Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Potter's Art

Academic journal article Western Folklore

The Potter's Art

Article excerpt

The Potters Art. By Henry Glassie. (Philadelphia: Material Culture and Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. Pp. 149, -photographs, acknowledgements, notes, bibliography, index. $25.00 cloth, $12.95 paper)

This is a gorgeous little book, beautifully illustrated and filled with comparative insights into ceramic traditions from the United States, Europe, and Asia. Actually, it is a revised and slightly expanded version of the fourth chapter from Henry Glassie's recent text, Material Culture (1999), but it stands very well alone. It contains a new section on the Hewell family of Gillsville, GA, as well as numerous color photographs not found in the original. Although not formally designated as Volume 1, the book is intended to be the first in a new series on material culture, co-published by Material Culture and the Indiana University Press.

Why study pottery? Because unlike easel painting, it is one of the truly universal arts, along with architecture and textiles. Pots contain the essential foods that nurture societies, and they are often imbued with deeper historical or religious significance. While this book illuminates individual traditions, the thrust is cross-cultural. In offering what he terms "a few stories about the potter's art" (19), Glassie ranges around the globe, from Acoma, New Mexico, to Hagi, Japan, unlocking and comparing the deeper meanings of the work of a diverse group of contemporary potters.

The "stories" fall loosely into three parts. Appropriately, Glassie begins in Bangladesh, a nation of rivers and clays, containing an astounding 680 pottery villages and nearly half a million potters. Condensing materials from his earlier study of Art and Life in Bangladesh (1997), Glassie focuses on two essential forms, the kalshi, or water jar, and the murti, the unfired image of the Hindu gods. Here there is no rigid separation of craft and art. Both forms are made for cash; both are useful tools; and both are potentially shilpa: art. In short, pottery permeates daily life, uniting use and beauty, the mundane and the sacred.

Bangladesh offers a nice touchstone for the next three sections on Sweden, Georgia, and Acoma. In the West, nationalist philosophy and the Industrial Revolution have gradually stripped the pottery of its essential functions. So, Swedish potter Lars Andersson has installed a museum in his shop, which validates the old salt-glazed forms he replicates for customers seeking a connection to the past. …

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