Museum of Contemporary Craft

Reflections on the Meaning of Making Bowls


Jason Lee Starin, MFA AC+D '11 examines how making bowls connects us to the material present and to human history.

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.


Reflections on the Meaning
of Making Bowls

Due to the kiln firing requirement of turning clay into ceramic, all clay objects need to be made hollow. Therefore, a ceramic sculpture can be thought of as an inverted bowl resting on its lip rather than its foot. The simplest of these forms can be made using the pinch pot technique. Although my practice is based in ceramic sculpture, I thoroughly enjoy making pinch pots, usually producing dozens at a time. They are not overly labored. Indeed, I tend to embrace a pinched form that is quickly executed and simply refined. By allowing the form to come into fruition in this approach and manner, pinch pots remind me that bowls that fulfill a very basic human need.

Beyond sustaining nourishment, the making of pinch pots satisfies a deeper requirement. During the making moment, the technique becomes intertwined with an introspective awareness. With my thumb, I press into the soft ball of clay, creating a small but effective opening in the center. As I begin to widen the walls of the concave form, I enter a quiet yet focused part of my mind. Cradling the pinch pot in my hands, my fingers support the exterior of the form. Closing my eyes, my hands impress the feeling of the pinch pot in my mind. My consciousness is expanded through the experience of touch. As my thumbs form the inside and my fingers instruct the outside, informing me that the walls are even and of a uniform thickness, I feel a connection between what my hands are doing and who I am as a human being. The pinch pot process allows malleable clay to exist between interior and exterior perceptions of material, but more importantly, of self, creating forms intermeshed with greater meanings.

As a form that is so telling of the existential nature of humans, the bowl represents more meaning in its making than it does as a utilitarian device. Every time I pinch a bowl form, I feel a connection to human history, to everyone who has made a bowl in the past. From a sculptural perspective, I find this connection to be an exciting conceptual catalyst. By addressing the bowl formally, as foundational ceramic hand-building blocks, I can reinforce their historically connective meanings by creating complex sculptural arrangements with them. These configurations emphasize the importance of making things by hand and highlight the interconnections between people that the bowl represents. The meaning associated with making a bowl not only connects us as makers to all the other people who have made bowls in the past, but more importantly, it connects us to ourselves in the material present. In anomalous times such as these, the simple bowl holds more.

Jason Starin at work. Photo by Heather Zinger ’10.

JASON LEE STARIN received his MFA from Pacific Northwest College of Art and Oregon College of Art and Craft in Applied Craft and Design. Starin is interested in the dynamic between interpretation and intention during the act of making with clay. Originally from Michigan, he currently resides in Portland, Oregon. Learn more on his website, at

by Jason Lee Starin, MFA AC+D '11

— Posted on 04/09 at 12:11 PM

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