Monday, March 19, 2007

Meeting Dave Stewart

I can’t remember if I saw Dave Stewart’s pottery first, or met him at Mom’s pool party first. I know that when I saw and hefted his work the light went on in my head--“Aha,” I said to myself, “pottery doesn’t always have to be heavy, shapeless, and uninviting to touch!” It was 1975, and most of the hippie rush to be creative had resulted in a glut of crap (this sentence is written in hindsight, of course: at the time, I thought what was on the market was the best a potter could do). But every Stewart pot I saw was in the “Ooh and Ahh” class.

The first time I met Dave, I thought “This man is a regular guy--he doesn’t look like or act like an ’Artiste’ at all.” He was friendly, down to earth, appreciated Mom’s ribald jokes, took an interest in my words, and wasn’t bent on impressing everyone with his status as a master potter. He was middle-aged and slightly bald, had a wife and three kids and was supporting them entirely from his pottery. His son Danny, who was in Mom’s geography class at school, was with us in the pool, too; and Mom, my brother Paul, and I had boisterous fun with Danny and Dave--making waves, splashing each other, and having a good time. Completely unpretentious, both Dave and Danny. Comfortable, bright folks. I liked them.

That evening, Mom excitedly told me that Dave had offered to teach me pottery once a week at his studio in Dulzura. Wow! I couldn’t believe it--until I confirmed it with him myself. I thought it would be great adventure. I didn’t realize, at the age of twenty-five, that this invitation would redefine my future. Nor did I realize at the time that Dave had already spent over twenty years as Marguerite Wildenhain’s assistant at her annual summer pottery workshops in Guerneville, California, nor that he had never before taken on a student of his own.

Let me backtrack: at a very early age I began drawing people. Mom claimed that at the age of eighteen months I had drawn Daddy--merely a wiggly line with an ovoid head and an arm and a leg or two--but I identified it as Daddy and it sure looked intentional, and somewhat representational. Soon afterwards came “kitty on the fence,” which is still in my trunk of early work somewhere (seventy-five pounds of early work that Mom lovingly kept).

I continued to scribble through early art lessons and public school, learning along the way how to do watercolors and oils, what the color wheel was, and how to get an A in art class by doing whatever the teacher wanted to see. At home I scribbled the way I always did--a single line, maybe two, showing the general gist of a person, sometimes just an arm, just a face--always with character overpowering the line. I still draw this way; I don’t bother with shading or color, I don’t take the pencil off the paper much, I am finished in a matter of seconds. The people are in my head, and as the pencil or pen moves along, I see at the time where I need to go next. When I’m done, THEN I discover whom I’ve created. Suave liars, pompous teachers, perplexed girls, bird men, doglike idiots.

In my ’teens I contemplated my future, and decided: 1. I don’t want to live off a husband--I’d rather be unbeholden financially to my true love, so I need to make a living myself. 2. I don’t want to ruin my love of art by forcing myself to make money at it. 3. I’d better go into science for a living (my family is full of engineers and doctors, and I’m fairly bright at math and science too), and leave art for fun. 4. I never want to wake up to an alarm clock and be in the 9-to-5 rat race, so I’ll go into research.

Based on this soberly idealistic analysis I started college, switched majors from German to Psychology, and wound up at the age of twenty-four with a Ph.D. in Clinical Psych. After doing my internship, dissertation, and ten months of postdoc at a prison for drug addicts, I burnt out, depressed. I bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii and spent my time hanging out on the beaches, contemplating what the hell I was to do, since I felt awful being who I was.

Eventually, I found that I really missed reading, learning, being with other thinkers, and doing creative stuff with my hands. Watching sunrises and sunsets every day got old. After five months, I realized that I couldn’t split myself after all: I couldn’t work in science all day and save art for evenings and weekends. I was an artist, twenty-four hours a day, and that had never changed since I was born. No matter what I “did” for a living, I would always “be” an artist. “Art” is after all a way of life, a state of being--a calling if you will--and not an occupation, a job, or a profession. If I had to forego a life doing psych research or being a shrink (and the money that went with it) so be it. I was done with psychology.

I returned to San Diego resolved to make a living at pottery: pottery too, was art of a sort, but somewhat more tangible and (hopefully) saleable than drawing or painting. I enrolled in a pottery class at Palomar Community College and started in earnest to learn a craft I’d been exposed to before throughout the years. I had six thousand dollars saved, and thought I could last two years on it before I had to make a living as a potter. It was during this time that Fate brought me under the wing of David Stewart, master potter.

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