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Self Image, Centering

March 5, 2014 , , , ,

Centering by Mary Richards

Centering by Mary Richards

I made pottery on the wheel when I was young.  Two books were read by almost all the potters I knew in those days, Clay and Glazes for the Potter by Daniel Rhodes, and Centering by MC Richards.  The first technical manual often called simply Rhodes gave formulas and facts needed to produce pottery.  The centering book was all about zen and becoming one with the clay in the middle of the wheel.  I used to think the centering book was too silly, but now I think it is brilliant.  I have not thrown pots for at least 30 years, but the practice did make a difference in my philosophy.  To center the clay one must be centered.  All work is exactly like that.  If you are not centered, balanced, able to focus, your clay will be hard to manage.  Your vision will not quite be achieved because of distraction.  With clay it is possible to endlessly recycle it if it has not been fired.  However, if one works for too long on a thrown piece it is very likely to collapse.  Brevity and self assurance are the essence of throwing pots.

Centering was taken from an inspirational speech given to fellow craftsmen.  Mary Richards was asked to elaborate on that talk in a book.  The 25th anniversary edition is out so I have zapped it into my Kindle.  In her introduction Ms Richards states, “The imagery of centering is archetypal. To feel the whole in every part.”  Chapter one begins, “CENTERING:  that act which precedes all others on the potter’s wheel.”  This seems obvious, but the metaphors are many.  Whatever raw materials we have must be treated as a whole to make the most of them.  Many mediums are not as forgiving as clay.  Once wood or fabric has been cut it can’t be thrown into a slip barrel and become new.  An unfired  pot that does not meet standards can begin as a new lump of clay.  Sensitivity and refined touch are the main skills needed to center and throw pots.  Porcelain has different feel and qualities to stoneware.  Each clay body has potential and personality.  Each will take glazes differently.  The chemical process of  fusing glaze to pot happens at high heat and must be cooled slowly to avoid cracking and crazing.  There is technical accuracy, just as in distillation. One follows a recipe and keeps a firing log in order to attain exact desired results on a regular basis.   There will sometimes be pots that are ruined in the kiln, and this is a fact that must be accepted.  Not every pot will survive.

Mary Richards quotes Emerson who said the law is: “Do the thing, and you shall have the power.  But they who do not the thing, have not the powers.”  When I read this book about centering today I know that being a potter early in my life gave me an appreciation for practice and balanced design in all things.  I enjoy making my own clothes, growing my own food, and designing my own life.  The concept of centering means connecting from my center to the center of others, touching the core.  That is the essence of life.  Stay centered, my friend.

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for me the center is Jesus…


Frederick Edward rehfeldt

March 5, 2014

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