As it turned out, he was a great potter and teacher. The night we met, in front of my bizarre, cone-less kiln, was the beginning of a new chapter in clay.
Because I was both teacher and student at the same time, I read everything, looked at everything, tried everything. Soon I was in desperate need of money to continue. I saw an ad in a local paper for a pottery teacher through the Free University. You had to have your own studio, so I applied.
To my surprise, in a few weeks, I was running a small, very informal pottery school. My students generally knew more than I did, and came eager to share their information.
Things really began to move forward. I learned about mixing and applying glazes, and all about cones and firing. I learned about kiln shelves and mostly I learned about potters. I found out about places to sell my work. I signed up for fairs and flea markets and even got into a couple of shops. I was eating on a more regular basis and I was buying all of my clay. I felt rich.
At that time I didn’t ask myself if I was doing good work or finding my own voice, or any of the questions I ask now. I simply concentrated on improving my throwing and firing skills. I still work seven days a week, but back then I worked seven days a week, sixteen hours a day.
I grew up with Corning Ware and Grandma’s fine china, which may have had great design qualities, but certainly lacked any personal connection. They were sterile, flat, and gave no trace of the maker. My goal was to put all I felt in my heart into a piece you would use to have your morning cereal.
In the early ‘80s, I took some of my new work, a couple of large, hand-coiled pots, to a fair. Local art fairs and small shops had become my major source of income. I priced one of them at $150.00, a pretty high price at the time.
A customer told me how much he liked the piece, but that it was only worth $15.00. I smiled and sent him away. Fairs can be grueling and this was no exception. I was selling, but not making as much as I had hoped. It was hot and I was tired. As the day wore on, the man came back and started in again. He said he would buy my pot for $15.00. I refused, but he kept giving me a hard time. Finally, he walked away. I was glad the day was almost over.
When I turned around, he was there again. I looked over at Larry and asked him to hand me the hammer. He wanted to know why. I told him to hand me the hammer. The man was going on and on about my pot not being worth $150.00. Methodically, I smashed the pot into pieces with the hammer, not looking up until I was done. I threw the pieces into a bag, held it up, and shook it in his face. “Now it’s worth $15.00!” I shouted. He was backing up so fast he nearly fell over. Everyone was staring at me. I could barely catch my breath. Another man stepped forward and opened his wallet. He handed me $150.00 and said that it was worth the show. My hand shaking, I took it.