By Moe Frumkin
Before making a pot, I always hesitate for a second, staring at the formless hunk of clay sitting asymmetrically on the wheel. Eventually, I imagine the form I want to turn it into, but this initial vision, as grounding and useful as it is, rarely lasts unchanged through the process. It's one thing to imagine a mug or bowl and a very different thing to actually make one.
As a pot passes through each step—wedging, throwing, trimming, bisque firing, glaze firing—there are countless choices I need to make, from the type and amount of clay to the glazing technique to use. For most of these choices, there is no obvious answer. No right amount of clay or right color of glaze. And each choice has implications for the pot down the line: you can't change the color of clay to match the glaze better or change the shape of the rim once you're trimming it. It's also impossible to try every combination of possibilities. This is why I hesitate in the first place, thinking about the decisions I will face. I know I won't settle the uncertainties—I couldn't even if I wanted to–but I try to start with some direction, making some of the choices and leaving the rest open.
I started ceramics last fall and was instantly captivated by the art form. I found throwing wheely interesting yet surprisingly meditative. Since a lopsided pot will only get more lopsided further along in the process, centering has been a challenge for me. It requires force to center a pot but also precision. If you let go too quickly, the pot will become uneven. Throwing makes me pay attention and be intentional with even the slightest movements I make. As a result, when I throw, I am present in the moment, watching carefully as the form spins and feeling the clay beneath my fingers.
I like the challenge of making pots that are functional as well as art. This adds a whole new set of considerations to be taken into account when I work on a pot: I need to imagine how it will be used, how I want to interact with the finished product. Bowls should be light; their insides and outsides should complement each other. Cups should fit neatly into your hand. This isn't separate from the artistic challenge of making an elegant form. Useful pots are often pleasant to look at, but elegant useful pots are, in my experience, more pleasant to use.
After I have made all the choices that are inherent with pottery, there is still the final waiting period of firing. Only then, when a bowl emerges from the kiln, say, is it clear to me whether it is a soup bowl or cereal bowl or ice cream bowl.
To me, the most rewarding part of ceramics is not the pots I get to take home but the experience. Ceramics makes me think—about form and color and function—but it also makes me be there in the moment as the wheel hums on.
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This article was published in the Winter 2023 issue of Commonwealth Magazine.