Views of our vegetable garden: early Spring, early Summer, early Fall, and early Winter
I will remember 2021 was the year that our garden took over.
Perhaps it’s no accident that this was also a very difficult year for me personally. I will not deny that the garden provided a kind of escape for me, a sanctuary; a place I could go and lose myself for an hour or a day. But it was so much more than that. There is a lot of wisdom in a garden, wisdom that comes mostly through one’s hands and not through one’s head. The wisdom I found there goes well beyond knowledge of how to grow plants successfully. I believe most of these lessons apply to my art practice, and probably the rest of my life as well. Here’s some of the lessons the garden taught me this year:
I took a break from making pots for two months. Part of that was of my choosing, part of that was due to other demands on my time. In any case it was the first time I had had that kind of break from making for as long as I can remember- I suspect I've never been away from the wheel for that long since I started making pots 30+ years ago!
I finally got back to the wheel and thought I'd start out just by making some simple bowls. It's an easy form for me, and I can approach them like sketches: I can explore ideas without much investment of time or energy. I had a general idea of what I wanted these to look like, and decided to approach them in a slightly different way than I typically approach making bowls.
From the very first bowl these forms felt special. I was getting a fluid broad curve off of a narrow base the felt very natural, like a flower opening from a bud. There was an easy rhythm to my throwing that was controlled but allowed the clay's voice to come through. So much of what I want my work to do was coming out in these forms, and without me having to force it to happen.
I have now trimmed all these bowls and they are waiting for their first firing. I am really excited about the direction these are taking, and I'm hoping to be able to recreate some of the fluidity of that session of working on the wheel in coming weeks. In the meantime I think there is a really important lesson for me, so I thought I'd better put it in the blog so I would remember it. Here it is:
Dave, take time off every once in a while. Make other stuff, go find things that inspire you and spend time with them, or just sit and ponder. It all makes your work better.
The first "real" day of winter arrived this week in Chicagoland. As a person who grow up in the Southern states, it's easy for me to get discouraged by cold temperatures and lack of sun. There are days in this season when the high temperature will be in the single digits. The wind chill drops that temperature by 10 degrees or more. The sun currently sets around 4:30pm, which means it's dark before I even get off work. For years the first thought I had when winter came was, "Ugh- how can I get out of here."
The season of Advent has also arrived in Chicagoland, as it has everywhere. Advent is a time in the Christian liturgical year which is marked by waiting, anticipating, and preparing. As I was growing up I mainly remember Advent as a time of eager anticipation. Christmas was coming- the lighting of candles in the Advent wreath was like a countdown timer, or like the ball dropping in Times Square to mark the New Year.
I've come to understand that Advent is a much more complicated season than that. There is eagerness, sure, in Advent, but there is also reflection, stillness, and recognition that all is not as it should be, or as it could be. There is a kind of mourning in Advent, which seems especially poignant and necessary in our world today. If the thought of Christmas makes you feel "less than," sad, or depressed, Advent is a season that recognizes and affirms those feelings. It makes room for sadness, even as it anticipates the promise of hope and love entering the world.
Perhaps you can see how this relates to the winter garden. It's easy to look at a garden in winter and see only dead plants: to mourn the lost summer splendor, or long for the Spring that is yet to come. Those feelings are only natural, and we naturally don't want to spend time in that place, physically or emotionally, for very long. But I'm slowly learning to be present in the garden as it is in this season. It is reminding me how necessary this season is to the life-cycle in the garden. The soil is resting and rejuvenating, storing up energy that will feed next year's growth. Many of the plants are not dead, but hibernating; it is as if the plants have turned inward, collecting their energy into their cores and roots. Other plants have died, but also gone to seed, and those seeds are abundant!
There is a beauty to be found in the garden in winter that is unlike the beauty to be found here in other seasons. It is a quiet beauty, seen in the starkness of the structures that are there, seen in the promise in the seeds, heard in the rustle of the grasses. These are small moments of beauty, to be sure, and I have to look for them. I have to lean in. But they are there, they are real, and they speak to me of hope. It is really the beauty and hope of Advent, and I think I need it now more than ever.
My friend Paul Matheny had a great exhibition of new work during October at Hampton III Gallery in Greenville, SC. I was both honored and surprised when Paul and gallery owner extraordinaire Sandra Rupp asked me to write a piece about the show. (I don't get asked to write articles, much less show reviews, that often. So. much. fun.)
You can see the show online, read the article, and see a recorded artist talk on the galleries website here: .www.hamptoniiigallery.com/paul-matheny-2020
The good people at CIVA dedicated their latest journal to reflections on the craziness that has been 2020. I wrote an essay for the journal entitled "Making Pottery in a Time of Crisis," where I try to weave together some thoughts connecting CS Lewis with potter Malcom Davis. I was pretty happy with how it turned out, especially with the beautiful layout by their design team!
You can check out that article and many, many more reflections by getting a copy of the journal here. (it's free if you are a CIVA member).
My initial thoughts when the quarantine began.
the studio chair
A place for me to ramble on when I need to take a break.