Why Functional, Wood-fired Pots?

We like using hand-made things, things that are useful, well-designed and pleasing to the eye and hand. This has been our approach for as long as we have been collecting. We have always preferred decorative arts over the ``fine'' arts, though how we have come to view those things we use decoratively on the walls as ``fine'' art and those things which we use in daily life as ``decorative'' arts is still a mystery to us.

The aspect of decorative arts that appeals to us is that there can be a great amount of art within the limits imposed by their function. A useful thing that fulfills its function extremely well is always a joy to use. The craft of the maker has enabled him or her to make something that can be easily and well used. If in addition, the art of the maker has added another dimension of good design and art to the piece, that makes it even more enjoyable and delightful to use.

Some of the other reasons we like functional things are more abstract. For example, music and literature are also an important part in our lives. There too, it is often limits that provide a framework within which to make great art. One only has to consider Bach fugues or Shakespeare sonnets to realize that the limits of utility need not constrain the limits of art.

In our work as software builders, we have similar constraints. The things we build are intellectual rather than material, but they must function in order to be used at all. And just like ordinary useful things, there are levels of craft that enable software makers to make things that range from minimally to extremely useful. And similarly, there is a level of art, albeit it far more abstract, that provides a similar amount of pleasure over and above the usefulness of the object. As with fugues and sonnets, there is an intellectual elegance and grace that adds another dimension to this abstract object.

Our interest in wood-fired ceramics comes from several sources. As collectors, we have always been interested in ceramics in a variety of types, forms and sources. Early chinese porcelain and stoneware has always been been an attraction, even if it is pretty much out of our reach. And, of course, in all these forms of ceramics, except for modern ones, flame has been the source of firing the clay.

We began our collecting of modern studio ceramics about 4 years ago when friends of ours introduced us to the standard ware from Ray Finch's Winchcombe Pottery. Having had a lovely dinner with them using modern handmade stoneware, we visited Winchcombe the next morning and bought several mugs and a salt-glazed lidded jar. This was our first introduction to a working pottery, the potters themselves, and their pots.

From there we expanded our horizons to other English potters such as Richard Batterham, John Leach, Clive Bowen, Svend Bayer and others in the Leach and Cardew traditions. It was in this context that we encountered our first American potter, Jane Herrold (and incidentally our first wood-fired pots).

In our usual fashion, we acquired books and magazines to learn more about this new collecting field. One of these was an issue of The Studio Potter that Jane had edited on Michael Cardew. We called her and by happenstance caught her at a great time: she had just fired and was unloading her kiln. This serendipitous event was the beginning of our love affair with wood-firing.

Almost all our pots are the result of flame, though many are the result of gas flames rather than wood. Still, they have a place in everyday use as well. However, there is something extra that wood-firing brings to the pots. In the case of unglazed pots, there is ash in addition to the effects of flame. In the case of glazed pots, there is an extra depth that comes from both the flame and the ash working together.

We bring together these potters to illustrate the wide range, the wealth, of wood-fired ceramics. We have enjoyed meeting and getting to know each of these potters, most in person, but a few electronically through the wonders of the internet and electronic mail. The pots range from unglazed pots to glazed pots of various kinds. In all cases the effects of wood fire and ash are of fundamental importance to the final condition of the pots.

Wood fire has enriched the pots, and the pots enrich our lives.

Faith and Dewayne Perry
October 1998

Dewayne E. Perry -- Ceramic Index
Dewayne E. Perry - This information last updated October 1998
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