Discovering a Favorite

by Jennifer Allen

Like many people who have a collection of handmade pots, I’m often asked, “Which pot is your favorite?”  And, as many may agree, this is a tough question to answer.  The beautiful thing about handmade pots is that they each have a unique story. Interactions between the potter and the pot are recorded in every detail.  Process markings then become modes of communication between the maker and the user.  I believe that in using handmade wares, we become more in tune with the significance of human interaction.

Back to the question at hand: “which pot is your favorite?”  Last September I was faced with the challenge of presenting my favorite pot during the Utilitarian Clay Symposium at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.  When I began to consider this question (because I do have many “favorites”), I gave myself one basic guideline:  

If I had to search the cupboard for recollection, it obviously was not my favorite.

So I thought about the pots that meant the most to me because of:

a.     My connection to the people who made them (former professors, peers, etc.)

b.     The way that they were acquired (travel, workshop, symposia, etc.)

c.      The historical significance

d.     How often I used it

e.      Its formal attributes

The pieces that kept surfacing in my mind were the Imari plate I found at my favorite antique shop in Indiana, the summer teabowl I got in Japan from Hide Fujimoto, the Shigaraki potter my husband apprenticed with, the Rosanjin Oribe bowl, the Northern Song Dynasty ewer that collapsed into its saggar, the Yixing teapot, the Russel Wright Iroquois mug, the Eva Zeisel creamer, the Josh DeWeese pitcher I use multiple times a day to fill up my dogs water bowls and the list goes on.  Although I adore each of these pots, there was one piece that I kept circling back to and that was the piece I brought to Utilitarian Clay: my sweet, little Linda Christianson mug.

Mug by Linda Christianson

Mug by Linda Christianson

As an undergraduate student at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, my first ceramics professor Martin Tagseth brought Linda Christianson in for a workshop.  It was one of the first workshops I attended as a budding ceramic artist.  I was enamored by the rhythm in which Linda worked with the material, her discipline and the ease of her craft.  Her work is a true reflection of my impression of her: unassuming, honest, straightforward, comfortable, thoughtful, decisive and fluid.

Linda left a small grouping of bisque ware for the studio that Martin kept in the display cabinet.  It seems like I spent hours gazing at her pieces dreaming of the day I would acquire my very own.  But traveling from Alaska is both difficult and expensive and online galleries weren’t established yet, therefore it was hard to get my hands on one of Linda’s pieces.  Every time I went to an NCECA Conference I’d seek out Linda’s work and every time I found it the “red dot” had found it first.  After years of ogling over her work, Steven Godfrey (my ceramic professor from 1999-2001), gave me this Linda Christianson mug as a graduation gift.  I was dumbfounded.  Steve had gone to Minnesota and while at Linda’s studio, knowing my admiration of Linda and her work, picked up this thoughtful gift.

And it is perfect.  About the size of my clenched fist, it holds the ideal amount of coffee.  The rich, warm peachy blush of the wood-salt kiln reminds me of the comforts of my upbringing.  The one finger handle fits like a glove and the thickness of the rim fills my mouth when I take a drink.  Linda’s rhythm and speed on the treadle wheel is captured beautifully within the form.  Finger marks record the process of lifting the piece off the wheel head and attaching the handle.  Trapped air bubbles, finger voids from dipping the piece in a flashing slip, wad marks and scars from a ware board further reveal Linda’s processes. 

The subtlety in Linda’s mug continues to evolve over time.  Now, the patina of use adds another chapter to its story.  Coffee stains accentuate the crazing of the interior glaze and creep through a hairline crack at the rim of the cup.  It’s funny that even though I don’t know Linda, I feel like I’ve gotten to know a bit about her over the years I’ve spent with her mug.

Linda’s mug is still my favorite pot.  The events leading up to receiving the mug, the way in which I acquired it and the connection I have to Linda after years of using her mug all make it a true treasure to me.  Steve, Martin, Linda, if you’re reading…thank you.