I was raised in Namibia, where we only saw flowing rivers when it rained in the Khomas Hochland Mountain, just so that it will run down in a few hours into dry sand beds? So in comparison, this was a true paradise.
It was a luxury to see the Crocodile River constantly running. Drought was not uncommon here, but the vegetation was lusciously green after the mostly grayish green landscapes where I grew up. Bougainvillea became trees in comparison with the ones growing in Namibia and I never saw bigger banana leaves than the ones that grew in plantations next to the roads. There were crocodiles and hippopotamus in the river and if you watched closely, you could see elephants or buffalo on the other side of the river in the Kruger National Park. Our favorite leisure time was on Sunday afternoons when we took the children to see these animals in and around the river.
My biggest challenge at the time was to get the papayas off the trees in my garden, before the monkeys get it! A papaya showing the slightest hint of yellow was a monkey’s delicacy and they would grab it and then tease me from a distance while they consume it!
It was a beautiful remote little town, where everybody knew each other and helped raise each other’s children, but it was also a place where we had limited enrichment and adult educational opportunities. The result was that the woman of the town took it upon themselves to do exciting and stimulating projects.
During this time we made pots and all kind of objects that the clay allowed us to do, never thinking that once we have it fired, it basically would be set in stone, carrying naive finger and cutting marks ; objects that carried the evidence of a small community of potters to be !
The kiln was a flimsy old top loader, with broken elements and only two settings: on and off. With the help of technicians, Koos hand coiled elements and before long we had a kiln going!
By then I collected enough class fees to buy our first glazes. Not knowing better, I ordered 12 different one kilogram (2.2 lb.) glazes to dip our pots in. Of cause it did not work too well (our pots were too big to dip and we did not know of any other way, so we poured the glaze. We managed though and before long we had our first finished pieces fired. Our first pots were made and were very proud of ourselves.
As I improved, curiosity sometimes got the best of me and I opened a kiln way too soon, just to end up seeing pots cracking in two right in front of my eyes.
I mentioned anthropologists. They are very interested in clay objects. Did you know that shards can tell us about ancient technology and human behavior? Since clay is preserved by fire, it carries footprints and cultural evidence that cannot easily be distinguished.
I came across this you tube video that explains how they translate images and marks from clay into historical facts: The presenter has a lively way in which he explains the importance of pottery shards to read ancient history.
I also found this beautiful website with information about the Ancestral Pueblo cultures found in the regions where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meets, known as “The Four Corner area” It is believed that the Pueblo people descended from nomadic living styles and gathered here some 12 thousand years ago. Their pottery has a significant influence on American pottery; to this day.
I was not fortunate enough to learn about clay through generational inheritance, as the ancient people probably did. I did not even know at first that clay is earth and it was a big aha moment for me when I realized that clay in a kiln and rocks forming from lava had strong similarities. When I decided I have to start teaching pottery, I never thought that I started on a path in which I created footprints that may have some permanence. Having that knowledge now, puts on me an obligation to make sure that any piece I fire not just holds beauty in its core, but also an intelligence of good craftsmanship and expressional value to last for millenniums to come.