Green Pots and Familiar Friends

No one who has followed by column here for very long has any doubt that I am first and foremost an Arts & Crafts furniture collector. I love wood. I love working with it, I love sitting in it, I love looking at it. And sometimes I even get up out of my swivel padded desk chair (I don’t love wooden office chairs), go over to my Stickley bookcase, open the glass door and stick my face in as far as I can and breath in deep breaths of century-old shellac and oak.

Bizarre, eh?

But I do have a few pieces of pottery around my office. When my sons were young and living at home I had a rule: if it won’t bounce, don’t buy it.

In truth, they never broke a single piece of pottery, although one time Blake did shove Eric’s head through a pane of glass in a Stickley bookcase. Once, however, I did have to watch helplessly from across the room as a young, nimble cat walked across a mantle and purposely nudged a piece of undecorated Marblehead pottery to the tile floor below.

It didn’t bounce.

But my favorite piece of pottery almost never made it out of the kiln.

I was in East Aurora a few years ago, visiting good friends and old haunts, when I ducked down into the basement of the original Roycroft Furniture Shop to see Janice McDuffie, who many of you have met at the Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference. Janice is a loyal friend and a delightful potter whose signature piece is her green, trapezoidal vase decorated with a single dragonfly.

Simply stunning. “Elegant simplicity,” I like to say.

But not the piece I left with that day.

After perusing the pieces in her basement showroom I wandered Into her workshop, as I am inclined to do, picking my way around the bags of clay, vials full of mysterious, bubbling glazes and boards stacked high with freshly-thrown pots slowly air drying before Janice would slip them into her kiln for their initial firing.

And there, on a high shelf, holding a fistful of wilted flowers and caked with a quarter-inch of clay dust, it stood: a twelve-inch tapered vase with a blended green and yellow background beneath heavy, drippy streaks of dark green glaze that ended in a puddle around its base.

“Janice,” I literally exclaimed, “that is one of the most beautiful vases I have ever seen! What’s it doing up there?”

Janice laughed, climbed up on a chair and pulled it down, casually tossing aside the wilted flowers and blowing off the worst of the dust. “Here,” she laughed, “its yours.”

Then, I could see why she had laughed. That puddle of heavy glaze around the base had permanently welded the vase to one of the heavy, dense firebricks in the bottom of her kiln. After the kiln had cooled, Janice had a decision to make: destroy the vase and save her the cost and time of replacing the expensive firebrick – or carefully chisel the firebrick into a manageable chunk and, in doing so, save the vase.

On that particular day, Art prevailed, for as a young John Keats once declared, “Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty.”

And Janice knew that – and shared it with me.

And each time I look up from my computer screen or even walk into my office, the first thing I see is Janice’s vase and I am reminded not of the pots and the pieces I have accumulated, but of the friends I have been blessed with along the way on my life’s little journey.

Until next week,

Pick up the phone and say hello to an old friend.

– Bruce