Sarah Davis, MFA AC+D '14 on the bowl's distinctly human form.
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.
For the past 15 years, the entirety of my potting life, I have carried with me, in my mind’s eye, an Alev Siesbye bowl. This bowl is the horizon I chase, a place or state of reverential beauty and humility. This bowl is not the goal in and of itself. I don’t intend to replicate it or even attempt to simulate it, but it is a spiritual guide, directing me, as someone also obsessed with making better and better pots, toward a place of honesty and forthright expression.
The bowl is an essential, distinctly human form. On an elemental level, we require the bowl to capture and deliver the nourishment and hydration we need to subsist. We come equipped with our own bowl: the gentle articulation of our fingers and thumbs (that most distinctive of human features) gives us the ability to quench our thirst wherever we find water. Fingers and thumb together also make the most basic tool required to form a bowl from the most simple of materials, clay. Most students of clay begin their education with the pinch pot: a bowl made by simply inserting the thumb into a ball of clay, then methodically pinching to thin the walls and define the curve. The thumb, which seems explicitly designed to craft a smooth curve, defines the character of the bowl in the particular curve it molds. The identity of a bowl lies in the curve.
Siesbye’s bowls reference this primal connection and celebrate other uniquely human qualities associated with our social nature. The monochromatic surface treatment emphasizes the primary significance of form. The simple, graceful curve of the belly references the curve of the thumb, and creates a generous volume while the delicately and subtly flared rim presents an invitation to partake. One gets a sense that this bowl is never empty, suggesting we also possess a boundless capacity for compassion and generosity. While the technical mastery of material is astounding (Siesbye constructs her bowls from coils), reflecting a sense of deep wisdom and control, the imperfect (in comparison) and humble quality of the three carved lines below the rim reveals a certain vulnerability or accessibility.
Despite these qualities of generosity and accessibility, this bowl is clearly not to be used, or even to be touched. From almost every vantage point, the bowl does not sit or stand, it levitates. The curve of the bowl does not even hint at what hides beneath, a precariously narrow foot. For the foot is not important in the experience, and it feels nearly inappropriate to stoop to table-top level and sneak a peek at the dainty thing. Instead, one focuses on the ample volume and its natural function as container. However, to actually put anything into or take something out of this bowl runs the risk of rocking it in quite an embarrassing manner. The lip does not beckon the mouth. It is too precious, too refined. The eyes can translate for the hands what the experience would be like to hold it or use it. An object of veneration, this bowl encapsulates and honors what we love, need, and appreciate about this fundamental form.
SARAH DAVIS, MFA AC+D ’14 is a practicing ceramist whose work is largely informed by her background in conservation biology and her interests in the intersections of tradition and progress, and civilization and ecosystem. In her finely crafted objects, Davis hopes to offer an antidote to the ephemeral digital existence which pervades our culture, while simultaneously providing an accessible forum for expression of modern life’s complexities. She makes vessels in order to encourage others to share the present tangible world. Davis is currently working towards an MFA in Applied Craft and Design at PNCA and OCAC. You can view her ceramic work on her http://slcdavis.wordpress.com” target=”_new”>website.