Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Production or Studio

Years ago when I was only a pup in this business I was over at Dorothy Auman's shop at Seagrove Pottery talking with her.
I wanted to consider myself a production potter since that was what you found in this area and it was a term I had heard since I was a child. I was learning to make the same shape over and over again and I was making production in my mind would that not mean I was a production potter?
Dorothy, who was always so patient with me set me straight on the difference between a Production Potter and a Studio Potter.
She told me a production Potter, such as herself, only turned pots (she never threw pots, she turned).
A studio potter, such as myself did it all, they turned, glazed, fired and everything in between and after.
Dorothy, like all production potters in the area only made the pots. Once they were done she rarely ever touched them again. She used to say once I have made them they are Walters to do with as he sees fit.
At JB Cole's pottery I can remember watching the turners there.
They stood at their wheels making one piece after another while someone fixed their clay for them.
That person, the ball man or ball girl, worked from a list to provide clay that was wedged, weighed and stacked next to the wheel. Someone else took the pots away to be fixed, handled and placed in the drying room. After the pots were dried there was another person who took them down to be fired for bisque. After bisque they were unloaded into bushel baskets and a wheel barrow was used to move them over and up to the glaze area. Glazed by the glaze person they were then moved by boards down to the kiln that was the size of a bathroom. Think big, no bigger!
On Saturdays the kiln was unloaded, packed into the baskets and carried down to the shop to be pounced on by the line of waiting customers. Production at its finest, they put out a large kiln load a week.
Mark and I knew many of these production potters and they were content with their jobs as potters. They rarely thought about glazes or felt ownership for their work. Now in this role they often did not get credit for their work either. The owner or shop was given the credit. Think of them as the behind-the-scenes people.
I have accepted my role as a Studio potter in an area that was once known as the King of production.
There are what I would call traveling potters in Seagrove who work shop to shop making pottery by throwing for those shops. They too are usually content to just make pots for others and make money during a time when sales are slow. For the shop owner they can stock pile many production shapes, bowls, mugs, tumblers, pitchers, casseroles and such to either add to what they make or have blanks to do their own designs on.

There are many of the traveling potters who have moved on and opened their own shops making their own work but still find throwing work at shops here. In this case the area has changed.

I think there were a lot of the production potters who felt that in this job the skills they learned were creative and it kept them out of the fields and out of the mills. The ones I remember were happy to be just a turner and walk out at the end of the day.
I was at Cole's once talking with Nell as Waymon, her brother, ended his day.
He washed up, picked up his hat, coat and cane and walked past us whistling.
He said good night and was out the door.
Nell who took over the job of running the place and did more glazing than turning at that point turns to me and says,” He whistles, I worry".
I think of this and those many, many potters of my youth often.
And I get that worry part.
Are you a whistler or the worrier?


Gary's third pottery blog said...

OK, 2nd try to make a comment--I would go flippin' NUTS if all I did was one thing, and even blogged that very fact yesterday. I guess I am imaginative rather than repetitive.

Linda Starr said...

A whistler and a worrier, but I whistle while I work with clay that's for sure and I exclaim with glee every time I open the kiln and I like all the parts of clay, couldn't just do the throwing it would drive me crazy. I worry about other things but not clay. The clay keeps me from worrying too much. Great post.

cookingwithgas said...

Hey- I took down the first round after my edit team helped edit..thanks Les and Mark!
I know about that just doing production- it would make one crazy and yet... there is something about it that some folks like.
Whistle while you work!

Dennis Allen said...

I came to this after retiring from teaching.I love making pots, selling pots,and meeting other potters. Not having to make a living from it lets me whistle.(I don't call it Whistlecreek for nothing.) Anyone who has to sell to eat always has a reason to worry.

Cynthia said...

My first ceramic instructor was first a production potter in China and pretty much hated it. In fact, he hated it so much that he never taught the class to throw, even though he could do it in his sleep. He always emphasized creativity & developing our own voice. "The technical stuff will come later with practice", he would say. Needless to say, many of us were frustrated - and it's a huge criticism of art programs in colleges today. In hindsight, it was quite a gift to be allowed to just play with clay our first go around.

Yet - I'm often intrigued by the ads in the classified sections of pottery magazines looking for seasonal/year round production potters. It think it might be nice for a time being to just throw and not make any decisions. I know I couldn't do it forever, but to escape for a little, with room & board potentially included? Anyway, a bit long & off topic, sorry....

To answer your question - I used to be a worrier and sometimes still am. I'm learning to just trust that whatever is in the future is meant to be and that opportunities open up when we need them. I remember reading the following somewhere which has always resonated - It's no use worrying about what hasn't yet happened and it's fruitless to worry about what has already happened - you can't change the past. So move on...worrying isn't healthy. Rough paraphrase.... My daughter on the other hand is a whistler - literally - too funny, since neither my husband or I whistle. :D

Lori Buff said...

I do both, maybe I whistle while I worry. I love throwing more than glazing and would be happy to give that up some days. But often after I make the pot the glaze ideas come to me from looking at the form.

Paul Jessop said...

I like to call myself a studio potter, but I don't call my workshop a studio, because to me it's my workshop. I worry, as we all do but I also have moments where whistling is the only thing to do.
That's called enjoying what your doing. the worry bit is what keeps me on the edge, and moving forward.

Tracey Broome said...

I am a whistler married to a worrier. I remember going to Seagrove with my grandparents and seeing those production potteries and thinking that was the greatest thing I had ever seen, still is!
Great post brought back good memories. I wish I could go back to those days but with the knowledge I have now of pottery.

Michèle Hastings said...

i vacillate between whistling and worrying, often depending on the season. i know i could never throw pots for other people (in the North, where I came from, no one "turns" pots, everyone "throws").
Jeff still occasionally enjoys throwing pots for other Seagrove potters, but is done with the big production potteries... they are usually not the greatest companies to work for... but he has some great stories about how the potters entertained themselves while working together!

John Bauman said...

Production potters are masters of a few things. A studio potter may also be the master of a few things, but the demands we face make us more "Jacks-of-all-trades".

I spent the morning with a librarian friend who was helping me compose a resume. It's a daunting thing to realize how many things I know that are not resume-worthy -- how many things I know, but not to the level of any mastery that would make it eligible for inclusion in a resume.

Judy Shreve said...

I think today there are a lot of studio production potters -- they do everything. Our studios aren't set-up to have specific jobs or lots of help.

And does it count if I whistle while I worry?

Patricia Griffin said...

In the words of Alfred E. Neuman... "What - Me Worry?"

Hollis Engley said...

Oh, hell ... I don't know. I'm the only one who makes anything in this studio ... ummm ... workshop ... ummm ... whatever the space is called. I worry about shows where I only double or triple my entry fee. Can't buy clay in February with August shows like that. I sit behind my counter at craft shows and fume as an hour or more goes by with no one looking at pots, let alone buying them. I'll make 20 or 30 mugs at a time, 15 or 20 teabowls, 30 cereal bowls. So in that sense I produce, I guess. Gotta keep the inventory up. Good post, Meredith.

Hannah said...

Hey Meredith, great post and great question.
I am both and can swing between one and another in a fraction of a second it seems. Sometimes the whistling is very high pitched and tense sounding in which case I think maybe I am worrying while I whistle. (unpleasant sound I feel).

cookingwithgas said...

whoa Nellie- i am so intrigued by all your individual thoughts and answers to my question. I think we all have days of both.
This journey we have had in clay and now with potters we have meet through the internet is ever changing always in flux. The other thing I think of is that potters survive by having an ability to change.
Thanks for reading and thank you all for your thoughtful and thought provoking comments!
I think I will go whistle for a bit!

Gary's third pottery blog said...

It is not my business to sound judgemental, but I feel like the production style you write about there is akin to factory work for the sake of tourists and I really really REALLY hate it. We live in a time where pottery is made cheaply in molds overseas, and I feel like the only way to go is to be an artist potter, making items that are absolutely your own original work start to finish.

cookingwithgas said...

Gary- this at least gave you something to think about and you don't find that there are many of these type of operations left standing- it was a different time with a different attitude towards producing wares. And the majority of the pots made at that time were for the tourist industry. Seagrove is very different now than it was then. There are many more individual shops- think cottage industry now than the big operations. I think there is room for both- at least most of the pots are handmade, wheel thrown.


I remember reading something a while back about the Japanese concept of the nobility of the "unknown artist" - someone who was very good at what they did in contributing to a holistic piece of art without needing or wanting the recognition for the completed piece. I think there's a place for both types of pottery - I don't think that just because something is "mass produced" by hand that it lacks soul or a human connection. I'd rather purchase a pot made by multiple artists who are specialists in their fields v. slipwork, often made by one person from a mold that they just use over and over again...

What a good post, Meredith!

Oh, and by the way, I'm a WORRIER.

Laurie said...

I am to be a whistler, but it depends on the day... Course, I don't know a lot about pottery.

cookingwithgas said...

Hi Julia- thanks for your comments, there are places where the potter is secondary to what happens to the pot. I am amazed at the potters through out the states and abroad that chose to continue there own work despite the mass competition.
I am a worrier as well- maybe less so these days- but you have a lot on your plate!
Laurie- I think of you as a whistler and a person of cheer.

littlewrenpottery.co.uk said...

I agree, variety is the spice of life! I tend to whistle when I'm happy but when I'm worried I tend to become very quiet and prefer spending time alone...

Ron said...

Hey Meredith. I remember the very first time I came to Seagrove with a few others and we visited Holly Hill Pottery. We watched a guy, I think named Aaron, make pitchers. I'm pretty sure he was just a thrower/turner. I asked him if he ever got tired of making pottery and he said no, I get tired of making the same shape sometimes but then there's the next thing and that keeps it interesting. (about that time someone in the group knocked a greenware pitcher off a shelf and it broke, he said, don't worry I'll just make another one).

Anyhow I am mostly whistling these days. I'll be worrying again before long though.

Enjoyed this post.