Thursday, March 12, 2009

Isaac Button reels

I noticed that more Isaac Button videos appeared on YouTube:

This movie of Isaac get my mind cranking. Here's a bit more about Isaac and his pottery, courtesy of Grit in the Gears. In watching this extremely efficient and practiced potter not only turn that many pots but load and fire that huge kiln (did you see those kiln shelves?!!) with such ease, I can't help but think how machine-like our bodies and actions can become. On the one hand I would love to get to that level of craftsmanship, to master the clay and glaze like it was nothing at all to throw twenty pound jugs in two minutes flat. But on the other hand, I think about his speed to make pots was out of necessity as they were cheap wares for the everyman. That I can take a little extra time to add to what my pots are is a privilege and I should consider that more. If I'm going to take the time to make a pot (let alone pots at all), it better be damn good by my standards.

The other thing that comes to mind while watching these videos of a man working in a very old fashioned and obsolete way are some of the Garth Clarke essays. I'm thinking of one from a Studio Potter in which he criticizes the followers of Leach as miring themselves in nostalgia and not moving ceramics as an art forward. It's hard to watch these videos and feel the urge to live that Isaac Button kind of life. Perhaps that's exactly what Clarke is criticizing, i.e. it's kinda backwards to want to live make pottery strictly in a way that has expired from our culture. I don't know, I still want to make pots all day long regardless of the cultural relevance.

On a less deep and introspective note, I love that the pipe never leaves Isaac's mouth. Also, it's time I started wearing some button-up shirts and ties to the studio.



Alex Matisse said...

Rob, I really enjoyed reading this. The pottery blogosphere needs more posts like this!

I have watched these videos before. They are amazing. In the workshop we often romanticize their skills, whether is be Isaac Buttons, or Wayne Hewell who used to turn 200 15lb planters in a day before his wrist gave out to carpal tunnel.

There is something both amazing and admirable about what they do. When I think of that Garth Clark essay, and I think about what he says about nostalgia, I think he is saying more that it is bad if the pots that we make only hark back to the past without any movement forward.

Henry told me a few weeks ago that it is such a gift to be able to extend one hand back to the past while extending another to the future. I don't think Garth would disagree. He says himself that the salvation for the anglo-oriental ceramic movement is in a neo-classical approach. That really excites me! It is a challenge but I do believe that tradition is essentially good. There will always be moments of stagnation but those will be out-weighed by the movements forward and the final product will have all the more depth because of it.

soubriquet said...

Thanks for the link, Rob, I have some of the same thoughts regarding Isaac Button, and his way of life. To to go back, and be that man is no longer possible in our world, our buyers are no longer the same, and our work ethic is not, either. If I was trying to do that, I'd have a little mini-digger on tracks, a four wheel drive dump-truck... I'd have fancy pyrometers and flue gas analysers, but then... Somehow Isaac was able to do it all with the same stolid resolution I see in the elderly farmers around here, men whose first reaction if something breaks down is not to pick up the phone and call a service mechanic.
But the main difference is that Soil Hill pottery was making for a market which has disappeared. In those days, clay pots were everywhere, now we use plastics and metals, we don't store eggs in waterglass over the winter, nor potatoes wrapped in layets of straw, in a lidded, bellied, pot.
Nor do we cook as much, we have no use for big bread pancheons, large pitchers for holding cool milk, on a stone pantry-shelf.
Isaac's world is gone, we must make for our world, respect and use the skills and shapes of the past, yes, but don't fool ourselves that our world will pay us to make in that way.

soubriquet said...

Worth pointing out though, that a fairly similar pottery still exists here. Soil Hill is not so far away from where I live, ten or twelve miles, the buildings are protected as being of historical interest, but abandoned.
However, a few miles north of me is another pottery, one which predates Soil Hill, (potters around there were fined in the sixteenth century for digging clay-pits in the roadway).
After Isaac Button retired, the potter at Littlethorpe, George Curtis, was the last of britain's traditional big-ware throwers, interestingly, George was trained by Albert Kitson, who had worked previously at Soil Hill for Isaac's father.
see here:

RobCartelli said...

True words, potting now is not what potting was. As much my nostalgia soaked brain thinks it would be a good idea to live in those times. It would be extremely hard work with few rewards. As potters we're lucky to have such an incredibly long and rich history of ceramic activity to draw from for guidance. We're also lucky that we can get not only more money from our work than Isaac did, but that our buyers understand our products as something really special and dear.