Made by Hand


The challenges faced by makers of handmade wares have grown in recent years. Competition is fierce, with affordable, beautifully designed, industrially produced tableware in styles appropriate for every lifestyle readily available.  Many of these styles have usurped the formal qualities of handmade dinnerware, as “the hand of the maker” is designed right into the molds for their mass production and pieces reveal their industrial roots only through careful inspection.   Major national retailers commission artists to design objects, and continued interest in the DIY movement, Etsy and the Indie craft movement have saturated the marketplace.  An October 27th, 2012 article the NY Times headlined “All That Authenticity May Be Getting Old”, notes “It’s Handmade. It’s Unique.  It’s Everywhere.” and asked,  “have we finally reached a saturation point, where the “authentic” loses its eternal quality and becomes just another fad?”

Faced with this environment and the difficulties inherent in the life of a crafts-person why would one choose to make handmade functional ware today?  The life of a maker is incredibly difficult.  It is all consuming allowing little or no time for anything else, the hours long with a payback that most would consider small.  Why do people choose to commit their lives to making these objects?  In a day and age where a beautifully designed mug can be had for ninety-nine cents, why do individuals spend fifty dollars to purchase one that is made by hand? What is it that compels both maker and buyer to do what they do?

MADE BY HAND is a multi-part project that looks at the relevance of the handmade in the 21st century and seeks to answer some of these questions. Through  two exhibitions and other planned projects in support, we hope to begin a dialogue.  Not knowing where this dialogue will take us is both exciting and scary.   It is our hope, of course, that those who experience some aspect of this programming will come to know the many joys that handmade objects bring to life.  Through this project makers and users of handmade wares and those yet converted will explore and share their personal relationship with domestic objects, objects oftentimes charged with meaning beyond their intended function.

One cannot think of tableware – plates, bowls, and cups, without thinking of table, of dining, of the sharing of food and all that these mean.  Thus these exhibitions become a springboard for the exploration of both the obvious and subliminal associations one draws when focused on handmade tableware: the anthropological and sociological aspects of domestic objects and the sharing of food.  Anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her seminal work Deciphering a Meal, creates a hierarchy of meaning specific to dining, defining degrees of intimacy, hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion.  Food critic and author M.F.K. Fisher’s writings celebrate dining, food and the art of food, intrinsically linking food to all aspects of life. Food, the table and tableware were central to each woman’s work.

It’s easy to feel passionate about food, but for many it is not as easy to feel passionate about handmade tableware and why eating on it matters (except to the artisans who make it and the venues that sell it). Remaining true to our mission to support, develop, and promote ceramic art, in all its forms of expression, it is The Clay Studio’s challenge to instill in our audience a love, understanding and profound appreciation for handmade ware. Food alone is not enough to support a human being.  Kochevet Bendavid, an Israeli born ceramicist living and working in England, explains this relationship best.   In her dissertation, Feeding the Hungry Soul, Bendavid writes “…. pots can be utilitarian and aesthetic, functioning as both craft and art.  This dual role imbues handmade tableware with a particular poignancy and sets it apart from both art ceramics and the industrial product. These objects cannot be dismissed as superfluous to our needs, nor be regarded as purely utilitarian or purely decorative or, indeed, as elitist luxury items.  Their function extends beyond their utilitarian purpose and answers the psychological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs of potter and user.  Their relevance lies in their capacity to express, symbolize and convey subjective and cultural feelings, values and ideas both through and beyond their utility.  Their value lies in their power to sustain or enrich life; in the way they fit into everyday practices and ways of life of particular people at particular times; in their ability to fulfill some of the needs of our souls while holding sustenance for our bodies.”

Jeff Guido, Artistic Director, The Clay Studio

3 thoughts on “Made by Hand

  1. Great article. I’m not sure it is portraying handmade items totally correctly. A $50 price tag on a mug is ridiculous unless it’s in a gallery where the gallery is getting 45-50% of the sale. 20-$25 is a totally acceptable price for a nice professional mug at an art show from an unknown craftsman/woman.

  2. What an excellent project Jeff and I somehow missed that NYT article but will look it up as soon as I have sent this. I’ll also put something on my blog so that others in NZ might also enjoy reading about your ‘Made by Hand’ project.

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