Nov 17, 2011

Observations from a Potter

I spent some time recently watching some videos of potters on YouTube making pottery using a potter’s wheel. I had been thinking about a passage in the Bible that says; “…as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” (Jeremiah 18:6b NJKV). Jeremiah had been requested by the Lord to “Arise and go down to the potter’s house” 

I have observed many different potters over the years, both live and on YouTube. One shop that I stopped in the potter was cleaning up for the night. I watched him as he spent 5 minutes scraping the clay off the bottoms of his shoes; something that I hadn’t really thought about as being part of the process of making pottery. Lesson learned: The refuse from the pot is left upon the potter; something that he or she must remove so that they don’t leave it on someone else’s “carpet”. 

As an artist, I have worked with many different types of mediums including clay. I have used all types of clay; from “plastilene” to earthen clay. Plastilene Clay is an oil-based product and does not get baked or get hard. I have used it to create temporary sculptures from which I would make a mold; and then cast some other product into the mold, thus giving me a permanent sculpture of some sort. Earthen clay, on the other hand, needs to be fired in a kiln. 

One of the styles of clay that I haven’t done is working on a potter’s wheel. The idea of watching and observing and learning from a potter intrigues me because I personally have only made pottery without using a wheel. So I sat and watched several YouTube videos on potters to see what I could learn. And here is what I saw:
  • The potter leaves marks on the pottery from his/her hand
  • Water was constantly added or subtracted with hands or a sponge
  • One potter said; “You can only pull it up so many times depending on the clay”
  • It was the “flaws” that made the pot unique and beautiful
  • They weren’t really flaws but planned markings by the potter
  • So much energy was spent keeping the wheel moving at just the right speed
  • The clay needed to be placed exactly in the center of the wheel or else the pot would be off center/oblong/out of shape
  • When the pottery was finished, it was left setting on the wheel at the end and no one picked it up right away
  • I saw the gentleness of hands picking it up off the wheel
  • Wire was used to remove it, cut it away from the wheel
  • Once the pot wass trimmed it was set on the shelf to dry for several days.
  • After the pot is completely dry it is ready to be bisque fired in a kiln to remove the water so that the piece can be glazed without returning to the original clay and cause the pottery to break.  
  • After the piece is fired and cooled down, the pottery is inspected and sandpapered. This is to remove imperfections as well as to provide a smooth surface for the glaze to adhere to.
  • Then paraffin wax is applied on areas of the pottery where the potter doesn’t want the glaze to adhere.
  • Then the glaze, which is uniquely mixed and chosen by the potter him/herself, is applied on the pottery.
  • Then the pottery is set aside until the glaze dries.
  • Once the pottery is glazed, it is returned to the kiln for a second firing, in which the pottery is no longer porous and the glaze achieves a glasslike finish.
  • Then the pots are allowed to slowly cool over the next 24 hours before the kiln is opened and finished pot is seen for the first time.
  • Then the finished pottery is then given a final sanding and dusting.
THEN, and only then can a piece of pottery be used for its intended purpose.

And yet, at any point, including after it has completely gone through all of these stages, the pottery still remains so very vulnerable to being broken.

 The prophet Isaiah wrote; “But now, O LORD, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8 NJKV) 

The Apostle Paul writing to the Church in Rome wrote; “Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn't talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, "Why did you shape me like this?" Isn't it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans?” (Romans 9:20-21 The Message version)

The comparison to our lives as “pottery” can easily be applied. The Lord is asking us to let Him as the Master Potter form and fashion us into great vessels fit for His use. And that will require us to go through ALL of the necessary steps from clay to a completed piece of pottery. The Lord calls us to offer up ourselves a living sacrifice. 

“The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying: 2 “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.” 3 Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. 4 And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. 5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 6 “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the LORD. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!” (Jeremiah 18:1-6 NKJV)

1 comment:

  1. As an "Old Potter" who has not thrown a pot since I was in India, I can only say, He is the potter and I am the clay.... make what you will of me! Thanks for the reminder Tom. glen