Tony Clennell = awesome

I just attended the most inspiring workshop that I have ever had the privilege to be a part of. Tony Clennell of Canada’s Sour Cherry Pottery was at Hood College in Frederick demonstrating (among other things) composite throwing techniques. I, who have never successfully thrown more than 10 pounds, learned how to make a beautifully articulated 30-pound soup tureen (he calls them “Texas Sugar Bowls” … because everything’s bigger in Texas!), a 20-inch-diameter platter with a perfectly flared rim as wide as I want, and waist-high jug more appropriate for a pedestal than a cupboard.

More important than the functionality of the workshop (make a few of these soup tureens and I’ve already made back the cost!), though, was its inspiration. Or I should say Tony’s inspiration. I’ve been going through something of a dry spell – the sleek, understated line of the porcelain forms that I was so excited about (and that I have made so much of!) no longer hold any interest for me. I’ve been trying my hand at various other things, but I really haven’t know what direction to take until this weekend… it was kind of like “well, now that I can make anything I want, where do I go from here?” No potter wants throwing to be an exercise in repetition.

I aspire to produce something like Tony’s pots. There is motion and vibrancy in every aspect of them: each element contributes to the fluidity of the piece. In his own words, his pots are very much “alive”. (Of course, the fact that they’re like three feet tall is also impressive!)

I am now determined to get better at that myself. I want my pots to be expressive. I want their form to reflect the plasticity and infinite variability of the clay. I want my pots to say something to people. In their own voices.

It’s going to be a lot harder than it sounds like it should be; I’ve got eight years of training pushing me in the opposite direction. I’ve worked so hard over the years to get my forms perfect and smooth: because those were the skills that most eluded me. I was only interested in producing the kinds of forms that are well-suited for execution in porcelain, those that seem to serve more to bespeak the expertise of the potter than to produce any kind of statement of their own. But once I reached a point where I was able to throw any form I wanted – and throw it well – it was kind of like, “well, what now?”

Tony’s pots gave me the answer: a whole different artistry. I’m pretty scared, because it’s so easy for me to be anal, and letting go of my rigid control of each piece is frightening to me. But Tony’s workshop has made me, if not confident, then at least eager to get started and see what happens. So stay tuned for the journey.

(And thank you, Tony. Watch out for those “Cubans” on your way home! -grin-)

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