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ethics-it's only dirt

updated tue 25 nov 97


Joseph Bennion on mon 24 nov 97

Chris Campbell wrote something to this effect: Use your hammer, it's
only dirt. I have no problem with the hammer. Hammering pots is good
work. It frees clay from the shapes we impose on it. It can turn bad
pots into useful road fill. It is said to be therapeutic. I winced at
the part about it's only dirt. My dictionary's first entry for dirt
says something like filth, obscenity or such. At best it defines it as
loose soil. The connotation was not the best. How do we value this
material we use? Is it only dirt?
I remember watching a film of Maria Martinez gathering clay in the
desert near her home. Before starting she offered a pinch of sacred
corn meal to each of the four directions. Later after making some pots
she carefully gathered up all the trimmings and crumbs off of her work
table to save for reworking into clay. This was not merely dirt. I
think she recognized that this material was a gift to be asked for and
treated with reverence. This clay is taken from the same source that
we are. Thomas Toft made a famous slipware plate that bore the
inscription: Earth I am it is most true, despise me not for so are you.
Don Bendel was once asked to give a workshop at a large university
ceramics program. He was given an ample supply of premixed clay for
the project. Outside the pot shop in a vacant lot was a large pile of
scrap clay that appeared to have been growing for some time. He asked
if he could use that instead. He mixed it with sawdust and dung and
made a few of his trademark 4 and 6 foot tall coil pots. He taught the
students not only about form but also about respect for materials.
Respect and perhaps even awe for these materials is an important
aspect of our craft. As I said earlier hammering pots is good work.
Mending and fixing pots worth the trouble is too. Whether you choose
to sell those pots, give them away or keep them is your option. I make
no apology for the work I have sent out of my shop with or with out
cracks filled. More than once I have had galleries refuse work they
perceived as flawed. In one case the piece was later bought out of my
shop at home by a well known Montana potter who saw the "flaws" the
way I do. I respect the galleries right to carry only work that meets
their standards. I claim the same right for myself.

I gotta go...Joe the Potter


Joseph Bennion "stay together
PO Box 186 learn the flowers
Spring City, Utah 84662 go light"
801-462-2708 Gary Snyder

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