Monday, December 30, 2013

Dirty Jobs, But Someone's Gotta Do It!

Face jug, via Skinner Inc. Mid-nineteenth century, Aiken County,
South Carolina.
I always loved watching "Dirty Jobs" when it was still on. I got to learn about a bunch of different jobs I had never thought about or just took for granted. The show exposed me to things I never would have known about, otherwise.

It exposed me to American folk pottery, even if I didn't realize it at the time.

Fast forward a few years, to this week. I settled down to read a book I had had on my wish list for a couple of years. I finally ordered it with some leftover Christmas money: The Potter's Art (Material Culture). It covers pottery from a number of different cultural perspectives, including that of the American potter, and, more specifically, Face Jugs. Reading about face jugs reminded me of an old "Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe" episode, one in which someone suckered him into trying his hand at pottery. I went looking for the episode today, but could only find some clips...

Those of you who have seen potters throwing at demonstrations at a craft fair or the like might say, "Oh, that's easy! Look at how fast he/she's making that!"

Oh, really? Try it.

And that may be how Mike Rowe got sucked into that episode.

In that particular episode, he went to the Meaders Pottery, which started in 1863. I had just started in my explorations in ceramics at the time, and knew just enough to know that Mike was in for a tough time with his first throwing experience. (That first ball of clay was pretty big, for a beginner!) After the throwing came the glazing part. I have to say, watching these clips now, knowing what I do, I have a greater appreciation for the expertise in which these "simple" jugs are handled. I truly wish I could have found the full episode, as it showed almost the full process of making these cool and quirky jugs!
Face jugs by Chester Hewell, 1993, via Cowan's Auctions. Hewell,
by the way, was interviewed in The Potter's Art.
The fact that these jugs are so "ugly," by today's demand for homogeneous ware, brings me back to the idea that quality and individuality will always hold a place over mass-market offerings. While I know that there are some great potters behind the designs from highly recognized companies, something about handmade ware from potteries that have been family-owned for generations just speaks to me. (Oh, and did I mention that they're wood-fired? I mean, getting to do a wood firing would be super-cool!)

I guess what saddens me is that ceramics are now being reproduced with 3D technology. My potter's soul just feels this to be not only sacrilege, but just not right! I mean, if just anyone with a 3D printer can whip this kind of thing out, where's the art? Where's the hard-won skill? Where is the actual value? The thought just makes my skin crawl.

It makes me feel sick to my stomach to think that something with such a long tradition can be reproduced with what I feel is such a lack of respect for history, although I suppose those who do this feel they are rediscovering and preserving history. Maybe.

What do you think?

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