The Power of Pots

by Doug Peltzman

          One of the highlights of the Utilitarian Clay Symposium last year at Arrowmont was the panel discussion “Potters Favorite Pots”. There is something so raw and revealing when potters talk about fellow potters pots. My peers shared heart-felt and personal stories that illustrated the emotional significance that pots carry. The following is the story I shared.  

          Some time ago, my wife and I decided we would only buy pots for each other as gifts. Like most people who make things, we have a great appreciation for handmade objects. The nice thing about buying pots for each other is the transcendence that takes place. The pots become markers of special moments in our lives.  It sparks conversation in our house and quietly makes our lives better. These objects become etched in our memories in ways that most mass-produced material things do not. 

           Over the years we have exchanged gifts and collected many pots that I could consider favorites. The piece I chose to bring to Arrowmont was a serving plate by Lisa Orr. This particular plate has a special place in our home. It has become a staple whenever we are barbequing. Its size and shape make it the perfect plate for transporting food to and from the grill and its colors and textures are at home amongst nature.

Plate by Lisa Orr

Plate by Lisa Orr

          Lisa makes brilliantly glazed earthenware pottery that is full of life and fluidity. I love Lisa’s work. Her forms and surfaces are playful, spontaneous, and in total conversation. However, I’m a bit embarrassed to say, that that wasn’t always the case, or at least, that I wasn’t always aware of this. At my first NCECA conference in Indiana in 2004, I can clearly remember seeing Lisa’s work in person for the very first time. I was young, immature and my only exposure at that point was through the lens of academia. I remember making a comment to my friends that a particular (Orr) platter, with its pile of layered glazes, looked like someone had “thrown up” all over it. Over the years, as I came to appreciate and understand craft and material, my appreciation for Lisa’s work did a complete 180. I can remember seeing her work again at the Demarest Pottery Sale in New Jersey, and then again on the mantle in Bruce Dehnert’s home at Peter’s Valley, and in this quiet space, some years later, I can remember thinking that her work was quite stunning. I had to grow as an individual to be able to fully appreciate her work. 

          Lisa’s work has taught me so much about the importance of pottery in my life. I’ve been making pots for over ten years now, and looking back, it is work like Lisa’s that has helped me mature as a potter and as a collector. I am continually learning to appreciate pots for their ability to challenge, engage, and change the way I think.