On April 16, 2014, potter Matt Jones presented a talk, “Exchanges: Garth Clark and the North Carolina Pottery Community,” at the Mint Museum in Charlotte North Carolina, a report back on Garth’s Clark’s influential “Back to the Future” lecture tour in 2012, beginning with a sold-out conference sponsored by the Delhom Service League. For more context read Clark’s editorial “Living Tradition vs. Measuring the Corpse.” Part of Jones’ talk (to be published in full at a later date) included Jones’ recent interview with Clark:
Why did you want to come to NC? Settling accounts with leftover Cardew baggage? Redressing the uppity punk blogger?
Yes, there was some settling of accounts with Michael Cardew, one of my primary mentors. Maybe it was coming home to those formative days at Wenford Bridge when I was in my mid-twenties. And a meeting with Michael’s apprentice, Mark Hewitt, was long overdue. As for the uppity punk blogger I discovered he had his good side so I decided not to bring my flamethrower. You had begun a dialogue that was too exhausting to be written, it needed to go both live and public.
Surely some of your expectations coming in were correct and others were surpassed. Could you give me a few thoughts on that?
I expected the audience to be more resistant to discomforting commentary about the future of their vocation from someone who was not a practitioner. That was not true. They were ready to discuss. They are very aware of the problems facing studio pottery and while we may have differed about solutions we were one about the challenges that lie ahead.
What did you learn or observe that surprised you most, and was there an image or memory that encapsulates your adventures here?
The warm welcome I received; seeing as down in your neck of the woods I have been categorized at times as the Satan of The Kiln. And to nail it down to one moment, that was lunch with Daniel Johnston the day after my Charlotte lecture. Driving up the hill from Seagrove with you and Mark Hewitt and seeing that table for twenty set out in the lawn in front of his house, covered in beautiful pottery, vases with wild flowers is indelibly stamped on my brain.
The brisket was not bad either. It was not just the genuine hospitality and the wonderful conversation at the table. It was more. That setting symbolized what handmade pottery is all about, the celebration of life, the ritual of serving and storing that attaches to it, the sensuality of food and form, and, without a word being said, it also encapsulated the North Carolina tradition and experience in its full ecological context, something no museum show could ever achieve. That snapshot of the house and table, spoke volumes. Thank you, Daniel.
Specifically regarding the Mint Museum Symposium, do you have any thoughts or feelings that you might convey which I can use to convince the Delhom Service League that their investments of time, energy and expense was appropriate?
I don’t have to say much. Anyone who was at the packed conference would have seen just what a vital day it was. How many times have you been to a conference and experienced such human electricity? I have been to hundreds and this was unique, powerful, honest.
At one point Mark Hewitt mentioned that he felt that the symposium was a “watershed moment” and wondered aloud which way the water would go. I too felt something of great significance was occurring, and I still feel that way. Did anything important happen that day? If so, how will it reach the broader community?
Did anything happen that day? Potters took away the fact that some change (no, not everyone suddenly becoming an industrial designer) is essential or else studio pottery will stagnate and slowly die.
A watershed moment? It was for me. But it’s too early to see what resulted. Change is slow, incremental. In perhaps a decade one can with more certitude point to that event as being a launch point.
I get that NC pottery is not your thing, not what gets you excited as a critic. What can you tell us about ourselves as an outside observer?
Be careful how you characterize my tastes. I am outrageously eclectic.
NC pottery is my thing. I get off on it, but only as part of a bigger palette. Intellectually there are few aspects of it that I find tempting but overall it has little to do with contemporary art, my main professional focus.
The tradition in NC is a unique ceramic capsule, I can’t think of another place like it outside Native pottery in the Southwest. It has enormous commercial value but messing with it too much might kill or at least maim this golden goose. That has happened to the traditional Indian pottery market. They pushed contemporary too hard and too fast, and it has hurt the whole field, weakening the traditional pottery as well that is their mainstay.
That said it would help to have more eloquent promotion of NC pottery that upgrades the context in which it is viewed. Its history and everything around it is rich, but it needs to be communicated in a slightly more elevated way. To be blunt one has to change people’s minds outside the state and get them to stop thinking of it as hokey. It is not. And without broadening your market outside NC times can only get tougher.
Have you considered the possibility of writing an article about your experience here?
I fully intend to do so, but in time. Time is my brutal, unrelenting enemy.
Above image: A sketch Matthew Causey made of Matt Jones while speaking at the Mint Museum, Charlotte NC, April 16, 2014.
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