Richard Bresnahan – Body of Clay Soul of Fire

Richard Bresnahan book

Richard Bresnahan.  O.k. wow.  I had never heard of him until I stumbled upon a book in the SF library about him and his life as a potter.  When I picked up the book I briefly scanned the photos of pots as I usually do to decide if it was something I wanted to bother with and saw tons of amazing pots that appeared to be wood fired.  I left immediately with an armload of books including this one called Body of Clay Soul of Fire by Matthew Welch.
In the 70’s, Richard Bresnahan apprenticed with Nakazato Takashi in Japan on the island of Kyushu.  There he learned to make pots on a Karatsu-style kick wheel, build kilns and fire them, and how to use local materials.  He now has a pottery at St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota where he fires a huge wood kiln.  He uses local clay and local materials for his glazes and has found ways to take what others are throwing away and turn it into something beautiful.  This book touched a chord with me and my desire to study with a master potter, fire with wood, and use ash glazes is even stronger now.
Just looking at the photos of all these pots is inspiring.  Reading the book is even more so.  There is a video I found as well. The Richard Bresnahan story is full of lessons for life.  He boldly went after what he wanted and the community of friends, teachers, neighbors, and family all supported him.  His passion is undeniable and people come from all over the place when it’s time to fire that big kiln.
Read this book and be inspired.  I’m reading it now for the 3rd time.

Emerging Artist

drying clay in the winter sun

drying out clay in the winter sunshine

Emerging artist.  emerging artist?  emergency artist?  emerging from what? from where? What is an emerging artist?  I guess it means becoming known on the scene.  I like this idea of always beginning.  Each pot is a new beginning, each session of kneading is a new beginning, and each washing up.

A beginner is always searching and learning something new by doing it.  Theory can get your mind going but really, doing it is where the learning begins.  There are so many forms I want to make.  It is endless.  I want to make and sell pots that people can buy and use.  I’m more attracted to green than blue, more to red and brown than purple, orange and black to me are better than pastel anything.  I like creamy milky satiny white and yellows.  I like transparent jade greens and deep translucent emeralds more than muted olive green.  I like browns.  I like reds that are warm and irony more than reds with blue.  I want to make pots that look as if they just took a breath of fresh life, and glaze them in such a way that maintains fluidity like water.

Ok so I am emerging.  I am emerging from an old tired career that was suppose to be a means to an end and somehow has become what I do and have done for far too long.  When you do something for so long it gets routine and boring.  It is not the beginner’s experience.  I want very much to start fresh like a spring flower and bloom in the sunshine of newness and learning.  An experience of trying something new every day is invigorating and challenging, encouraging me to resist judgment and frustration with a gentle intention of freedom, forgiveness and fun.  If it is not fun why do it.  Warren Mackenzie says that making pots ought to be fun.  I’m with him.  I want to have fun and enjoy what I do.  It will not be easy and it will be a long road.  The road is long anyway so making pots has just as much of a chance for me than anything else.  More of a chance because I love doing it.  I’ve been there and done that, and there and that don’t appeal to me anymore.  I want here and this instead.  ooh I like!  Been there done that, now I want to be here and do this.

I made a little piece of music the other night on my computer and found myself enjoying the first 20 minutes and then it became something else.  Something I did not enjoy, something that was trying to be something it was not.  It became a searching and sifting through process instead of a creating one.  My process of songwriting used to be free and flowing until I involved a computer and production.  Even when it sounds cool or hip or funky etc. it sounds like everything else.  When I used to just sing to write the song, it was more real and unique and more human and less machine.  I think making pots needs to be this way as well, fast and free.  To spend too much time on a single pot can take all the life out of it.  I want to always improve my throwing skills so I can let it all go and just make pots, like an actor rehearses lines, memorizes blocking, studies the scene and then lets it all go for the performance trusting that the work has been done.  It is like that with making pots.  Learn technique first and then let it go to be free and trust that the time spent on the basics will always be there for me to tap into.

This winter sunshine is a gift. It’s helping to dry out my clay chunks so I can slake them down.  It’s keeping my glazes from freezing and feels good on my face.  I’m filled with gratitude for everything that has led me to this moment.  All the ups and downs are part of the journey and this moment is where I want to be doing this.

Be here do this.