Every Saturday for a year I made pinch pots. I wanted to work with my hands, free from any constraints of the work 'being or belonging to anything specific' or 'being sellable'. So every Saturday in 2002, I went to Adrienne Yurick's Brooklyn Third Avenue Clay studio and pinched pots.
It was there that she introduced me to the book 'Finding One's Way with Clay' by Paulus Berensohn. And 15 years later, while pulling together some info and ideas for the workshops I just taught this July at The Art Barge, I have found my way back to the book and am as inspired by it as I was when I first read it.
Looking up Paulus Berensohn online to find more info about him and his life, I am sad to learn of his recent passing on June 15th of this year. Berensohn was born and raised in NYC, a dancer first and then a potter who's 'passionate advocacy for art’s transformative power remained a central theme throughout his life’s work'. You can read about his life and history here on NCECA's blog article Remembering Paulus Berensohn and this blog entry from the Penland School of Crafts where he taught at and resided by for 30+ years.
The book is a beautiful ode to working with ones hands, honoring & celebrating equally the experience and the craft, dancing the dance, walking the walk, and I'll say it- pinching the pot.
Some passages from the book...
'start at the beginning'
'in the deepest sense of this is what I believe technique is- the ability to breathe the spirit of our lives into what we make...I don't believe it to be a talent that we either have or don't have. We all breathe, we are all alive, we all have unique qualities. Yet it takes hard conscious and unconscious work for most of us to connect these facts with what we make, to find OUR pots as we also seek our dance and our song'
'The molecules of clay are flat and thin, when they are wet they become sticky with plasticity and hold together as in a chain, a connecting chain. I like picturing that in my head. A life of increasing plasticity in which I make the connection between the life I'm living and the objects I'm forming'
'the aliveness of forming a simple bowl'
'it's very helpful if you can engage in this exercise with as little prejudgement as possible. Don't decide if you like the exercise or don't before you do it. Try to witness what you make without declaring it good or bad, ugly or beautiful. Such declarations seem like very heavy burdens for such young work to bear....these are first steps, and like those of a young child they may be uncoordinated, uncertain, and you may fall down, but they may also be enlivened by discoveries of your own and as sense of joy in a new ability opening up'
'The path I was following was no longer a straight one that assumed a passage from strength to strength, but a maze-like meander full of 'faults' that kept spiraling back to the beginning again and again, almost daily. Instead of growing up I was 'growing down'. Growing down into the heart of the professional where the amateur lives, that lover with an acorn in his hand'
'as soon as I learned how to pinch clay I wanted to share this process...with others. I am less passionate these days about the pots we make as pots than I am in the means whereby of the journey we experience forming them....pinching has invited me to slow down into time, way down into the pleasure and sensuality of first a pinch, then a stroke, then another pinch, and this one here/hear one pinch at a time'
'...now I do this as often as I can: make a pot to return to the earth as an offering, to thank the earth, or as my Aboriginal friends say, 'to sing up with the earth'. I like making this return into a ritual, especially with children. I fill the bowl with compost or potting soil...a few seeds or a seedling and bury the pot in the ground as an act of gratitude, as a tithing as a return'
'May you find at least one seed here, one way or another, that generates in your life as a flower, a clay flower, a flower of this earth through your hands. A singing up'
In much gratitude, M