Thursday, September 20, 2012

Creating Broken Bowls -- Choosing the Pieces of Your Life


I have always loved bowls, large, small, plain, carved, thin, thick, any kind of bowl. I love how the clay feels as it moves through my fingers on the wheel or as I coil it, pinch it, or press it into the shape of a bowl.  My journey with bowls expanded with the gift of the book, Everyday Sacred, by Sue Bender.  After reading it I began to make begging bowls (blog -- The Art of Compassionate Intention) and also broken bowls.  I just reread the chapter about Kevin Nierman's cracked pots.  He makes pots, breaks them, and then glues them back together.  It sounded like such a simple, very easy thing to do.

I went through my various bowls looking for one that I wanted to break.  I chose a bowl that had been through a bisque firing and headed to my concrete front steps.  I put a towel on the step below me, adjusted my safety glasses, pulled on my work gloves, picked up the bowl and raised it over my head to smash it on the towel.  I moved my arms down a little, hesitated, brought my arms back up, down a little . . . and I discovered that I could not do it.  It was a lot more difficult to actually, purposefully take something I had made and smash it. 

I have plenty of clay, I can make more, why the resistance.  So I gave myself a little bit of leeway.  I got a paper bag and a hammer.  Once again I headed to the front steps, put on my safety gear, placed the bowl in the paper bag, folded the bag, put it on the step and picked up the hammer.  I took a deep breath, held it, and swung the hammer. 

There is a very distinctive sound created when you break a clay bowl.  Very carefully I opened the bag and began to pick out the pieces.  I felt that some of them were still too large so I put them back into the bag and hammered the bag one more time. 

I decided to pit fire the broken pieces.  I love the look of smoke blacken pottery.  I had buried the bottom half of an old Weber kettle in my backyard for this purpose.  I gathered newspapers, some branches, and larger pieces of wood arranging them around the bottom and sides of the grill.  Carefully, I nestled my broken shards among the chunks of wood, kindling, and paper and covered them with the kettle top.  When all of the vents were closed and it was water tight I hosed down the area around the kettle.  (I did not want to disturb the neighbors with a 3 or 4 alarm fire.)  I lit the fire and watched it color the pieces as the flames created their own decorations.  I put the lid on and let the fire burn all of the oxygen out of the kettle.  I let it cool and then opened it up to pick out the pieces stacking them until I had a small pile of black, gray, ashy white, and pinkish brown pottery shards.  Now I had the challenge of piecing them back together. 

I dusted and scrubbed the excess ash off of the shards and let them dry.  I found two pieces that fit together and mixed the epoxy.  A wooden toothpick worked well for applying glue to the edges. I held them together until they set and then added another.  Just as in the book it was a freeing creative experience . . . and then I took it a step further. 

Questions came to mind such as:  Do I really need to use all of the pieces?  Can I pick and choose which ones I want to keep and which I want to leave behind.  Thinking about the words, "leave behind" brought up connections to living and life experiences.  What experiences changed or impacted my life?  What attitudes and mindsets have gotten in my way?  What empowers me?  What makes me smile?  The shards became the fragile pieces of life . . . my life.  The bowl breaking experience moved from one of opening up creativity and letting go, to one of contemplation and meditation. 

The day that we are born we begin to live lives that will have moments and places that are difficult, that are sad, that are lonely, or that are filled with love, joy, peace, and compassion.  As I glued my bowl together I thought about my family, my art, my life.  I kept gluing on additional pieces until I came to the final three.  I looked at the bowl and I liked what I saw.  It had an open ended energy, and it felt finished.  I decided to stop and leave it as it was unfinished, incomplete, my life was not a closed book, I am still a work in progress.

I now am able to break lots and lots of bowls.  If you would like to have the experience of making a broken bowl it is possible even if you do not have access to clay or a kiln, there are other options.  You will need a clay flower pot or another type of low fired pottery.  This is a great project for those that love garage sales and thrift stores.  The pieces do not need to be pit fired.  You may decorate them with acrylic paints or permanent markers or leave them plain.

You will need:  a clay pot, bowl, jar, etc., a towel, safety glasses, work gloves are also nice, a small broom and dust pan, a paper bag, a hammer, and fast setting epoxy glue.  Break your bowl using either method.  I like to wear work gloves to keep sharp ceramic slivers off and out of my hands and arms.  (Personally, I prefer the bag method which keeps all the pieces in a confined area.)

Please read all instruction on the epoxy and observe all safety precautions while breaking the pot, creating a fire, and using the epoxy.  My best wishes for a unique breaking your bowl and choosing the pieces of your life experience.  May you discover the memories and positive aspects of your life you want to glue and bring together.