Friday, September 19, 2008
When I met Tom White, I was finishing up my last year at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. I had been apprenticing to Michael Cohen, when it was suggested that I spend some time with Tom as his production work at that time revolved around copper reds. My undergraduate thesis was on the chemistry and physics behind copper reds.
About two weeks before Tom's big holiday sale he fell out of a deer stand and suffered some pretty major shoulder and rib injuries. As compensation for me lending a hand getting the studio cleaned up and prepared for the sale, he sent me home with two of the nicest teabowls I have ever held!
Every potter seems to have some "side" life and Tom's is hunting. Some folks have freezers full of Hungry Man Dinners, others have ice cream. Tom's freezer was FILLED with deer, elk, moose and all sorts of other wild game. My holiday bonus was a bag full of venison that made my last Christmas in Amherst a very merry one indeed. To this day I have yet to have a better venison steak!
This post was really supposed to be about feet. I hate getting side tracked but I think it is nigh on impossible to talk about a pot without gleaning something about the potter... so this preface is really more about the insight into the pot... not the potter. Really. Just wait.
Feet. Pots without feet look awkward. Not necessarily wrong, but it's noticeable. Tom's teabowls had the tallest feet I had ever seen at the time. I love how these feet feel in the hand. They BEG to be held. Tom's ongoing study of Asian pottery has informed his style, rather than overwhelming it. I don't think anyone would mistake his teabowl for one from Mashiko, and yet the considerations are similar, albeit different due to distinctions in different cultures. By and large, most Americans wont be whisking green tea in one of Tom White's teabowls. Whiskey, coffee, herbal tea, chai and god knows what else is fair game!
Looking at this teabowl after having used it for the past decade and a half (which admittedly saw this beautiful teabowl boxed up for the past 6 years), I am still taken in by many of the same things that first grabbed me. I love the swirling of the clay. I enjoy the splashing of the multiple glazes Tom used to use. Seeing the small stamping of his chop and other stamps really speaks volumes of how I came to begin my decorating on our current body of work. It all comes 'round I guess.
Details: When I first looked at this teabowl critically (during grad school in Utah) I couldn't believe that someone with Tom's experience would still be dealing with "plucking" on the footring. Plucking is where chunks of your foot bond with the kiln shelf. Kiln wash helps, when the wash is still fresh, but after 10-15 firings, with volatiles like gerstley borate and wood ash, that refractory kiln wash becomes more like a glaze. Then porcelain feet tend to fuse to it. Little did I know then that eventually we ALL deal with plucking and it is a bugger! Fast forward 15 years and we went through a spate of plucking that nearly drove Nancy and I to insanity. Now we add powdered alumina hydrate to our wax. So far, this has solved the problem.
I'd like to address other "foot" issues, but I'll save it for another post. I would love to hear from other potters about their inspirations and how they've lived with those pots, and how they've influenced their work.