Trimming Pots

Monday. I look at my alarm clock and it tells me that it’s 6:00 AM. I toss and turn, wanting to sleep again. The sunlight from my window, which is right across my bed is so bright. Even if I want to sleep some more, the brightness in my apartment is simply telling me to wake up. This happens to me every single day. I have decided to put my bed facing the window, so I would wake up early.  I love brand new days and how my days are not all the same. There are days when I would teach pottery making, forming my own pots, trimming them, firing the kiln, resting, reading, walking, etc.  I have tried working in the pottery studio for one full week and found myself exhausted. My body almost screaming at me, “Give me a break!” Since I am still doing everything on my own, I give myself time to rest for at least a day or two in the week.

I remember having dinner with my sister over the weekend. When she picked me up and entered her car, she said, “You look beautiful.” All I said was, “When you’re working with clay every single day and all you have around you are your tools, clay, the kiln, and dust , you would love to go out – dressed up or made up a little bit. Not to look beautiful and be noticed or to impress people. But to simply show yourself that there’s life outside the pottery studio. And you don’t always have to be in flip flops and in clothes covered with mud.” Seriously, I look totally different when I am immersed in clay at the studio : )

I teach pottery making and assist at the Ceramic Studio at the University once a week. I prepare for work, and make sure that I have everything in my bag before I leave my apartment. I arrive in the studio a little early and enjoy the silence of the space. I sweep the floor and knead some freshly mixed clay. Students today are coming to trim their pots, after forming them on the potter’s wheel. I make my own works as I wait for them to come. Humming a tune as I kick the wheel.

A few minutes have passed and they started coming. One of them is so excited and she showed me her trimming tools, which were purchased during her first pottery lessons with another pottery teacher. She brought out her wire loop tools for trimming pots. Both big and small ones. I feel them with my fingers and told her that they are still sharp. I showed her where her pots were, and she unwrapped them one by one. Letting the others dry, as she trims the pots she made first. She hops on the wheel and starts to trim, remembering her lessons in the past. I watch her as she trims. And I observe her hand position as she does it. She works well and can be left on her own, but she wanted  me to be with her, so I sat right in front of her wheel. Sometimes we talk and laugh, but once I see her get into the rhythm of trimming her creations, I stop talking. We stop talking but as she trims her bowls, I can’t help but be encouraged by the process of trimming pots.

To trim is to cut or remove unwanted parts. In pottery making, trimming pots are done, after they are formed on the potter’s wheel. It is done when the clay is in the leather-hard stage. Wet clay can’t be trimmed because the piece is not strong enough to handle any pressure. A wire loop tool is needed to do the work. Trimming is done with the pots turned upside down on the wheel. Plates, tumblers, bowls, and other forms are trimmed, to show its foot/base with beauty and strength.

As my student trims her bowl, I can’t help but be reminded of the “unwanted parts” of my life that has to be trimmed off. Not for them to grow back someday, but for them to be taken away permanently. A list of these things came to mind as I watch, every clay trimming fall on the splash pan of the potter’s wheel.  Some of which being exercising, eating healthy food, etc. There are things in my life that have been cut off. Things I never thought I could be separated from.  I know in my heart that someone bigger than me has trimmed me off from unwanted things in my life. Attachments to what should never be a part of me today. And as my creator transforms me, my real shape and form will come to life. Not turned upside down, but right side up.  For the clay in me has nowhere else to go but up.

Elena, the student, puts her trimmed bowls on the shelves to dry.  She looks really happy and satisfied with her work, and saying, “Wow! I made those bowls with my own hands. They’re handmade!” There are two types of forming pots: the handmade way and the slip cast way. These two ways of making vessels are done in different procedures, and the value of the pots is not the same.

I remember a scripture that I read from the bible on Romans 9:21 “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” The potter knows when to make pieces for mass production. And a potter also knows when to make creations – that are meant to be seen in an Art gallery, sitting on pedestals. And most importantly, the Creator knows, whom he has made for noble purposes and for common use.

For so many years, I know that I am one that is made for common use. But as I get to know the one who made me, I realize that “common” is not something that has to be lived for the rest of my life. God himself is an extraordinary God who has extraordinary plans for his extraordinary creations. As he transforms the clay in me to have fine personal qualities, all I could do is allow him to.

Trimming is done with a very sharp tool. But its sharpness is not produced to hurt, but to help take away unwanted parts, to show a vessel’s real function before it can be used.

Trimming clay ministered to me again today. It never fails to encourage me that our Creator knows what he is doing to you and me.  I will sleep tonight, knowing that I am a vessel in this earth not made for what is common, usual, or ordinary, but created for noble purposes. I look forward to a brand new day to form pots with my hands again. To pay close attention once more, not only to the clay that spins between by hands, but the handiwork that is being done to the clay in me.

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Handmade

August 2010. Eight months through a full year. I have seen more than three clay exhibitions on functional pottery and sculpture. Attending them one by one is my entertainment. I see to it that I come on time, and usually feel uneasy, when I know I will be late. Familiar faces are seen each time, and meeting new people is always interesting.

My friends – Ambel and Eileen, are clay enthusiasts like me. One summer day in 2005, we read on the newspaper about this first ever terra cotta festival in Dumaguete. We didn’t think twice, and bought ourselves air tickets.  Thanks to Cebu Pacific for having a promo. We are the type of women with hearts that would skip a hundred times faster, for anything that involves clay art. It was around summer time, so we packed our bags with very comfortable and light weight clothes. We left Manila without expectations, only excitement.

Our plane landed very early, and inhaled all the fresh, Dumaguete, morning air. The town still looked asleep, as there were not a lot of people on the streets yet. We checked in our hotel, and freshen up for the day’s activity at The Siliman University, where the festival will be held. As soon as we reach the venue, all we saw was  a huge poster on the glass, and a few people waiting for everyone else to come. Three Manila girls got there too early. That’s how excited we were.

The locals were wondering who we were, because we didn’t look familiar. We giggle our way through the crowd of Visayan-dialects-speaking-men and women.  We watched the people as they set up the tables for the artists. The festival started off with a terra cotta sculpture competition.  As I walk and observe, the work of the hands of  the artists per table,  I smile at how they work so fast and with so much passion. They were mostly quiet while forming their masterpieces, but I felt their fire for sculpting, as they move around their work. One foot step at a time, one stroke  at a time, with eyes paying close attention to details. My friends and I mingle with other guests and locals, as we wait for the announcement of winners. Our last night in the town was more fun, because we witnessed performance art by the locals at Mariyah Gallery, which is owned by the Taniguchis. The lawn area of the lot was converted into a gathering place for different artists, who wants to dance, sing, drink, and have a good night to end the festival.

We met a lot of people during the festival. It felt like it was a full trip of clay art, friendships, good food, and laughter.  We didn’t leave Dumaguete without going to the beach.  I came in with a tan, and went back home darker. Thank God that I came home to my mom, who appreciates me when I am recognizable or not. Haha! I wanted to extend my stay and explore the nearby towns, but I didn’t want my pottery students to wait too long for me.  It felt like a dream that happened so fast, and the next thing I know, we’re back in Manila.  It is during these types of trips that I enjoy my life and God’s creations around me. But since I am born, raised, and still living in Quezon City, I have learned to appreciate what I see around me, which are also creations of God with a tinge of pollution, and a fast paced life that can get stuck in traffic.

Last night, I attended an exhibition of terra cotta works by friends we met in Dumaguete five years ago, and a new friend who lives and works with clay in Bacolod. It was different this time, because their works are on wooden pedestals that are painted in white. The ceiling of the gallery is lined with spotlights, highlighting the pieces that were hand crafted with Visayan hands and hearts. A bar towards the end of the gallery with goblets , waiting to be filled with white and red wine.

My friends: Mark, Joe, and Israel, play a big role in the terra cotta scene in their hometown. A lot of new artists emerge with their assistance, skill, faith, encouragement, and confidence.

I walk around the gallery, and observe each movement of the viewers and the artists. I smile as I am reminded of a scripture from the bible. “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  (Isaiah 64:8). People from Bacolod, Dumaguete, Manila, Austrailia, America, France, India, and other nations were present in the gallery last night. And it’s a comforting feeling in my heart, to know that the Creator himself, know each and everyone of us. Each one is hand crafted with his/her own uniqueness, style, gesture, and freedom. And sometimes we are in darkness and enjoy our time there. And times when we are highlighted with God’s plans for our lives, leading us to our function and purpose here on earth.

In whatever path we choose, in darkness or in light, God sees us. And he doesn’t wait impatiently, but with love. A love that transforms with so much passion and excitement, a love that creates with gentleness and not harshness, a love that has a heart that beats fast with excitement, not only with the good things that we do, but in times when we need his skillful hands to lift us up, or times when we have totally turned away from him. He’s not only present in us and around us, when the light is too bright, and the surroundings are all white. But he’s with us in every heartbeat, in every footstep, in every falling and in every rising.

I am going to witness another pottery exhibition tomorrow evening. Not just another pottery show, because it’s going to be someone’s first one man show. And I’m not sure if I am going to be happy, because I will be a little late. But being late doesn’t matter anymore. The value of an artist’s work is not changed, by how its viewers come and go. What I am excited to see are the results of what came out a roaring Anagama kiln.

I love hand-formed pots, but the stories of the potters of my country, intrigue me more than transforming clay now.

As I go to sleep tonight, I will think about, the potter to visit for my next Philippine pottery studio tour. Not to see pots this time, but to hear the clay in them speak, how they went through fire, as they learn from mistakes in forming clay and firing kilns, and know the fire in them that makes them live life with flames of passion, love, integrity, faith and joy.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day, working with the potter’s wheel. The clay in me needs to rest now.

Goodnight, pots : )