"Belief in the need to make what we do should outweigh the approval or disapproval of any individual toward the results of that need."
Jurying a ceramics exhibition may incline the judge to acknowledge at least two past masters in our field – M. C. Richards, for whom every potter’s transformation of clay was a deeply personal spiritual expression, successfully immune to “criticism;” and Josiah Wedgwood, who, at an advanced age, was said to hobble through the aisles of his pottery manufactory, whacking with his cane anything he found “substandard.” The ghosts of both these folks lurked behind me as I went about my basically joyful work, with its inevitable grim component - having to toss overboard at least 50 show-worthy pieces to enable the good ship Strictly Functional Pottery National to float unencumbered at her berth in Lancaster.
Every pot we've ever held or beheld helps ramp up our appetite for the next ones we’ll encounter; still, 1600+ images from 388 entrants was an outlandish feast. I may be the last Luddite judge, not being a citizen of Facebookistan, Linkedinistan, or Twitteristan. I recognized the work of only 5 entrants, having been spared the daily pixel-ated image-blitz flogging fresh-from-the-kiln pots photographed as soon as they can be bare-handed, then proudly mouse-clicked before breakfast to millions of presumably ravenous eyes, worldwide. Nothing quite serves objectivity more than looking at “fresh” pots, orphaned from their makers.
This is my third go at judging the SFPN exhibition, and the quality of work makes the happy task more challenging than ever. Half the exhibit could have showcased some excellent pieces from wood kilns. (289 entries were identified as wood-fired, 218 were either oxidation or electric-fired, 167 had been reduction-fired, and 148 came from salt and/or soda kilns. Many pieces were not attributed to a specific type of firing.) Like every other judge, I like to think that long looking enabled special pieces to resonate with me, and those are the ones chosen.
If anything haunts me as I hand in my list of acceptances, it is the suspicion that 50 years of making, handling, and living with functional ceramics may not have been enough to avoid choosing some “harlotyaki” – pots whose superficial "beauty" can be irresistibly seductive. The best work often reveals itself almost unwillingly, through use, over time, and may be hard to spot in a brief encounter. With luck, some of these may be among those selected; only their prospective owners can tell.
How to select those pieces whose ineffable, yet meaningful, qualities transcend and defy both visual documentation and “marketability”? (Or, how do we let them choose us?) I’ll ponder these questions waiting for the 2022 show.
I want to thank all who entered, and offer this, from my juror’s statement in 2002: Belief in the need to make what we do should outweigh the approval or disapproval of any individual toward the results of that need.
My sincere thanks to Jean, Kevin and their staff, who created this fine opportunity for us all.
July 14, 2012Huntingdon, PA.
The following occurred to me as I looked at work. They aren't intended to be part of the juror's statement, which is cranky enough, but if there's to be a workshop, they could be made available.
Though the ways individual pieces may succeed are too numerous to list, here are a few items that give me pause:
1. The Achilles Heel Handle Syndrome: when using a cane or reed handle, the lugs should snugly fill the space of the handle’s flexible loop. Macaroni-size lugs, in addition to drawing attention to a fragile pouring fulcrum, create an awkward, vacuous moment before the handle contacts the underside of the lug and the pot finally rises.
2. Like most potters, I enjoy lids that fit caringly, in the many, often-ingenious ways they home in on where they belong. Several years ago at an opening I privately called the judge’s attention to a lid that just sat on a jar, but didn’t fit. “Oh, I know,” the judge said, “but overall…” Nodding politely, I didn’t hear the rest of the sentence.
3. Corks. Why corks always appears to me to be an object’s focal point, surrounded by a pot, I can’t explain, but for me they call attention to themselves like a bow-tie on a cat.
4. Objects that look as if they should pour properly but don’t, make me feel I’ve been had. (I take a jug of water with me while handling accepted pieces, and try them all. Inept pouring vessels don’t qualify for prizes.)
5. Images with a maker’s name in plain sight, as a signature on a bowl's foot. (Should they even be permitted?)
6. Does a copper-saturated glaze in a bowl or drinking vessel make a judge feel queasy about its food-safety? You betcha.
7. Square cups –not unless the handle is ergonomically located so the fluid comes out of a corner. Until I see a demo of someone in a clean white shirt drinking red wine from a square cup without using the corner, I’m convinced that the form and function are at odds.
I nailed number 5 on Jack's list! I didn't make the cut...