Learning as an adult-16th Mar 2022

A Bex original

If you have been following me for a bit and feel as though you recognise this object, I photographed it as a part of my post for the 20th February 2022. In that photo is was used as a candlestick although it can be used as a vase to great effect. I have used it to hold a couple of Freesias or other similarly thin-stemmed flowers, as the opening was designed to be small enough for a candle to not drop down inside.

This was made by my friend Rebecca, probably about 15 years ago now. Bex, as she is known by all who know her, had joined an adult education class to learn to make pottery. Now, understand, she and I are violinists and we sat together in an orchestra where we worked. She would come to work the day after class with hands rough and a bit raw from the clay but with a big smile on her face. She described how much effort the “throw down” of the clay took to execute and how the clay, once properly seated on the turntable, had a complete mind of its own. She stuck at this class for quite a bit but eventually gave it up. When I asked her why, the conversation went something like this:

Me: “You’ve given it up? But, why?! I thought you were enjoying it!”

Bex: “Nah. I’m rubbish. I realized how long it was going to take to become anything like really good at it.”

Well, I beg to differ. I was at her house one day and she had rounded up bits of the pottery she had made as she was  going to take them to the charity shop. I was horrified. I asked her if I could take some of them home with me. Mystified, she agreed but made sure I understood how awful they were before I went. Lumpy. Uneven. Heavy. Just not what good pottery is supposed to be about.  My only comment was, “Well, I like them.”

Last month when I was writing the piece for the 20th Feb I happened to be talking to Bex on WhatsApp. I showed her the photo I had taken for the piece, asking for her opinion as it was her candlestick holder I was using in the picture.  What happened next really tickled me.

“That’s a nice candlestick. Where’d you get that?”

Luckily we were talking on WhatsApp so I could see her face. Not a trace of irony. She didn’t recognise it. When I told her it was the one she had made all those years ago, she didn’t believe me. I had to go down to the kitchen to fetch it back upstairs so I could hold it up to the camera. When she saw her little potter’s stamp near the bottom rim, there  was a sharp intake of breath. It gradually came back to her and, while she still wanted to have a go at defending her first opinion of the piece, she finally conceded that maybe it wasn’t that bad after all.

No, you can’t have it back! HAHAHAHA! :0)

In that photo, in the image as seen through my eyes, perhaps she could finally start to see the beauty that I saw. And I do think it is beautiful. Yes, the blue and white stripes grab me every time. The overall “I am not made by a machine” vibe pleases me no end. As I turn it all around, the changing textures and little imperfections speak of human hands and, for me and perhaps because I know her so well, the energy of the piece leaps out at me.

We have all heard stories of the potters who work a whole life time in their studios, striving to turn out “perfect” pottery.

Consistent.

Balanced.

Symmetrical.

Commercial.

Sometimes that’s what they do for a living and they make a roaring success of it. Sometimes they make enough money at it that they can go back to learning about making pottery again. They can afford to unlearn everything they know already, get out of their own way and finally allow the clay to tell them how it wants to be formed. If we are lucky, we have experienced those pots. Something solid that manifests as flight caught in form. Breath-holding stuff. The potter has returned to their beginner’s energy, that thing that wants to make us try in the first place. 

Never be afraid to try because you think you might be rubbish. It doesn’t really matter if you ARE rubbish- just do it for you and honour your beginner’s energy.

It is this energy that recharges our soul as we age.


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