My personal experience with pottery ended in the eighth grade, which not coincidentally was the end of art instruction in our local public school. We were allowed to play with fired and glazed clay only once a year, and I considered my seventh grade project (a lumpy maroon bowl I'd propped up on a stem and daringly christened a "wineglass") to be a huge success. I immediately began planning for next year's ceramic opportunity. It would be a trinket box, a horse's head on the lid, the neck in low relief, but the poll-to-nose surface turned high toward the viewer, cunningly forming a handle. It would be the envy of Unit District 226, teachers and students alike -- Oh, it would be grand!
A year passed and we filed down to the art room. As the slabs were passed out, an assignment was given. It must have been near Halloween because we were told to make (oh, horrors!!) a monster face. I begged for my own artistic vision, but was denied. I reluctantly made one scary face, then I quickly and surreptitiously did another because my friend Kathy, sporting a new mood ring and fresh nail polish, didn't want to sully her fingers. Unfortunately this second piece was so sloppily made that it blew up in the kiln. Miss Doty was livid. She had carefully instructed us to beware of the possibility of air bubbles expanding in the intense heat. When the next class came about she made Kathy stand in front of the class and apologize for "her" carelessness, to the two other students whose work had been ruined. That had been myself and a stolid farm boy named Jeff. Apology given, we were told to respond. I said as far as I was concerned, the accident had only improved my work. With nasty shards sticking out of its face, my monster was only scarier, right? Jeff said he didn't care, because he thought the monster face was babyish and stupid and he had been planning to use his for target practice, anyway. Most of the class must have agreed with Jeff, as he went home with several other faces donated to his cause.
This story of thwarted creative ambition may explain why I collect discarded school projects from other people's kids. This cup, for instance, is one favorite. While it doesn't function very well to hold coffee (it's both unnaturally shallow and wide; the brew would cool too quickly. And the ornate "S" curve of the handle, while esthetically pleasing to the taste of prepubescents, makes the cup hard to pick up and balance) I love the craftsmanship and thought that went into the making. I also love that the artist etched her name, Sheila P., boldly across the front instead of discreetly on the bottom with the notation "Gr. 8." She also figured out how to make three colors from one glaze, by leaving funky geometric motifs bare, and utilizing a double coats of glaze in wide stripes, making both a deep blue-green and a soft moss green in the final firing. I like to think of the unknown eighth grader feeling the same jolt of pride in all these little ideas and touches that I would, had my equine geegaw been finished.
So now this cup resides near my drafting table holding odds and ends that I would loose track of if I put them away. I see it every day, and sometimes I take the time to think, "Hey, Sheila -- ya done good, kid!"