The Wheel Thing
Short essay by Jim Abele
My bowls are happy to hold a bag of potato chips, and when you get to the guilt-ridden stage of realizing you’ve eaten the bowl’s entire contents, you may look down and see that under the crumbs lies a subtle wax-relief design rendered in a celadon glaze. Look closer and you may even notice the spiral of my index finger, gently creating the waves that capture the grease and salt.
Or don’t. Don’t look. Just hold the vessel in your hands.
I am a potter. A descendant of a long line of craftsmen whose artwork lies vaguely between the decorative and the utilitarian. After weeks of throwing, drying, trimming and repeated firings and glazing, my work does not sit front and center. It is visible only in the sense that it completes a larger design context. My ceramic lamps illuminate the architectural contours of your living room. My vases contain the exotic flowers that resonate with the colors of your name-artist painting on the wall on the opposite side of the room. My bowls hold the change from your after-work pocket.
The stoneware’s weight is solid and strong. It can’t naturally decompose. In fact, it may still be here long after we’ve all gone. Consider that. If you’re lucky enough to be holding a vessel that I’ve left partially unglazed, feel the dramatic shift from smooth and sensuous to rough and exciting. Rub those greasy fingers on the unglazed parts and feel things happen elsewhere in your body. Put your mouth to the lip that I’ve considerately formed to keep liquids from spilling onto your lap. You didn’t notice that by just looking at it, did you? That’s okay. There are so many other pretty things in this room competing against each other to catch your attention.
We potters are drawn to our craft by a force larger than just looks. Our visibility can be as vague as the line between decorative and utilitarian. Or as beautiful as a soft lump of wet clay, spinning away on a wheel.
Jim Abele is a potter who makes his living as an actor. His acting work has taken him from Ibsen on Broadway to the bathtub of an erectile dysfunction commercial. His ceramic work takes its inspiration from the mountains and modernism of his homes in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.