11/19/2010 09:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Carpe Clay

Nature is so brilliant. There's no point in attempting the replication of perfection. But sometimes, we base and flawed creatures transcend folly and make art. Art is our best glancing brush at the wonder of nature. Science is, as well. These are the marvels that human beings bring forth. We, with the gift of imagination, give life to these miracles. Occasionally, the gifts are so lovely that they help us see and feel even the grace of nature itself more clearly.

My friend Maria grows porcelain roses. She nourishes and nurtures them by hand, pressing the finest slivers into petals, and winding them into beauty's whole. Her fingerprints become their counterfeit veins, her intentions their sap, until each one glows with a radiant, absolute, unmatched loveliness. They cannot be compared to Rodin's masterpieces, nor to Nature's. That is not their heart's desire. They are humble, quiet, testaments to the gentle love and aesthetic purpose that drives my friend to sit in a studio and "seize the clay," as they say at Greenwich House Pottery (GHP). She kneads herself, as well as the spirits of those who surround her, into these blossoms. She would say she's just doodling, testing how extensively she can build the fragile artifice without having it fall apart in the kiln. I know she does it for the work, not the product, because I paid witness one day.


Maria invited me to join her at the Greenwich House Pottery. "Bring a head full of poems and dress for mess." I managed to prepare for the former, though not the latter. As it turns out, neither mattered, as I mostly listened -- and mostly the Irishman seated opposite her in the studio on the third floor. He poured forth Shakespeare, Keats, Goldsmith and Burns with astonishing fluidity. "We had to learn it at school," he explained, "our tests would provide one line of poetry and we'd have to finish the passage." I confessed that I tend to memorize are love poems. "Ha," he laughed, "we weren't allowed those!" But, love creeps in. Who does not bear love for the leaves of Autumn to describe them as "And driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing./Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red," as Shelley did?

My new friend gave me a lesson in the Irish language's metaphorical descriptiveness and cascading embellishments, which was profoundly insightful. I had come to give, and here I was fully receiving -- listening, watching, and learning. And there was Maria, quietly weaving her roses.  

I recently saw the current Picasso exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. It was spectacular. I wrote down some of the Picasso quotations that adorned the walls, including this one:


Human beings desire to make sense of our world. To do that, the skilled create a vision of life that helps us recognize what we need or want or should see, even if just for a flashing instant. The word "poetry" is, after all, derived from the ancient Greek verb "to make." So, we have the power to sculpt with our hands, our minds, and our voices a story that brings truth. We cannot replicate nature's yellow, black, pale and hectic red, but we can help others realize the integrity of such splendor. When we work our fingerprints into the clay -- be our clay of choice material, linguistic, or the formation of friendships -- we answer our highest calling. 

Do the GHP thing: Seize the Clay.

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant


--Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth's superb surprise

As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind---