Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Things we Value

This isn't a philosophical post. It's not about religion, or family, or human life. It's literally about things. How much are things worth to you? Everyone knows the old adage, "one man's junk is another man's treasure." I'm in the habit of making and selling things. The things I make are very beautiful and yet functional in my opinion. Others think so too, because I can sell the things that I make. I make pottery.

Years ago, I made a pot I was very proud of. I'd discovered a new technique of decorating inspired by a relief society homemaking meeting I attended. The meeting was on a Saturday. Now if you know me at all, you might be surprised that I would go to a homemaking meeting on a Saturday. It's something I can't remember ever doing before, nor have I been since. Normally on a Saturday I would choose to be elsewhere, almost anywhere--else. Anyway a lovely woman taught us how to make Ukrainian Easter eggs. The technique totally fascinated me. While creating a unique design for my egg, my mind dreamed of doing a similar technique on pottery. I modified it to make it work more easily and came up with something I already knew how to do, wax resists and slips. I added another layer to the mix and came up with a technique that I love doing and still do on lots of my work. Some people are drawn to the designs and others like my more traditional brushwork, while others prefer someone else's work entirely and then of course, there are some who don't care for pottery all that much.

I absolutely love pottery because it's affordable art. I love that someone will purchase something from me and then take it home and use it. I love that a delicious salad or fruit might be served in one of my bowls. Or that someone will carry flowers to give to someone they love in one of my vases. I'm so glad that my pottery is literally all over the United States. It might be grandiose, but I like to believe that my pottery is gracing people's lives.

Now back to that bowl I was very proud of. So one of the first bowls I did using this Ukrainian inspired design. It seemed no one liked it nearly as much as I did. I took it to sale after sale and packed it back up again at the end of the day. You can see the bowl in this display behind the little blue and white vase. Yeah, it's hard to see--but there it is.

Anyway once after carrying it around to a half-dozen or more sales, a young couple picked it up and I presumed admired it. I said, "I'm so glad to see that you like that bowl. It's one of my favorites." "Yes," the wife said. "We're trying to decide if it would work for a dog dish."

"Your dog?" I tried not to hide the disdain in my voice. "I'm surprised that you'd spend $40.00 for a dog dish." "Well," they said. "We've been looking all over and haven't found one yet  that will work. Our dog keeps tipping his dish over. We're wondering if this one would work since it's heavier and the shape works, but could you make one that is even wider at the bottom?"

They didn't buy the bowl. I remember when I finally sold it, it was to a young woman who really did appreciate the design and the bowl. Since then I've made perhaps a hundred more bowls that I've liked just as much as that one. 

Another time a member of my church congregation came up to me in church, excited to tell me that she found some of my pottery at a garage sale and that she bought a piece for 25 cents. She must have noticed my face fall. "Oh, maybe that hurt your feelings. I just wanted you to know because they obviously didn't know what they had?" I said, "well it's not a compliment." I understand why she was excited, she found something that she thought was quite valuable and got it for very almost nothing. I would have been excited too, but just so you know if this ever happens to you, you probably shouldn't tell the artisan who made it. 

While discussing the value of handmade things with a friend of mine, she commented that she once bought a large hand-stitched tricot quilt at a garage sale for $5.00!! The young woman who sold it, said it didn't match her decor, but she felt kind of bad selling it because her grandma made it for her. This sent a pit into my stomach. Imagine. 

I know things go out of style sometimes. Or we need to get rid of stuff because we're moving. There are lots of reasons to discard things. I don't mind so much that some of my pottery ended up going to someone who valued it even though they bought it really cheap. I can see how sometimes we don't know people well enough to understand what they value so we end up spending hours and hours on a gift that is ultimately sold at a garage sale, taken to D.I., or dropped in the garbage. My same friend told me about making a quilt for a friend's wedding and seeing that same quilt outside with her pet dog lying on it. Oh dear!

I remember crumpling a picture that a not quite three-year-old drew for me. I was lying on the couch in the living room. I was five-years-old and was very sick since I'd just gotten my tonsils out. A toddler handed me a drawing and I crumpled it up and told her it was scribble. I still feel guilty about that.  The memory is seared because of my ingratitude for the gift given. The toddler did her best work and it wasn't appreciated by the receiver. True, I was five and didn't know better. I can forgive myself for that, but it's a good reminder to me still. I hope to value people's time, their talents, and their thoughtful gestures. 

There's a woman who admires my pottery a lot. She's only bought one or two pieces and yet, she always makes me feel like my art gives her such pleasure. This woman has battled cancer. Once she came into my booth at Summerfest and picked up one of my lotion pots. She said that even holding it and looking at it gives her joy. She mentioned one other artist in the show whose work she admired also. She said, she came to the sale just to see my work and his paintings and then she would go home. I can still visualize her face when she talked about my work. Her compliment made me want to go be the kind of person who could sincerely give such a compliment. 

I saw the woman again, years later. We talked for an hour about art and life and how much art makes life just so much better. 


Chris Todd Miller said...

"We talked for an hour about art and life and how much art makes life just so much better." So true. A simple yet profound statement that far too many just don't "get." Thanks for sharing this post.

Ralf said...

This is gorgeous!