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John Mason

Midnight Teapot Group


A Potter’s Challenge: Craft or Art?

John Mason, Emerald Ash Vessels, 2009 White Stoneware, Electric fired, 12 x 7 inch COURTESY AND PHOTO THE ARTIST

Thousands of years of evolution of ceramic art hasn’t changed the foundations of an ancient craft based on practice, experience and experimentation. Of the many of skills involved in pottery making, a ceramic artisan needs patience, stubbornness and a high tolerance for failure. Beguiling and simple at first glance, the process of creating art pottery is intricate and demanding. It requires continuous learning and dedication that lead a potter to conclude an alliance with master, matter and traditions.

John Mason, President of the Clay Alliance – a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to raise the profile of clay and clay artists in the Greater Cincinnati area, has been involved in pottery art since 2004.  It took him more than a year of practicing before a small pinched cup finally fulfilled his craftsman expectations and brought true satisfaction of the outcome.  Striving for perfectionism makes John evaluate his artwork through the prism of continuous improvement. “I am tempted to say that I have still been working on my perfect piece. Every time I am making something new I am hoping to grow a little bit more,” says John. “My challenge is being in a continuous improvement mode. There is always some kind of a dilemma in the outcome: is it more of a craft or an art? I think of this idea that I am trying to make something that they made three thousand years ago, and I will never be as good as them. I’ve been striving to create something that is not only good now but will be appreciated in the future.”

Experience brings understanding of clay and the ceramic process. As a teacher, John emphasizes that pottery is one of those crafts where skills come first. “It is something you have to develop. It is not really a natural talent. It is practice and learning how to adjust yourself when you have failed, how you react to disappointment and maintain some kind of effort despite the fact that you are not making anything good for quite some time. I have never seen someone who couldn’t improve skills by working but I have also never seen someone who is just talented without working at it.”

Mason is a chemist. Prior to learning the ceramics arts, he was a long time musician and member of a local band, but decided to quit performing and explore another creative opportunity in his life.

Please read full article in Winter issue