch lightening bugs, and play. One of our favorite things to do was to dive deep into the river and pull mud off the bottom, then lay on the dock and cover our entire bodies and let ourselves dry in the sun. Then, when the mud began to crack, we’d jump back into the river and come out clean.
I’m beginning to think that this was my first pottery lesson. I think of all the experience I have with mud and conversations I’ve had with people, and objects that I’ve collected throughout my life, and it’s no surprise that I end up with such a close relationship with clay, and yet I was completely surprised and shocked when we became such good friends. Conversations with so many different people are in my head when I sit down to throw or create. Deni told me once to judge pottery by the smoothness of the edges, “Can you imagine this piece ruining an expensive piece of furniture, just with this little tiny rough spot on the bottom??” Brad Walker telling me, “Just throw a little of this and a little of that into a bucket and you’ll have glaze!” “Fire it again – it can’t get any uglier!” “Clay likes to be told what to do!”… “You kids stop getting mud all over the dock! – only to get the response from my grandfather, “Oh let them play. It’ll rain and the dock will be good as new. Mud never hurt anything, and it heals a whole lot.” I remember getting a cut once out at the river, and my grandfather said, “Throw her in the river, it’ll heal.”
And it did.
Some conversations are critical, some supportive, some remind me not to take it seriously, and some tell me to take it more seriously. But all, every single one, are in every single piece I make.
A man came to me and asked if I made chalices. His son had just been ordained, and he wanted to give him a gift that would commemorate the occasion. I told him that I had chalices all over the world, and three had actually been given to ministers in Afhanistan. Those I made to order, and made them as ugly as I possibly could, to avoid any fighting over them. I imagined that the Afgans don’t necessarily like any symbol of Christianity and being the Peace Monger I am, I didn’t want to make anything beautiful that would encourage jealousy or violence. My small little mind goes there sometimes and while I know that the fighting over there probably won’t be about a piece of pottery, the importance of who those chalices would belong to became the meaning behind those particular pieces. They just simply needed to be ugly.
So he picked up two chalices and asked if he could walk around with them until he felt which one would be perfect for his son, the new minister. He himself was a retired minister, and knew the symbolism of what he was going to offer his son. As they perused the shop, we had several conversations, and he ended up asking for my e-mail address. He wanted to send me a short writing that he had done about clay, and I waited anxiously for days until he returned home and sent it to me. It went like this:
“Hello, I’m a lump of clay on this potter’s wheel here. The potter is going to do something with me today. I’m sorta happy being a blob, just like I am. Here he comes; oh no, sh’e started to spin this thing. I hate being spinned like this. Ooh, his hands are cold! Why is he pushing me to the center of this wheel? Hey, look out, potter, that hurts! I’m getting dizzy. Keep your finger out of my eye. Do you know what you are doing? Hope that the last time my nose is tweaked.” (stand up tall) “Hey, you know, that not so bad after all.” – Bob Gunn
So today, more than three weeks later, the conversations I had with Bob and his wife are still in my head, as are all the conversations I’ve had, and I was finally ready to respond. So I sat down at the computer, and here is what came out.
Hello my darling lump of clay
I’ve been thinking of you so fondly today
I have great plans and hope you’ll play
And when we get there, I hope you’ll stay.
I love the way you feel to me
Your soft and cool and completely free
You move under my hand and I know we’re one
Until you’re drying under the Georgia sun.
I can’t thank you enough for working with me
As I watch you grow I think you’ll be
Beautiful and smart and smooth to the touch
I have so many hopes and I want so much
Oh my darling lump of clay
I will work with you for the rest of the day
I’ll push and pull and plan some more
And then I’ll put you in a store!
As you were resting early today
You had no idea I’d make a tray
And yet you woke and came out to play
Oh thank you thank you lump of clay!
When you were resting in the ground
I was thinking, “You should be round,
Or square or tall or short and squat
Light or heavy, I don’t know what!”
I thought of you both night and day
My wonderful wonderful lump of clay
Now you’re here and we’re together
I’ll make you last and last forever.
So here we go, it may get rough
But I’ll help you balance and make you tough
I’ll work with you until you’re strong
With both our wills, what could go wrong?
Oh thank you thank you my lump of clay
For being such a good friend today
I forgot the world so full of sorrow
And I’ll be back to play again tomorrow.
-Amy Lovelady Strickland