I learned to sling mud at my daddy's knee. I would watch as he helped the raw material down from the back of the truck. Then he'd push it around to about the shape that he wanted. At just the right time made the top perfectly smooth. He'd trim the edges up then add texture with a stiff brush. Cover it with plastic so it would dry at the correct rate. After a week the plastic would come off to reveal a perfectly functional piece. A sidewalk.
I made my first pot in college in 1970 while majoring in chemistry. In the summers I worked at a mill where they made stainless steel for the space program. Shop lore told of the old "spark testers" who, before modern assaying techniques were developed, could cipher chromium and manganese content by looking at the color of the sparks generated from a small grinding wheel taken to the scrap metal before loading it into the electric furnace.
While pursuing my specialty training in oral surgery I was introduced to the writings of Alan Watts and Zen Buddhism. While starting my practice in Somerset, PA I met the talented potter and teacher Randy Myers, and learned about that other great porter of eastern culture Bernard Leach. The inspiration derived by generations of potters of the aesthetic advanced by the collaboration of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada attests to the ageless validity of the ethic of elegant simplicity, utility, reserved understatement, and acceptance of random and chance events.
While reading Soetsu Yanagi’s “The Unknown Craftsman”, I researched hand brick making in the 19th century and demonstrated the technique at my local crafts festival for a few years. The most endearing finding was the fingerprints of children in the bricks used to construct my 1850 farm house. It appears that the family of the brick maker and or farm owner helped in the on site molding and firing of the bricks, and the child’s job was to turn the bricks after two days to prevent warping. The bricks were still soft at this point so the evidence of their participation became hard fired:
The balance of art and science, east and west, old and new continue to compliment and inform each other as I perform surgery in the morning and studio pottery in the afternoon. Before loading into my electric kiln, I now add chromium and manganese oxides to my glazes to add ........a "spark" of color. My involvement with pottery has taken a few different forms: student, workshop participant, collector, and there has been a number of years where my only activity was sitting in contemplation of the technical excellence of the work in my collection. Or as Jake Gittes so famously put it, "You're doing it like a Chinaman!"