In September I organized an event in our studio to make cups for our daughter Zoë's wedding. After sending out an invitation, ten potters graciously came to our studio on a Saturday afternoon to lend their hands. Based on a love for making things, these friends joined our celebration of love to make cups that were given away as gifts at the early October wedding held at our house.
In preparation I arranged to borrow several additional potters wheels. First thing Saturday morning, I made a huge pot of sweet potato black bean soup. We got beer and seltzer and pulled together a giant salad. At one o'clock the first potter arrived with two wheels and we helped him carry them into the studio. Then a few more friends trickled in. By 1:30 we were sitting down, throwing cups. The non-potters helped by weighing out and preparing ¾ pound balls of clay. At 2 pm I gave up my wheel to a friend who desired a wheel that could reverse direction. As I guided the event I moved boards of cups outside to dry, showed newcomers what we were aiming for, and gave out aprons and towels as needed. My goal was 160 but I had fibbed and said the goal was 175. By 4:30 we had thrown 180 cups.
Mission accomplished, I went and got the beer and heated up the soup. People cleaned up, mopped the floor and migrated to the house. We served soup, salad, and bread, ogling the Victoria Sponge cake that Dan had made. We all perched on the porch, shifting spots as people got seconds or adjourned for dessert. It was a lovely, convivial evening of friends from Maryland, Virginia and even one Alaskan potter whom we had run into at the grocery store a few days earlier because she was in Warrenton visiting her mom.
The following day Warren, I and Margaret B. finished up the cups. Margaret spent her portion of the day stamping all the cups with the initials "Z & M" and impressing the wedding date," October 7, 2017." Warren prepared the clay and I pulled handles. As I finished up, adjusting the feet or the rims as required, each cup made me feel as if I was having intimate conversations with each of our friends who had lent a hand. The rims, throwing rings, thickness, and interior volume all carried meaning, intention, and personality.
This week I made more cups for gifting. These are in honor of The Hill Center, a community hub in Washington, DC's Capital Hill. This weekend we are participating in the sixth Pottery on the Hill being held at the Center. People who buy tickets to the Friday night reception which supports the Center get to choose a cup as a thank you. Last year we made them as a group, but this year there wasn't a time-slot for that. So I made our share of 24 in our studio. Working by myself I thought about all my friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that have helped in these kind of collaborative projects. I considered in particular the friends who have taught me so much about being positive and lending a hand.
These cups are made from a different clay than I normally use and fired at a low temperature. It's a very fast turn-around--making, glazing, firing and letting go. I dried the cups on the wheel arranged in rings on a large circular bat with a heater positioned in front of a fan. The wheel slowly spun allowing each cup access to the warm, dry breeze. As they gently turned they evenly dried. As I saw them rotating I imagined how gifts are like circles. They are not a direct line from one person to the next but a circle of friends who gifted us by joining together to support Warren, Zoë and I so we could gift our friends who have helped us as a family. So we give cups to the Hill Center in a circular sense of good will. I imagine that If I put my fingerprint on this clay and make it into something to touch someone's lips perhaps it might also touch your heart and allow you to give to someone else--in the end creating a larger community than the solo artist spinning her wheel in the hills of Virginia.
photo by The Commoneer
"When the gift moves in a circle its motion is beyond the control of the personal ego, and so each bearer must be a part of the group and each donation is an act of social faith."
― Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property