Setting the table is still something I do before most meals, and I take pleasure in creating an atmosphere where one can either relax after a long day and enjoy a meal or entertain others at a dinner party. For me, this is a ritual carried through from my childhood. As my mom or dad finished cooking dinner, they would bellow out for one of us kids to set the table. Often this was no small task, as the kitchen table, where most meals took place in our home, was the center of daily activity. So, prepping it for a meal meant putting away the homework, removing the day’s mail or a set of car keys, pushing aside a grocery list, hanging coats that were slung onto the backs of chairs, and repositioning a vase of dried flowers or some candle sticks that decorated the table. Next came adding the place mats, followed by the napkins, and flatware—always placed differently than the night before because none of us really knew any rules, although we each pretended to. Glassware often depended on what one was drinking, so a poll was taken and beverages were poured. Then it was time for choosing plates, and this was often an argument. The kids always wanted the colorful Hellerware my mom collected, but because it was dinner, she would insist on the stoneware with beige glaze and a muted flower pattern. And with that, the table was set. Food, family, and conversation about the day followed.
As an adult, and more importantly as a ceramic artist, setting the table is less of a chore and more like installing an exhibition—without the stress. First, I get to make all of the choices, from the placement of the linens and the forks to the mismatched plates and bowls, to the vase with fresh-cut flowers. Once the table is set, the conversation doesn’t just lie with the guests, it extends to how the functional pieces perform: how a pitcher’s handle feels when it is filled with water; how a platter passes from one person to the next when you can only grip the rim; how steady a tall-footed bowl is. I enjoy how the whole meal becomes a performance of players, settings, and props, and each role is crucial to the meal’s success. And most of all, I love how this ritual reminds me of those childhood family dinners.
In this issue, we showcase functional tableware. Dan Ingersoll shows us how to facet without fear; Sam Chumley demos dessert dishes with flair in the form and surface; Ashley Kim teaches us how to repurpose take-out containers into inventive trays and dishes; Dwayne Sackey gets down to the details on his mug form; and our own Katie Sleyman builds beautiful chargers to elevate her grandparents’ china. We also include investing 101 for artists, telling your personal story with better branding, more math for potters (this time we’re learning volume!), and efficient handle making through slip casting. So, before you set the table for tonight’s dinner, pull up a chair and settle into this issue of Pottery Making Illustrated.