Clay Culture: Art Cart

One artist’s inventive form of craft evangelism spreads the good word about how a handmade object can change one’s life.

I live in Brooklyn, but not in the hip, happening Brooklyn most people think of. My neighborhood is a bit far off the beaten path, and somewhat far removed—both geographically and culturally—from the metropolis we usually think of as New York City.

While this is great for a lot of reasons (including having access to studio space and a garden), it is not so great for having direct, face-to-face contact with a broad base of customers or with the ceramics community. While I am very fortunate to have developed strong and wonderful relationships with customers online and through shows, there are many people who have never been exposed to the pleasure a handmade pot can bring. Some of these people may love to own a handmade pot, but may not know it yet, because it’s not a part of their daily experience.

I have struggled with the idea of connecting with people I would not normally encounter in my daily experience or within the ceramics community—and have thought a lot about how I might increase the likelihood that our paths would cross.

So, I decided to do something about it. Looking around the city, I was taken by the evangelists I saw throughout the subway stations, spreading their message on mobile card racks filled with literature. It occurred to me that I could do the same thing and be a sort of craft evangelist, bringing pots to the people and spreading the good word about how a handmade object can change one’s life.

Out of this idea, the Art Cart was born. Part performance-art piece, part social experiment, the Art Cart is a public-transit friendly, pneumatic–wheeled, mobile pottery delivery device I designed and built to transport and sell my pots in the city. Constructed on a steel hand truck with ¾-inch plywood, the cart allows me the freedom to take a scaled down, miniature version of my show display to people I would not normally encounter.

My first stop with the Art Cart was a space outside of a Green Market in Brooklyn. The trip there is quite a workout—I take an elevator to the subway, push the cart on and off the train, take another elevator to the street, then push the cart up a long, sloping, steady hill to the park—but it is worth it. Many of the folks shopping at the Green Market are also drawn to handmade pots, and it’s nice to talk with people who see their value.

However, after a year of selling my work there, I realized I needed a new venue if I was going to reach a broader audience. I decided I wanted to set up on the streets of Manhattan. To do that I was going to need a new set of wheels! The original cart worked well for getting my work to the Green Market, but it was too large and bulky, and the subway into Manhattan was too crowded. So I built a smaller, lighter cart. I call it the Art Cart 2.0. This version is constructed entirely of ¼-inch plywood and pine with aluminum wheels, making it much easier to maneuver.

This second iteration of the Art Cart, and my adventures into the city, inspired a new body of work I call City Mugs—thrown mugs with cast handles and decals I make from my images of New York City. They are my take on souvenirs. These designs have a nice way of catching the attention of people who may not otherwise notice handmade pots. My hope in creating them is that they facilitate conversations about the objects we use, and they do.

Set up on the street or outside one of the city’s parks or museums, I talk with people about art, life, why I do what I do, and how one’s favorite cup can create the everyday ritual so many of us enjoy. Sometimes, it starts with a conversation about how the images are produced, which flows into a conversation about why I make them, and the fact that they are an outgrowth of my interest in authenticity. A simple conversation about coffee or tea can lead to a discussion about globalism. I like the idea that I can be a part of someone’s experience in New York, and that their mug may remind them of the potter they met on their trip there. Making a connection with others also helps to make a connection between the objects in our lives and where they come from. We are often removed from the means of production; explaining how something is made, and why, seems more important to me now than ever. And in a city that can often leave one feeling very disconnected, the opportunity to encounter someone I may have never met before and—for a brief time—to connect in a meaningful way, has been truly invaluable to me not only artistically, but personally, as well.

the author Frank Saliani lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. To see more of his work and learn about his upcoming events, check out http://20thavenuestudios.com.

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