Meghan Chalmers-McDonald, MFA AC+D '14 on the bowl as the hand’s answer to the mind and body's needs.
From March through September 2013, in honor of Object Focus: The Bowl at Museum of Contemporary Craft, UNTITLED Magazine will be collecting essays, stories, poems, recipes, and other texts by PNCA community members about the bowl. The words of chefs, anthropologists, and poets will appear alongside those of critics, makers, and curators to extol on the bowl in its myriad incarnations.
What is a bowl? To potters it is a thing. The thing. It is often our first creation, a bowl pinched from the clay, or coiled up into existence. It is the first form taught on the wheel, the object we will throw or make most often through our potting careers. It is a meditation, a kōan to be repeated over and over until we get it right by some chance of skill and luck. Bowls are the answer to potter’s block. Having a bad day in the studio? Make bowls. Can’t think of what to do? Make bowls. Your current project is mocking you and you can’t move forward? Relax, make bowls.
Bowls are a conundrum. Look at Frank Boyden’s tea bowls you can see the questions that confront every potter: What is a bowl? What makes a good bowl? What is the curve that looks best, works best? What glaze with what kind of foot? What does the shape say to the hand when you hold it? What is the bowl to be used for? What could it be used for? What do you want it to be used for?
The bowl is the hand’s answer to the mind and body’s needs. Its raised walls contain and hold, while the open mouth is ready to give as well as to receive. This ready, open acceptance, containment, and presentation feeds the body, holding food and drink. It also feeds the soul, being a vessel for sharing and gathering. Looking at Ed and Mary Schier’s bowl, you can envision potlucks and family dinners, shared meals contained in the giving and receiving nature of the bowl.
The bowl is a sponge for our ideas, an answer to our needs. The shape of a bowl is meant to hold and to be held. When we see a bowl, our minds mentally fill it. Our fingers imagine what it means to hold that bowl, how heavy it is, how smooth or rough. We form a relationship with the bowl as we observe it, however fleeting an observation that might be. That relationship is still stronger with the bowls we take home, the bowls we live with, the bowls we use most often. They become containers for our selves, our lives, our memories. When we choose the objects in our lives, we choose things that we resonate with, that attract us. In making those objects parts of our lives, we then embed them with memories and transform them into something new, if not physically, then in our minds. This is even more true when that object is as functional and as intimate as a bowl. That bowl becomes a familiar, comfortable prosthesis for our lives.
MEGHAN CHALMERS-MCDONALD has been working in clay for 12 years and is a current MFA candidate at Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft in the joint Applied Craft and Design program. You can see her ceramic work on her website.