We budget for all kinds of purchases, big and small. Adding a line to the monthly household budget for buying ceramics is a great idea.
I find that there are many similarities between making pots and collecting pots. For me, both of them start with a cup. Making a cup is always the first thing I do in the studio and a cup made by Jen Allen was the first piece of pottery that I ever purchased back in 2007. I was in graduate school when I bought this piece and was just starting to transition into making pottery for my own work. Owning this mug allowed me to really study the things that I was drawn to in it; the craftsmanship, the color, the feeling of the handle in my hand, the way the rim feels to the mouth, and the observations that you aren’t able to make from looking at a picture. This started a process of acquiring, examining, and using pots that has shaped my collection, even beyond cups.
As with the Jen Allen cup I purchased, my collection started off as a way to study. I would buy cups that I could learn from through the interactions I had with them. After a couple of years of doing this, two things became apparent. First, I was starting to have a pretty nice collection of mugs, and second, my collection was quickly becoming one dimensional. Most of the cups were various shades of earth tones and fired in some form of atmospheric kiln. As I was collecting cups to study, this lack of variety likely occurred naturally as I was interested in wood and soda firing. I realized that I had moved past collecting pottery just to study and was now interested in collecting for the sake of the experience. It was clear there needed to be more variety in the collection. Over the last few years I have tried to make a conscious effort to have a wide variety of different styles in my collection. My cup collection in particular has grown from only buying cups that interest me, to buying cups that I feel will benefit the collection as a whole.
A Monthly Ceramics Budget
Most summers, my wife and I travel up to North Carolina to camp and visit the pottery studios in the Penland area. This has had a huge influence on our collection as we have been able to interact with the artists and purchase and trade our way into owning some great pots. One of the major things that has affected our collection is knowing the artist. We don’t own very many pots by artists we don’t know, and we have a story about when and how we acquired the piece.
I try to buy a piece at almost every show or workshop I put together at the Morean Center for Clay and always purchase from the studios visited during our travels. This has become part of our monthly budget as it is a priority to have pots in our home. Just like most people budget for clothes or that new piece of electronics they must have, we instead make sure that we have a monthly ceramics budget.
Analyzing the Attraction
I enjoy having people over and letting them choose their own cup from the cupboard. I always want to know the reason that they chose a particular cup. Sometimes the answers are simple like, “I was drawn to the color” or “I like the way that it fits into my hand.” Other times the answers can be a lot more personal—maybe they know the person who made the cup and are wanting to feel like they are sharing a moment with them. There are definitely some cups that people are drawn to more than others. My Kristen Kieffer yunomi and Matt Long whiskey cups always seem to be go to’s for people.
I like to have our guests choose their own piece as I enjoy the interaction between the user and the pot. Similarly, I enjoy learning about the interaction between the collector and their collection so I play a game with the resident artists at Morean Center for Clay. To learn more about why they own what they own, I ask them, “If there was a fire in your house and you could only save one piece from your collection, which one would it be and why?” The residents’ answers vary and show insight into how they think about not only their collections, but their own work as well. This is always a hard question for me to answer and I feel like it may change as my collection grows. At this point in my collecting, I’d have to say my McKenzie Smith pitcher is the one I would save. The pitcher form is one of my favorites, and this particular pitcher is close to my heart as I have had the wonderful experiencing of teaching with and learning from Smith over the years.
the author Matt Schiemann is an artist, educator, and manager for the St. Pete Clay Artist-in-Residence Program at the Morean Center for Clay in St. Petersburg, Florida. To see more of his work, visit www.matthewschiemannpottery.com.