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Raymond Rorke

Teaching Artist - Current

"My bias has been to behold the radiant countenance of the deep in every instance of the clay. My insistence has been that we become aware, and sacrifice the self will of our habits of judging and aspiring. This kind of breathing between selfless beholding and self-full awareness tends to produce a new quality in both beholding and behavior. The eye grows free of bias wherever it looks. And the heart grows beyond its past desires. A new Being begins to form."

                                                          — Mary Caroline Richards, December 1971

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I first came to clay while working at a museum of archaeology and anthropology in Philadelphia. My artist friend there convinced me to take a pottery class at the local art center.

At first, I did what every clay beginner does: I made bowls and cups, teapots and flowerpots — the familiar, everyday things we grow up with. It gave me a thrilling sense of satisfaction to make objects for my own use, with my own hands. At the same time, I was surrounded at the museum by the pottery that ancient peoples had made, so I knew this was something larger than myself.

The next turning point came when I read The Unknown Craftsman by Soetsu Yanagi. Its teachings confirmed for me that it was possible and worthwhile to aspire — mindfully, and without ego — towards a life where everyday objects and actions have meaning, integrated around grace and authenticity.

But it’s one thing to aspire to a kind of life, another to actually practice it. What clay has given me over the years — as have my teachers and students — is a way forward, where daily awareness and creation can be practiced and deepened. These days at the studio I’m surrounded by clay in all its glory — from the beginner's first encounter holding a lump of clay to the master's skilled transformation of clay into a cultural touchstone — and as I myself work with clay, I am also on a journey of learning and mentoring in an ever-widening community of clay practitioners.

Without doubt today’s clay artists have become a remarkable force in the world, and we are witness to the vast variety of ways that people perceive, use, and talk about clay, from local workshops and rural villages to universities and national museums to online global marketplaces and outer space. It’s nothing short of breathtaking.

Meanwhile, some part of me always returns to that quiet, heart-stopping moment when I discovered, one day at a nearby thrift shop, one of my earliest pieces. I picked it up and turned it over and over in my hands. What had its life been like? What would its future be?