The Challenges and Joys of starting a Pottery Business


Form Follows Function by Peter Evens
I thought I would share this article by a Vermont potter.  He shares his thoughts about well crafted pots and more.
A couple of days ago, I threw twelve mugs. After I pulled and attached a handle to each one, I lined them up on a board and then stepped back and looked. They were each made with exactly a pound of clay, about five inches tall and had a flaring cylindrical shape. They were similar, but different as sets of thrown pots can be. I’ve been experimenting lately with some different mug forms in search of the right one and a cylinder that flares just a bit at the rim is the one for now. They looked okay with consistent wall thickness, flat bottom, smooth rim and appropriately attached handle. At the same time, as I studied the mugs, I wondered if their form was unique enough or were they just like all the others. If someone, someday, looks at one of the mugs, will they realize the mug was made by me without turning it over?

mugs by Peter Evens

My mug musings brought me back to my first year in college in 1971 and a debate about form, style and technique.  I was sitting with other ceramics majors in one of my first classes and after being prompted by Hobart Cowles, our professor, we started talking about the difference between art and craft. Most of us fledgling potters felt we were more craftsmen than artists while some argued the lines between the two were less crisp. That led to a discussion that eventually morphed into a debate about style and form versus technique and the utility of an object.  It was at that point when Hobart got up, went to the chalkboard and wrote the phrase, “Form follows function”. I’m not sure the quote changed the minds of all those who argued that we were every bit the artists as our classmates upstairs in the fine arts department, but it did add a considerable amount of weight to the argument for the rest of us who embraced being craftsmen.
It actually was an architect, Louis Sullivan, who is credited with the phrase that Hobart scribbled on the board. In talking about good building design in the late 1800s, he suggested that structures must exhibit the three qualities of “firmitas, utilitas, venustas” meaning solid, useful, and beautiful. What’s interesting is Sullivan actually wrote that “form ever follows function”, but a version minus “ever” is typically what is quoted.  The two phrases, although similar, are slightly different.  That said, Sullivan’s quote offers support to the notion that form is not unimportant, but it must come after function and utilitarian requirements have been met.
One of the reasons I love making pottery is that it’s dependent on the convergence of science and art.  Maybe that’s another way to define what craft is. Despite this convergence, most of my time in the studio right now is focused mostly on science and less on art. This reality led me to recall another quote that I had read in a book that stuck with about art and science, form and function, style and utility, but I couldn’t remember where I had read it. After a few days of searching through my library for the quote, I found it buried in the preface to a book by the author, Daniel Rhodes (photo, below). He shared that, “While technical information must not be considered as an end to itself, it is a necessary prerequisite to a free and creative choice of means in ceramics”.  More support for where I find myself right now. With form following function and the need for technical information as a prerequisite to creativity, I felt I might be on to something.