SOIL . STONE . BONE
In early colonial America, when winter closed in, farmers and their cattle were shut inside. As the earth slept, the farmers swapped the plow for the potter’s wheel, making vessels from clay dug from their own land. What they made were basic earthenware forms, rustic enough for the British to turn a blind eye to their rule that ceramics be imported. And so the same hand that had cultivated the meat and plant-life on the farm, turned the pots that served and stored food. The farmer was a potter. The potter was a cook. The cook was a farmer. The farmer was a potter.
This history reminds us that pottery emerges from the place where everything on the farm – and therefore in the cycle of life – meets and makes sense: where soil and stone meet air and rain. The cow’s muzzle touches the earth as she eats clover. The pig’s strong snout unearths acorns. The gander’s webbed foot presses, his beak twists and uproots tender grass. Our human hands turn and return the soil, closing the earth to receive the dead. Opening the earth to receive life. Here, where pottery comes from, is also where we – plant and animal – come from, and to where we return. For dust thou art. But while all pots are made of earth and the workings of its geologic clock, the art of pottery reaches past cyclical lifespans. When soil, stone and water are fired, they seize at the meeting point of mortality and immortality.
With immortality comes aesthetics. Potters have always reached for formulae that expand the potential for beauty. Across the eighteenth century, European potters sought the secret to the strength and translucence of Asian porcelain, testing all manner of compounds for their clay. It was in a porcelain factory in Bow, east London, that potters Thomas Frye and Edward Heylyn first mixed bone ash into clay body and what is now called “bone china” came into being. The invention rose out of waste-product; Bow was the center for cattle slaughter and the porcelain factory stood side-by-side with knackers’ yards. A diet of meat produced plate of bone.
Gregg Moore is the son of a butcher. He is creative partner to a chef. That chef is also a farmer. That farmer’s cattle are in Gregg’s pottery. And so Gregg’s ceramics mark the dynamic intersections of farming, cooking, eating and being together. The fissured edges of a loam-dark charger remind us that the delicate root of the radish pushed downwards through soil so that its green leaves could break the earth’s crust and meet the sun above. When we lift his drinking cup to our lips, we can see through the cup to the hand that holds it, a metaphysical reversal in which flesh appears through bone. This is pottery that brings depths to surfaces: the grass the cattle ate whitens the china; the imprints made by grazing, pecking and rooting tell us who dined before us; the break in the clay reminds us that you and I are earth. These are mortal, immortal forms.
by Kate Thomas