This Cracks Me Up

This Cracks Me Up

Do you find when you travel that the more your feet hurt, the better the trip? My ideal day is one full of walking that ends with aching feet propped up on the hotel bed. There's just so much to see! Sound fun? I think so! :) 

I just got back from a spring break visit to Chicago motivated in no small part to see the exhibitions at The Art Institute of Chicago. Here are a few things that led to those sore feet, pottery inspiration for me and maybe some travel inspo for you!

A heap from the bin

"Canova: Sketching in Clay" showcases the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova's work in clay which he used to develop ideas for his captivating marble statues from the 1770s to 1822. 

One work is Study of a Boy (pictured below). The title card describes: "The bust began as a heap of moist clay dug out of a bin."

All ceramics start as a pile of mud. What I love about pottery is that the techniques at their essence are about transformation. The curator's description on the title card paired with this bust make that point dramatically.

But here's what made me LOL in the gallery. We can see here that cracks formed in the bust's firing. The curator suggests: "Although unintended by the artist, they underscore the fleeting nature of youth embodied in the figure." Sure, sounds good! Now they do!

I think all potters should have such a cultured cheerleader in their life to rationalize the quirks of the kiln for them. 


A Zen-like operation

Another exhibition, "Radical Clay: Contemporary Women Artists from Japan" brings together modern innovative sculptures that push the limits of clay.

While it's difficult to convey in a photo, the substantial scale of the works struck me. For example, Wandering (pictured above) by Hattori Makiko is the size of a coiled arctic fox, formed piece by piece of shaved clay with painstaking patience.
"The work involves an incessantly repetitive process," Makiko says. "Nonetheless, I never get tired with this Zen-like operation." Personally, I may not be so zen as that, but I certainly admire such dedication.

A golden touch

The most surprising inspiration came not from ceramic works but in "Threaded Visions: Contemporary Weavings from the Collection". 

The Japanese practice of kintsugi inspired Colombian artist Olga de Amaral in creating Alquimia III (Alchemy III) (detail, pictured below). 

Kintsugi is the craft of sealing cracks in pottery with gold, which is both a repair and an enhancement that celebrates imperfections.

I'm often inspired by the irresistible motifs I see on fabrics. Recently, I painted the rim of a bowl with a sprinkle of florals taken from a beautiful quilting fabric. I felt both surprised and heartened to discover that the inspiration flows in both directions between textiles and ceramics.

In Facing Touch (pictured below) American artist Lia Cook explores how the brain responds when looking at a woven image of a face as compared to viewing a photo of the same face. 

Working with neuroscientists, she found that the woven image triggers more activity in the part of the brain most affected by touch.

In Facing Touch, a girl wears a cap with attached sensors in a reference to the experiment, while reaching out to touch a weaving also by the artist Cook.

I'm interested to think more about how to heighten a tactile experience in pottery, not just for the maker but for others as well.


You don't have to travel or visit a gallery to find inspiration. But it's such a pleasure to do it. Have you encountered any inspiration lately?

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