A Big Bowl of Overlapping Communities

How much can one bowl contain? (Joseph McBride)

Last week I bought this sweet bowl directly out of the hands of my friend, mentor and colleague, Kathryn McBride. It’s not her creation, it’s her young adult son Joseph’s.

Joseph’s work is generally not offered for sale. He was donating it to a fundraiser and this was a scarce moment of opportunity. It’s a generous receptacle; a patiently hand-stamped, piebald copper red-glazed, evenly thrown bowl with a well-crafted foot and a subtle hand-pinched rim. I short-stopped it on its way to the fundraiser and sent my check to them instead.

When I placed it in the center of my round oak dining table, it began whispering, then humming, then ringing as clear as a temple bell, inviting me to not just notice the energies it has as a work of art, but to delight in the connections one bowl can forge in personal, local, and international ways.

Preponderance of the Personal

As a form in space, this bowl is a concave mandala, a vortex of radial symmetry. It dances with the Japanese notan of light/dark and positive/negative. It can hold anything and nothing equally gracefully.

The bowl also contains a few metaphoric miles of my journey with Kathryn, as we parented our similarly-aged sons and shared our personal and creative challenges. That Joseph — despite his many other interests and talents and being “raised in clay” — found his own way in ceramics is delightful and unexpected. I’m among a pantheon of proud Aunties.

Local Hands

Joseph told me he originally didn’t intend to even bisque fire this bowl — since it apparently didn’t meet his sliced-thin standards –but a fellow potter friend disagreed and sent it to the kiln unbeknownst to him. He eventually glazed it differently than his other bowls. It’s a bit of a renegade, this piece, off on another path entirely. A Wilbur the runt piglet saved by Fern. I was pleased that he was pleased I bought it.

An Ocean of Ripples

When the giant earthquake wracked Japan last March, it shook the brick climbing kilns of the ancient pottery town of Mashiko, crashing them to the ground. Like the tsunami waves that were generated throughout the Pacific Ocean, the circles of ceramic concern radiated out, touching the pottery community here in Santa Cruz. Many I know have pilgrimmaged to Mashiko. Those waves continued to England, too, because of the profound 20th century association of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, which changed the ceramic cultures of East and West everlastingly.

Global Hands

Quickly, quickly, quickly a heartbroken but energetic group of Santa Cruz potters sent out the call: Please donate whatever ceramic work you can to a fundraiser, all proceeds going to help Mashiko recover its livelihood. Leach Pottery in England is doing similarly and I’m sure there are more.

Joseph was donating to this event and I bought his bowl. A lot of dedicated ceramic work came into being for what I hear was a supremely successful effort. Joseph’s rogue bowl of loveliness will help more bowls to be made in Mashiko.

All because I listened to it, the patterns and colors of one engaging big red bowl revealed spirographic loops of personal beauty, of friendships, of compassionate local artists and of a globally overlapping web of potting communities.

Share this: