A CONVERSATION WITH SILENCE
The root of, prayerful pottery, stems from an age-old question: what is the source of creativity? This question, with philosophical and theological roots, looks to the cause of human creative acts and the belief that our creativity springs from a Divine source. I explore human relationship with this Divine source through my artwork. Each piece of art reflects an internal longing to connect with the Divine creator and to know his creative character.
The Reverend Dr. Robert Crouse explained that “[p]rayer appears to be simply the articulation of human desires, human longings, and human aspirations.”(1) Borrowing from Dante’s Convivio, Crouse continued: “the deepest desire of each thing, arising from its very nature, is to return to its principle.”(2) Therefore, he is the principal to which we long to return because we have been created by the Divine.(3) It is this synthesis of prayer being a longing to return to our first creative source, and partnering with that original creativity that compels me to make a connection to my religious beliefs. Each piece of work I create is an act of prayer expressing this desire.
My prayers with the Divine are silent exchanges. I quietly contemplate his divinity and feel his presence, trusting he is working on my soul and spirit. Similarly, when I work with clay, there is an unspoken dialogue between my hands and the clay through a creative, though silent, exchange. The clay does not tell me its intention or how to shape it. Instead, our dialogue is subtle. There is a deep-seeded relationship of touch built up over time: if my hand moves like this, then the clay will move like that.
The physicality of this touch is integral to my work. In the making process, the struggle with the material and my body are symbolic of the struggle of my soul in prayer. The struggle is a physical manifestation of the inner spiritual dialogue. The Biblical story of Jacob illustrates this contest between humanity and the divine nicely. Jacob met a stranger in the middle of the night and physically wrestled with him until the break of dawn.(4) After that, Jacob was known by a new name because "he had struggled with God and with man and had overcome."(5) Later in the story we find out that Jacob was physically changed forever from that struggle, for while he wrestled with God he was struck on his hip and walked with a limp the rest of his days.(6) Similarly, I also struggle physically with the clay on the potter's wheel, being changed by the process, and trusting that the Divine and I are participating in the act of making together.
My vessels visually document this inward struggle. My touch on the clay displays an honesty of being connected to the material: the use of my hands, creating throwing lines on the surface of a soft cylinder, a spiraling carved line of a trimmed foot, and my fingerprints on the surface of the pot as it is dipped into a slip. The variety of touch exhibits an authenticity of the process and echoes the honesty of my internal dialogue in silent prayer.
My hands outwardly express my soul's inner reflection and longing when forming a vessel. I have chosen to work with a selection of forms— cup, bowl, cylinder, and platter—which each exhibit an unstated need in my heart. The cup expresses the need to commune with the Source, the bowl to serve and share with another being, the platter bears witness to the marks of the process of life, and the cylinder to stand up and be known. Each pot captures these marks in silence, just as I struggle to know that the Divine hears me.
The pot goes through the final test in the kiln’s fire, a transformation bringing to life the potential in the work. God did not stop at forming man from the earth but, just like in the Genesis story, the Divine came down and breathed into humankind His spirit so that we would be alive.(7) This relationship with the Divine manifests itself tangibly in the kiln. As in prayer, I approach the kiln with a hope and expectation and patiently wait for the results. The kiln breathes and heats the work gradually, giving the work life. When the visible flame weaves a path across the surface of the pot, each vessel is marked, touched, and scarred. The vessel is forever changed in this final stage, transforming earth into art.
I hope to capture my journey and my understanding of the world in each pot. My pots reflect an attitude of being humble yet approachable, grounded and sure. Each stage of making, bears the marks of honest touch, draws me deeper into the act of creation and understanding the Divine Creator. The work is a celebration of wrestling with the Divine and being marked by it, scars, limps and all. Each vessel reveals a timeless and valid truth that the glorious can be found in the mundane, and the divine in the common.
1 Robert Crouse, Heavenly Avarice: The Theology of Prayer (St. Peter Publications: 2007), www.stpeter.org/crouse/writings/heavenly_avarice.htm, par 1.
2 Dante, Convivio Book IV – Digital Dante (Columbia University Libraries), https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/text/library/the-convivio/book-04/#12, Ch. 12, Par. 6.
3 Id. at par 5.
4 Gn 32:24, NRSV.
5 Gn 32:28, NRSV.
6 Gn 32:25,31, NRSV.
7 Gn 2:7, NRSV.