The Act of Breaking, Part I
Updated: Aug 24
Breaks are a part of having ceramic objects: It's inevitable that over time some wear and chips will appear over items you lovingly use. A few months ago one of my favorite pieces broke: I was completely undone. The piece had lived on my counter for years. It was a beautiful dish from Bryce Briscoe that I had bought during his residency at the Appalachian Center for Craft. I'd acquired this piece while I was taking a week long workshop on translucent porcelain with his friend, artist David Scott Smith. I remember David and Bryce heading out after class one evening to collect some local Tennessee clay from the lakeside deposits in the area. Bryce used the local clay in his slips to enhance the surfaces of his pots.
Thankfully the full form didn't break, just the knob. I felt desperate as I looked around everywhere for the tiny fragments that had flown all over the kitchen. I remember feeling frantic as I pieced them back together. It really felt like I was going through the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. I couldn't believe the piece was broken. I moved to anger quickly: Anger at myself for putting the piece so close to another form and knocking the two together. I was unable to find all the shards to make the knob whole again. I looked for over an hour, all the while thinking; Could I put it back together with missing pieces? Was it better to just sand the jagged edges down and attach part of a wooden knob to make the piece mixed media. The brainstorming and hunting lasted a long time and then I just felt exhausted and sad. I had to move on to do other things.
That same week, we had an unexpected death in the family due to cancer; probably another reason that this broken form was weighing so heavily on me. Things felt like they were breaking everywhere in my life; losing a loved one, covid-19 starting to spread, social distancing starting, and then the broken piece. Ceramics has taught me that breaking isn't always something that happens fast. Sure, a piece can break quickly but there are also breaks in ceramics that take lots of time, pressure, and wearing away before they finally give. I think metaphorically people break like this too, either fast or slow over time.
When I finally accepted that the missing piece was lost, I placed blue tape on the jagged edges of the knob and moved on to other things. I would be ready to fix the butter dish when I came up with the right solution of what to do with it missing pieces. Since the death in the family, we had been isolating and doing family dinners with my mother-in-law. A strange thing happened one evening while I was making dinner at her house, about a week after the break and her husband's passing. Near her pantry, she picked something up and said "what's this." As I walked over to inspect what was in her hand I realized it was a small shard from the knob of my broken butter dish! It was the most unexpected find: I was beyond myself with emotion. What was it doing near her pantry!The missing piece must have traveled on our clothing from our home to hers. Not only was in unbelievable that this tiny shard made the trip from place to place without falling off to be lost somewhere in between but also unbelievable that I was there when she found it so it wasn't thrown away as some random piece of debris. It truly was a cathartic moment, full of relief, in the process of losing so much. A little shard reminding me to look in the most unexpected places, so that not all is truly lost.
Bryce Briscoe, Soda Fired Lidded Form
Check out more of Bryce's work on his Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/brycebriscopottery/?hl=en
Check out The Appalachian Center for Craft in Smithville, Tennessee -