Comment: The Underdogs

I have a confession to make: If you’re not the “underdog,” I’m probably not rooting for you. Please don’t take it personally. Although I sincerely respect the talent, education, training, and skills associated with a variety of expertise, I typically cheer on the underdog, whomever that may be.

Underdogs, let us not forget, often can be quite good at what they do. It’s only circumstance that gives them underdog status. During the NCAA basketball tournaments, for example, there is no “home” team. There are only “seeded,” or ranked, teams. Ordinarily the home team wears lighter colors, and the away team wears the darker version of their school’s well-known hue. But during tournament time, that darker color means only that a particular team is now the underdog, the lesser-seeded team. Well, that’s all I need to know. That’s my team, the dark shirts. I want the upset victory. I want the “little guy” to triumph.

If you are a ceramics underdog, I can easily root for you without knowing you. I am already one of your biggest fans. If you’ve had your hands in clay today (or even this week or this month) I’m rooting for you. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. If you are (clay-wise) unknown, underfunded, learning on your own, or under-appreciated but passionate about clay, you are getting a cheer from me right now.

Non-underdogs (you know who you are), please don’t misunderstand me; this has nothing to do with you. Seriously, I hope you do well. I hope anyone with their hands in clay does well. If you’re earning your MFA from a fine school, or you’ve recently completed your apprenticeship with a well-known potter, or your senior-proctologist husband just built you a state-of-the-art ceramics studio so you can “get in touch with your artsy
ambitions,” I do not wish you a life of awkward forms and harsh, ill-fitting glazes. But, I’m not rooting for you either.

This article appeared in Ceramics Monthly magazine’s October 2009 issue. To get great content like this delivered right to your door, subscribe today!

It’s the dark-shirted clay enthusiast that inspires me. I’m rooting for the single mom who finally makes it to the pottery wheel for an hour or so after midnight when the homework is done and the kids are finally in bed. I’m rooting for the community-art-center student who hopes their latest work wasn’t accidentally broken or placed in the cold spot in the kiln-again. I’m rooting for the mentally depressed CPA who chose the wrong career path and
now sees clay as a way out. I’m rooting for the non-college-bound twelfth grader who has connected with nothing meaningful in the past four years except for that one elective pottery class. I’m rooting for anyone who has a pottery wheel or a slab roller within twenty feet of a water heater, a lawn mower or a cat box (and for all the struggling potters in impoverished places who have never seen a water heater, a lawn mower or a cat box). You are my heroes.

Why am I telling you this? Because I suspect that you don’t expect to hear it. Because your connection with clay is important. Because people have had their hands in clay for thousands of years, and now you are one of those people. Because you see and feel a lot of things that many (most?) people don’t see or feel.

The next time you have your hands in clay and you’re making that thing, whatever it is, that’s in your mind’s eye, and you’re doing it with passion, and you’re doing it with love, it’s important. The object you’re making may not be important, but the making of it is. Wear your dark shirt proudly (I do). Never stop making things with clay. More people than you know want you to succeed.

the author Glenn Roesler operates Ivy Creek Stoneware in
Indianapolis, Indiana. To see his work, see


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