Fresh out of high school, I spent parts of a year-and-a-half on the northwest side of Chicago in the town of Elgin. A searching kid with a wandering sense of self trying to figure out who I was. It was largely an artistic excursion where I learned a few things, failed at a few others, met some incredible people, and gained the freshman fifteen. Even today, I look back on that season of my life with gratitude in many, many ways.
During one semester in particular, I spent countless hours in the pottery lab overlooking the woods and Tyler Creek as it wound its way through campus toward the Fox River. That was back in the days when I could use a kick wheel to turn pots, and I got thoroughly engaged in it. To start a mound of soft clay spinning, and then add a little water and some pressure and pull it up out of its lowly state of mud into shape and form and even graceful function of some kind brought something alive in me. The introverted core of me loved spending time and energy there in that lab, often times alone after others had left.
Few tangible relics of that season of my life remain. One is photographed here. Rough and barely glazed, it remains the favored work of mine, as it mirrors much in my life. Signed with the name that many called me then, and as only a few call me these days. The clay I used for this was filled with grog, which is the ground up material of previously fired clay. Because it had already gone through the firing process, it was hardened. Coarse. And when added to a new piece would cause it to shrink less in its own firing process. It was a kind of stabilizer in some ways, but also made the new clay a little more difficult to work with. It was abrasive to the touch, and left the skin of my hands torn and rough.
There is no disconnection in my storyline from then until now, but I am obviously different in ways. Life is like a potter’s wheel that has continued to turn. And with life’s turning and various pressures, it has continued to shape me. I was more pliable then, more open and formable in many ways. But even in that pliable state, there was the grog of previous experience. Previous experience that was akin to a kiln, firing formed yet soft clay into a more durable, permanent state. Hardened. Solid. Concrete to some degree.
I assume that Tyler Creek continues to wind its way through campus there, seeking union with the Fox River. I assume that the pottery studio remains as well. Life’s flow does not stop. The creation of this coarsely shrouded vase in 1977 is merely a relic of the ongoing creation that is life and humanity. Mine and yours. Living, breathing, growing. Erwin Raphael Mcmanus states that “..we humans have the strange capacity to live a soulless life.” Let a soulless life not be the case for me. For you. For us. Not this day…