Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Selling Seconds

83. Selling Seconds

Every potter unloads their kiln and (consciously or unconsciously) sorts the glazeware into four groups; fabulous, just fine, seconds, and wasters. “Fabulous” pots get entered into competitions, sold through the best galleries, or retained for the potter’s personal collection. “Just fine” pots become the regular table stock for shops and Fairs. “Wasters” get smashed and dumped. But “seconds” can prove to be a dilemma. On the one hand, they still have some utility, and some dollar value. On the other hand, their flaws run contrary to the potter’s carefully nurtured public image and ego.
Some potters are very relaxed about seconds and simply include a box of low priced seconds, clearly labeled as such with their normal Fair display. Others will save up a year’s worth of seconds and have an annual seconds sale just for their local friends and family. Personally, I have given seconds away to friends and family (with careful explanations) simply to avoid wasting the inherent utility still left in the pieces. Perfectionists, of course, treat seconds the same as wasters, without regard for their remaining functionality.
In graduate school unwanted pots had to be smashed in the dumpsters or dropped into the nearby river. We had a problem with “dumpster-divers” and many an unwanted pot, casually thrown away, had been spotted later as a hideous trophy of an unassailable janitor. I achieve both final utility and total destruction for my unwanted pieces by donating them to a friend with a black powder rifle range. (Apparently, if a defective vessel will still hold water the shock wave propagated by the water when the bullet strikes will utterly shatter the vessel. Very dramatic.)
Whatever your strategy, the fundamental question remains, “What constitutes a second?” At an NCECA breakout group discussion with a bunch of independent studio potters we got to talking about seconds. One of our group, a venerated woman, was arguing against selling seconds primarily because she found that her local customers, in particular, were reluctant to pay full price for proper pots when they knew that they could get seconds for cheap. Good advice. But something in her storytelling indicated that seconds for her included things like casseroles with one of the handles completely popped off. I remember a momentary disbelieving eye contact with another potter in the group. Surely that qualified as a waster!?!
Forty years ago (and more) the making of pots was considered such an unlikely miracle that one handled casseroles had some market value. Over the years, being a potter has lost much of its heroic quality and the degree of competition has increased significantly. To the shocked fellow potter and I “seconds” now meant minor glaze flaws and small cracks visible at the base of handles. We held our tongues and bore silent witness to a generational shift in the expectations of our profession.
For every potter, seconds serve as a challenge to their self-image and their public image. Some audiences will snap them up and never think the less of the potter. Other audiences find anything less than perfection contemptible. Learn what you can about your various audiences and then do what you feel you must.
I am reminded of a truism about photographers. What’s the difference between a good photographer and a great photographer? The great photographer only ever lets you see their great photographs.

1 comment:

French Fancy said...

I think being a potter still has a heroic quality. It's romantic - watching something literally take shape beneath your fingers. Some of the things that I love the most are earthenware and also china pieces that my dad used to collect in the thirties. I often take them out of the cabinet and stroke them and wonder who made them.