I’ve always been someone that falls in love easily and completely. When I fall in love, it lasts a lifetime; it becomes a part of me, and my heart is forever changed. Falling in love with clay was no exception.
My love affair with clay began in a single afternoon. I fell hard without reservation and have pursued this passion with my heart, my head and my soul for decades. I have been frustrated, confounded, and pushed to my limit but I have never had a single moment that I was not completely and passionately in love with clay.
I accepted clay as my mentor, my teacher and my constant companion. It has taught me everything I know. It has guided me and made me aware of the mysteries and joys of life. It has challenged me to look deeper and to be aware of everything. Clay has taught me to listen to my heartbeat, to stop time and linger in the moment and let myself sink into the depths of my very being.
Nancy wedging clay
Lesson one: It takes two to tango.
The very first day I got my hands on clay, I found myself alone in the spare room adding a little water to a dried-out lump of clay I had brought back from the side of a mountain near Golden, Colorado. I was determined to make something. I began pushing the clay together trying to shape it. It was sticky and didn’t seem to want to cooperate. It broke in two and cracked apart, so I added more water and pushed harder. It sat flat and wouldn’t hold its shape. After a while I relaxed, and the clay seemed to respond in kindness. That night I read all I could in the encyclopedia about making something from raw clay. It wasn’t much but it made me realize that I needed to know more. The afternoon was a failure of sorts, but the clay had done its job. I was intoxicated; I was curious; I was captivated. I had fallen in love and I knew I would never let it go.
Over the next several days I read everything I could about clay. As I hunted down information, I realized clay needed to be fired so I took out old geology books and learned about different kinds of clay. I began to understand how complex and how simple working with this material could be.
I also began to trust the clay. It seemed to know exactly how it should be formed. I can’t exactly explain the experience, but the clay began to lead me. We began to collaborate and quickly I began to learn. My part was to be present and to listen to the clay. In turn, it was patient and gave me encouragement. I know it seems impossible, but the clay seemed to guide my journey. I began to trust my intuition and my hands moved across the clay letting it show me what it would and would not do. When I listened, there was a great sense of wonder.
The first profound lesson I learned from clay was that when we experience something or someone, we are not doing it by ourselves.It takes two. I had to step back and experience the clay and it needed time to react and guide me. The clay was always forgiving until I tried to control it. When we worked together, I made progress. Over the years I’ve come to think about working in clay as a conversation, not a lecture. As long as I’m thoughtful and I’m listening, magical things happen. When I get controlling, overbearing or stubborn it is a waste of time for both of us. For me, this was a game changer. Opening the door to my intuition, discovering the power of being aware, and opening up to another level of learning has helped me in every aspect of my life.
Our lives are filled with new experiences, new people and complex interactions. Working in clay continues to remind me to take the time to listen and engage. Clay is the thread that runs through my every experience. It is integrated in every minute, every day, and every activity. It teaches me that our lives are not a series of isolated experiences. Every breath, every thought, every movement is the continuation of the last and the beginning of the next.
My days have become part of the dance of life. I move from home to studio, studio to teaching, class to gardening, and my family and friends are ever present. Cooking, cleaning, walks in the park are as important but not separate from throwing clay, firing pieces, taking work to market, writing or sharing my thoughts. They are all a part of the whole. Clay sets the pace; it is the one thing that reminds me that there is a time for everything. If I’m throwing one day, I trim pots when they are ready and fire when the studio is full and show the work when it comes from the kiln. I cook when I’m hungry, enjoy friends when they are near, spend time with family in and out of the studio and weave free time, nature and quiet solitude into each day.
The world is richer, more alive when I slow down just enough to listen, to see and to give the things around me the opportunity to show me their glory.