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Participant Information

Stanley Wertheimer

City:
Mystic
State:
CT
Country:
USA
Essay:

The role of clay in my life:

I started working with clay in 1971 in a village near Manchester, England while on sabbatical. It was love at first sight, and touch.

I was able to visit the spiritual center of the individual potter movement, St. Ives, and particularly the studio of Bernard Leach whom, together with the Japanese national treasure, Shoji Hamada, have most influenced me.

Since retiring (2001) from my position as Professor of Mathematics at Connecticut College, I have found more time to be in my studio. In 1996, I spent the better part of four months developing a collection of glazes, which represent my feeling about how one should perceive a pot.

The ancients felt there were four elements comprising our universe - earth, air, fire, and water.

Crafting a pot intimately involves all four; this should be clear when one handles the pot. An honest pot should be as close to the natural world as possible; I strive to make pots that give the feeling of the earth or sea.

In general, I do not highly decorate my pottery; the form and glaze should speak for the pot. I appreciate a well-decorated pot - however, it is not my style.

In addition I often let the clay tell me what it wants to do rather than always trying to be in charge. This may result in a disaster, or in a pot that becomes special. I also will use plants, shells, seaweed, and other naturally occurring materials to add to the interest of a pot.

From time to time I will work on pots suggested by others; for the most part I prefer to craft the pots I feel most comfortable with and hope that others can find something to enjoy in them as well.

Parkinson's disease slows me down, but my purpose is not to make lots of pots, rather to enjoy what I make.

Over the millennia, pottery has first and foremost been made to be used; if it feels wonderful and is a pleasure to look at so much the better. A member of the village made pots. The idea of a village, or community, potter has visceral appeal. It would please me greatly if I could be considered as such a person.

In keeping with that feeling I give one-fifth of my proceeds to the Nature Conservancy of Connecticut. Ideally I would like to dig my own clay, grind my own glazes, and use wood to fire my kiln.

The necessity of living in my community makes the wood firing impossible, so I use electricity. All pots are absolutely food and liquid safe and should be able to be placed in the microwave or oven with no negative effects - again, as a consideration to our modern "village."

The pots are stoneware, which means that the clay itself has vitrified enough to hold water without the need for a glaze, having been fired to 2270 degrees. Lately I have built a raku kiln and, with the cooperation of my family, have been making and firing raku pots.

The role of Parkinson's disease:

I was diagnosed with PD in 1990. As time passed I found that I became slower and, at times, unable to work at my wheel or the glaze table.

However, I have discovered ways to craft the same pots I have always made using different techniques that take into account PD; I find this gratifying.

Thus, I find that creativity is not affected, but technique is, and significantly.

That I have PD has resulted in the donation of more of my proceeds to not only PD but also to other medical causes. Lately I have been donating 100% of my sales to these causes.

Being active in creating pottery used to be most important for the pots I produced and how they reflected my general philosophy of life and art/craft; now the most important factor is that I am able to produce reasonable pots, albeit fewer in number, that still please people.

I also believe, though I have never asked, that others with PD are glad to see me as a representative of a group that continues to function in a craft that most often is stopped by PD. Clearly pragmatism has taken over.

I know that as time moves on I will need more help in my studio, and eventually be forced to stop altogether. This was made clear when I started getting into raku pots; I could not have gotten involved without significant family help.

I was surprised and pleased that this involvement turned out to be highly significant to both my children and grandchildren. This was a side of PD I had never experienced before in quite that way. All of them have a special place for the raku pots we have made, and I have only one or two for sale out of the many that I have thrown.

These realizations make my studio time that much more valuable and personally significant.