Israel, Amsterdam, Clay Coins, and You

Stone Wall - Gamla Nature Preserve

You may have noticed that my Etsy shop was in vacation mode for a couple of weeks.

After much planning, Victoria and I had a wonderful opportunity to get away from all the work, and visit some good friends overseas. Our journey took us to two beautiful, but extremely different countries.

Israel

Our first stop was Israel, where thanks to our friend Einat, we were able to explore the country more like natives than as tourists. In just the first couple of days we stayed in a cabin over looking the Sea of Galilee, took a nature walk in the Golan Heights, visited a local winery, and artist village. The landscape was so beautiful, it reminded me of trips to Southern California and Northern Mexico. Being on the border with Syria, I should mention there was light conflict in the Golan Heights region that kicked off while we were there. But I always felt safe with our friends, and gained a new appreciation for life in this part of the world.

Of course a trip to Israel would not be complete without a visit to Jerusalem, where Einat arranged a personal tour guide just for us. He was amazing, and for over 5 hours he led us through 3 of the 4 quarters (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters… no tourists were allowed into the Armenian quarter), showed us most of the holy sites, and even took us under the city to see ancient baths and tunnels that are a thousand years old. On another occasion, we were introduced to another great person who took us on a short drive across the Green Line and into the West Bank. I do not pretend to understand all the complexities of the region, but I can say that I feel very lucky to have met such wonderful people. And coming back to Tel Aviv, the beauty continued as we strolled a local market (check out Victoria’s great video) and purchased fresh produce to prepare a true feast for old and new friends. And to top it off, we enjoyed many delicious meals along the Mediterranean Sea, walked Jaffa‘s Old City, and got a taste of the vibrant Tel Aviv night life.

Amsterdam

After Israel, we flew to Amsterdam and spent a quiet week in a charming airbnb in the Jordaan neighborhood. We visited the Van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, where I saw great works by artists like Karel Appel, Marc Chagall, Piet Mondriaan, Pablo Picasso, Ivan Puni, Diego Rivera, Jan Wiegers,and Edward Krasinski to name a few. We rode the trams all over town, walked along the canals, and thanks to Mitchell, was able to take a very special bike ride through the city, and into the countryside were we stopped at a petting zoo to meet some furry friends. And a trip to Amsterdam wouldn’t be complete without visiting Saarein, a local bar to drink and shot pool.

New Art Always Comes with a Little Doubt

All of this travel could not have come at a better time. Before leaving the states, I was experimenting with a fun surface designs, and on more than one occasion I felt myself doubting this new direction. Standing in the studio, I would look at the new work coming out of the kiln and ask the age old question… is this good enough to share? Or asked another way… who would love this work?

Yes, I understand that even if I was the last person on earth, I would still be exploring clay. But there is also an internal yearning to share my art with others. To have the bowls used in someone’s daily life. And sometimes, this longing leads me into a vicious cycle as I question if my work is good enough, and then I hold pieces back (or even destroy pieces) which prevents anyone from enjoying them.

My skills with clay continue to improve. The quality of my bowls are sound, and I feel the shape, weight, and balance is there (I do need to expand into new forms, but that is a topic for my next post). So to be honest, I struggle to consistently capture that spark of magic within my work. And a critical component of that comes from the surface design truly matching the rest of the bowl. That is why a change in surface design can expose so much about myself. If done correctly, it is a personal reflection shared openly with the world. But if I listen to those inner doubts, than I am quick to dismiss a new piece, seeing only its flaws.

But on this trip I was able to experience exceptional works of art by other artists. I heard many of their personal stories, often filled with struggles to see the beauty within their own work. And so somewhere along our trip, I remembered another potter who pushed past a similar struggle.

Beautiful Clay Coins

Many years ago, my friends took me to meet a potter living outside of the city of Columbus. He made beautiful, organic low-fire pottery, overflowing with rich textures and colors. He showed us around his studio, and to an adjoining orchard where pottery fragments hung in the trees, catching the morning light. One item that I could not help but notice were the hand printed clay coins scattered about the property, with a colorful pattern on one side, and a personal message written on the other. They were primitive, but felt so honest and true. When I pointed them out, he laughed, saying they were his legacy. But when I asked him, “who are they for?”, he just shrugged and got a little misty. This creative powerhouse was only about thirty, but was very sick, and knew he would soon be dead. He told me where ever he goes, he leaves these coins for someone to find. His hope was that his work would be here long after he was gone, bringing a little joy, laughter, and contemplation to someone’s life. He no longer struggled for that perfect piece of art. He accepted that his work was imperfect, and yet… worth sharing with the world.

During this vacation I thought about all those other artists who like me, struggle to share their work. I thought about my own art, and I remembered those beautiful clay coins. When life is so short, why should any of us be afraid to share our work?

Returning Home

Returning to my studio, I could feel a change in the way I saw my own work. Realizing that nothing is perfect (or everything is perfect), it was if I was meeting a new friend… and I liked them. So going back to my original question, “who would love these bowls?”, I do.

And if given the chance, perhaps you will too.