The Blog

Portraits and ponderings from the writing desk of Jill Foote-Hutton.

For individuals immersed in the world of ceramics Chris Staley's article, "How a Handmade Cup Can Save the World" might be redundant or irrelevant, but the audience at JFH Studio has, for the most part, not been privy to the musings of ceramists. It seemed very relevant to include a copy of the article in the exhibit space. After the recent elections, the current state of the economy I think the issues Staley raises are worth considering or reconsidering if one had read the article before. The opening was a great success and many viewers were exposed, for the first time, to what is possible when a creative mind considers the idea of a simple CUP! The show may be small, but I am certain the ceramic world won over a few new patrons last Friday night. Excuse my evil laughter, while you enjoy Staley's article....

How a Handmade Cup Can Save the World
Chris Staley

The oldest cup was someone's hands held together to bring water to
their lips. This act may have occuned as long ago as a million years, by
our earliest ancestors. The wheel is just 7,000 years old. The TV is less than
50 years old. Commercials have gotten shorter and shorter, from 90
seconds down to 8 seconds. Our world is changing at an accelerating
pace. From cups made by hands, to cups formed from clay, to cups
vacuum-formed out of Styrofoam and plastic, the ritual of drinking has
both changed and stayed the same.

As the wheel turns and a potter begins to shape a wet lump of clay, the
next moments are full of endless possibilities. The final step in making pots
is turning the fluid clay into hard stone with fire. There's something so
elemental yet magical about this process, It takes water and earth and
fire to create pots. Life comes from water; in fact our blood is mainly salt
water. Plants grow out of the earth, and fire can be both the giver and
taker of life. The finished pot hopefully ends up being part of someone's
daily life in the ritual of eating and drinking.

Being a potter today is not like it was 200 years ago. In our
technologically-oriented and cost-effective world, handmade pottery
isn't necessary. Yet something compels me to continue on in this 8,000
year-old tradition.

When I'm forming a cup on the wheel, one of the many things I'm
thinking about is the rim of the cup or the lip, as it is sometimes called,
and how the person's lips will feel when they drink from the cup. Just as
everyone's fingerprints are different, so too are handmade cups. When
making a handle I want someone's finger to feel connected and
caressed while they're holding the handle. Touch, taste, smell, hearing
and sight are all senses that are being triggered when drinking from a
cup. Yet how aware are we of them?

Sometimes when I am making pots I listen to the latest news reports on
the radio. Over time the news can become disconcerting. The world's
population is projected to double in approximately 60 years. Americans
comprise less than 5% of the world's population yet use over 25% of its
natural resources. I hear about family values. The average 17 year-old
has witnessed 30,000 homicides on TV. Gambling is epidemic and
homicides and suicides are constantly on the rise. As Saul Bellow said,
"People are literally dying for something real when day is done."

Having recently visited Helena, Montana, I noticed the newly built Wal-
Mart and how it looks exactly like the Wal-Mart in State College,
Pennsylvania. Yet, I was moved by how dramatically different the
mountains are in each area. Nature is infinitely complex and mysterious
and inspiring; on the other hand, man-made objects can become
numbing in their uniformity and banality. Why are people buying
stonewashed jeans? They're buying something that has an inkling of
history and character, of having "lived" for a while. The cures for our
emotional woes don't just lie in jobs and economic growth. Our
concerns go deeper than that. Are we happier and more content than
the plains Indians who hunted buffalo a mere 150 years ago? I'm not
sure we are. By no means do I suggest we go back in time; we couldn't
even if we wanted to.

Americans, I think, see things too simplistically. This has come about from
mass marketing. The main goal of which is getting us to simply buy
something whether we need it or not. Our educational system is more
concerned about getting students jobs than it is about inspiring students
to think and ask questions. Education should be exhilarating and
challenging and foster a life of the mind, plus a sense of civic duty.

My gosh, look at the stars at night! How can space and time go on
forever? Guess who owned Arlington Cemetery before the Civil War? Or
why does humidity make us uncomfortable when it is hot? Somehow
that curiosity and wonder we were all born with has been almost
weaned from us. We have become more concerned about who buys
more Coke or Pepsi. We are drawn to a presidential candidate that
might make us feel good versus one who might ask us to sacrifice in
order to deal with the difficult problems we face as a nation.

So when I'm thinking about a handmade cup and all its subtleties and
nuances and each one being different. I'm thinking, "might the answers
to some of life's meaning lie in these details?" Not necessarily in a literal
sense but in a symbolic sense. Perhaps when we slow down to look and
contemplate we become more sensitive to the effects of our actions.

Mies van der Rohe said "God is in the details." At first this statement
seems almost blunt and void of relevance. Yet when I think about the
meaning of life and where the human species is headed I must stop and
reflect. It seems as if our most basic emotional needs are to feel loved
and to be able to do something satisfying and meaningful. Simply
stated: to be loved and be learning are what life is about. The abilities to
learn and love are behaviors that are taught and nunured. Each is an
act of will. In order to learn you have to have an open mind. In order to
love you have to have an open heart.

Finally. back to the round pot. Just as the throwing marks go round, so
too does the world--life/death, night/day, sadness and joy.

The daily cycles of eating and drinking are rituals all humans take part in
to continue living. yet to have our children's children continue to live we
also need to be curious and caring about this planet earth. There was
once a time we drew animals on pots out of fear and respect and to
pay homage to their spirits. Now we have come to a time where we
have the power to destroy ourselves and the earth as we know it. Now
more than ever we need to look at the cup of life and hold it in
reverence. drink from it and pass it on to share with others.