Thursday, March 15, 2007

From a Lump of Clay

"But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of your hand."

(Isaiah 64:8)

"Does not the Potter have power over the clay...?"

(Romans 9:21a)

On Tuesday nights from 7-10 pm, after the wee ones are in bed, I drive to Matsqui prairie to take pottery lessons from Herman Venema of "Venema Pottery." He and his wife own a gorgeous property off Harris Road with a renovated farm house and immaculate, artistically-landscaped gardens.

Originally from Holland, Herman is a hardworking Dutchman, with an "I can figure out anything you throw my way" air about him. He seems to know a little bit about everything, and though his teaching style is blunt and gruff, he still manages to be extremely supportive and kind, asking questions that convey a sense of care about each student and an awareness of what's important to them.

Herman has worked with clay for over 25 years. He loves what he does and is a true master of the art. His style is simple, precise and earthy and he seems to find great spiritual significance and solace in what he does.

A Pottery lesson usually lasts 3 hours. For the first hour, Herman trims what he threw the previous week and then demonstrates a new throwing technique. We are then free to create on our own, asking questions along the way. He's not too strict about the time we finish and clean up; the last one out for the night, turns off the light and heat. His studio is open every week night for practice time, which I love. It reminds me of learning an instrument. If I only practice during the weekly lesson time, progress is very slow. But if I practice all week, doing the same new thing again and again, I can more completely build onto my foundation of understanding and move closer to mastery.

I first learned how to throw from my quirky highschool art teacher Mr. Gillis. He used to call me "K.C. and the Sunshine Band." Shortly after I completed my first piece on the wheel, I dreamed about it all night long. I remember the sense of power I had after watching a lump of clay turn into a mug, a plate, an obscure sculpture-like vessel with a chunky lid. I was addicted. And I was overwhelmed with metaphor.

Clay is hunted down and collected from the earth. (He brought me out of the horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps (Psalm 40:2) It is purified and filtered to eradicate uneven textures, and to prepare it for the potter. Force is required to first cut and wedge the clay, to pound it into a ball and to throw it against the bat so it sticks in place. The single most important step in throwinga vessel is properly centering the clay. This takes time and strength and control. The lump of clay must yield and spin to a column, curve down into a low, even beehive shape, spiral back up to a column, and then lean over to mix and surrender once again to a low, centered mound. To do this requires unrelenting pressure from the potter and modability from the clay.

And every creation is different. Even with the same amount of clay and vision, there are no two hand-thrown vessels exactly alike. And if the clay is overworked, too dry, too wet, rushed or poorly centered, it will fold back into a formless mass to be reclaimed. ANY clay can be reclaimed, some lumps just take longer to rework and to once again pound into a fresh ball, ready for recreation.

I am grateful for this chance to create with clay and to revisit an old love. It brings me joy and peace and is another tangible reminder of the moldability of my clay-self and clay-soul, lovingly centered by a strong potter who recreates me daily with passionate vision and unrelenting love.

(photo from Vijaya Morrison at Rainforest Pottery, where I was first reacquainted 3 years ago)


Andrea said...

Mama M-
This is *amazing*. I have worked with clay before, but I have never looked at it in the way you have explained so beautifully here. It is a beautiful metaphor for our lives, isn't it? Be sure to show us some of your work!

Rach said...

you know how I love imagery.....this one is beautiful....our kids always talk about "word pictures" - I'll be sharing this one with them.....but not till we've taken the trip (only five minutes up the road and we've never been!) to a potter's studio and had a play with him...we might even go today!
and please do post some photos

Mama Monk said...

Thank you for your thoughts and for your interest in seeing some of my work. We just entered the digital photography world this week with the purchase of a Canon Powershot. Once I figure out the functions I will post some shots. My goal for this 10 week session was to make a set of dishes (plates and soup bowls) for us. I'm halfway there!

Jim said...

I've taken the liberty of using part of this in the Fraser Valley Potters Guild Newsletter. Herman is presenting to the Guild on April 12th

Pottery Collector said...

I think it is beautiful the way a potter can take a lump of clay and form it. Here is a link to pictures of a potter throwing.
It is really cool