Saturday, August 29, 2009

Your Favorite Mug

One of the great delights in being a potter, a maker of utilitarian objects, is talking to people who have fallen in love with one, or more, of those objects. Usually, this only happens because they were already one of your circle of acquiantances, or as return customers at some Fair at which you are selling new work. If you sell exclusively through shops and galleries you miss out on this gratifying interaction.

Unfortunately, sometimes those much-beloved pots get broken, or simply develop cracks that reduce their usefulness. Either way, I am often presented with the heartfelt plea to "make another just like it."

Now, for a wide variety of reasons, much too numerous to go into now, I make one-of-a-kind objects. When people ask if a set of eight, for instance, would cost less per item, I am always tempted to say, "No, more." It's extra effort to make two objects match. And what 'matches' to me, hardly ever 'matches' to the customer.

But I want to restore my faithful customer's happy home life, and I want to be able to assert some degree of mastery over my craft. Why not make a matching item, even if the original is years old, and available to me only as an online photo or a small bag of shards? And then I started thinking about what the customer has really lost.

Losing a cherished mug of daily use can be a great deal like losing a boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe you had some inkling that the relationship was on shaky ground, a visible crack, for example. But the moment of loss is always a shock, and a betrayal, and a separation from a comfortable future you may have been depending on. But it felt so right, and it looked so good, and it worked so well, and there are so many shared memories.

And now you are alone.

However, in the same way that it is wrong, and a little bit icky, to want to replace a lost partner with someone new as nearly identical as possible to absent loved one, your new "one-of-a-kind" mug should be allowed to endear itself to you in its own, unique ways. You are capable of loving more than one "perfection." And I am capable of making more than one pot that you will learn to think of as "perfect."

I find that presenting the situation in this way to my customers cools their ambition for an exact copy. And it saves me from taking a fairly stressful type of commission. I have yet to hear if it ever improves their attitude about being unexpectedly single.

In the meantime, for those people still attached to both their partners and their favorite mugs: Be gentle with them; Remember where you put them; Do not treat them casually or clumsily; Don't allow other people to wash them for you; And don't drive away with them still on the roof of your car.


My thanks go to Rob Johnson, the fellow potter who also serves as my best photographer, for reminding me that I hadn't written in awhile, and for urging me to write on this particular subject.