Tuesday, August 10, 2010


- - Note: This is long. I warn you now. - -

I've got to be honest with you guys. I'm an adventurer at heart, but I very rarely put my adventures into practice. There are probably actual good reasons for this but mostly it's because I'm lazy, or scared to go places on my own, or because - lately, anyways- I have had this sneaky feeling that people who do not have jobs should not have too much fun.

Yeah, I know that's dumb. Trust me on that one. However, it followed the same thought pattern I once had that if I called into work for being sick, even if I wound up feeling 100% better halfway through the day, I shouldn't do anything that a sick person couldn't do. You know, like vacuum or run marathons. :)

At any rate, there was a part of me that figured that if I wasn't contributing something useful to the world, then I shouldn't go out and enjoy said world. Only recently did it occur to me that that was SUPREMELY STUPID. I have these bursts of realizations from time to time. Saves a bundle on therapy.

At any rate, I explain all of that to tell you that yesterday I was determined to leave my house for a while and have an adventure, even of the most benign variety. I decided I would find something interesting that I had never done before, grab the G.P.S., plug in the address, and just go. That probably doesn't sound very adventurous to you, but for me? Oh, my yes. Heehee. See, I don't go many out of the way places on my own, and I have only used the G.P.S. once, so I figured that I could go someplace completely unknown and kind of do a trial by fire thing with the Garmin. If a magic box with a voice and a satellite beaming down a map from space can't help me find a place, then there is no hope for me at all. Am I right?

So, I picked out a place that looked interesting and I went! I am SO glad I did!

I decided to visit Jerry Brown Pottery, in Hamilton, AL. I only recently found out that this place - and this man - existed, despite the fact that I'd seen his work on some Alabama tourism brochures. Please read this guy's website for the in depth stuff, because it is fascinating, but in short he is a 9th (!) generation potter from North Alabama who uses local clay to make beautiful, hand-thrown pottery at his own shop.

The drive down was surprisingly non-eventful, except for the fact that I somehow missed a turn in Decatur and wound up driving through quite a bit of residential area before finding my way back to the road I needed. Do you want to know what lies between Decatur and Hamilton, AL? Not an awful lot. I drove roughly two and a half hours down a stretch of highway that seemed to have no end. It wasn't a bad drive, just...empty. I had my Neil Gaiman novel playing on my iPod to keep me company and Sandy the robotic, Australian G.P.S. voice to talk to me, and I was good. Just past Russellville, I got hit with a rainstorm of epic proportions that actually scared me so badly that I probably should have pulled over, but there was no place to stop. I was on a twisty road running through some woods and the shoulder wasn't wide enough to pull over without getting hit my someone coming around a curve, so I soldiered on. Luckily, I got through it and found my way. At the last minute Sandy told me to turn right instead of left, and I literally wound up in someone's barn. I'm not kidding, I had to turn around in this person's barn and go the other way. Thanks, Sandy! At any rate, I found Mr. Brown's pottery place at last.

At first I wasn't sure it was open because there were no other cars around and an older-ish couple sitting on the porch. I pulled over to the side of the road and asked if they were open, and indeed they were (phew). It turned out that I was in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Brown themselves! I was their first (I think they said) customer of the day and Mrs. Brown led me inside the shop. I don't know how many people get the same feeling I do when faced with art - good stuff, I mean, not like Damien Hurst and the giant, wooden bottle nipples favored by some of my college classmates- but that feeling struck me while I walked around the modest little room lined with shelves. Canisters, pots, plates, bowls and all kinds of things crammed the walls as well as tables that ran down the center of the room and I was just in awe of it all. That probably seems a bit of a grand statement, but it's an honest one, I was in awe.

I didn't take many pictures inside the store itself because I was just too interested in the pottery! This stuff isn't that pansy slip-molded stuff I learned how to make at community college. This was gorgeously hand-crafted, heavy duty, hand thrown pottery. I was cool at first, walking around and talking with Mrs. Brown, who takes care of the sales. She was a delightful woman and was so very sweet. Mr. Brown came in, because it had started to storm and he didn't want to get wet, and he was just a righteous dude. We talked a bit, I picked out a bowl to take home, and Mrs. Brown said that if I wanted, she would show me the pottery shed and Mr. Brown would do a demonstration for me.

Of course I said I'd love to see it all and she took me around and showed me the kilns and the pottery wheel. She explained the process and told me where the clay came from and how it all worked. Unfortunately, the donkey wasn't anywhere around, but I'll catch up with him next time, I guess. I know that she didn't treat me any differently than she would treat anyone else that come by, but I thought it was nice that she still gave me the whole tour even though it was just me. Then she put on her apron and started making the clay balls that Mr. Brown turned into things. The way she threw the clay made it very obvious that she would be able to beat someone to death easily with her bare hands, so don't piss that lady off. :)

She handed over the clay balls to Mr. Brown, and that is where I completely geeked out.

This man took a plop of clay and made it dance. I know that probably sounds silly, but I have no other way to explain it. He had these giant, beautiful, gnarly hands that just...I don't know, just made magic.

I have a deep, deep respect for anyone who can make things. Not just make things, but MAKE things. There is a difference, trust me. I was literally open-mouthed hypnotized when he began spinning the clay. I've seen videos of people doing this, but I've never seen it done it in person and to watch the clay grow into these beautiful things was just, almost overwhelming. I got a little light headed watching him. I'm sure if you asked him, he would just tell you he was doing his thing, but he has to love what he does to be able to do it so effortlessly.

I asked questions and he answered them all. He told me jokes and asked questions of his own. He finished this one bowl (he made 8 or 9 while I watched) and asked me what the problem with it was. I couldn't see anything, but I guessed that maybe he didn't like the divot at the bottom - nope, he could fix that. Was it the fingerprints at the top? Nope, he could fix that. I asked what was wrong with it and he said "It doesn't have any 'nanner puddin' in it!" Seriously, he was a righteous dude.

I don't know how long I actually stood there and watched him, but I could have done it all day. I'm glad he didn't mind me taking pictures, because I wanted very badly to remember what he was doing. It was fascinating. While I was watching him work, I realized that THAT was what I wanted to do when I grow up. Not pottery, necessarily, although I would love to know how to do it. No, I realized that what I wanted to do is MAKE things. I'll give you a moment to roll your eyes at me. Go ahead, I know you want to.


OK, are you done? Good. We can proceed.

I realize that a person can't just decide to be an actual artist and expect to do it as a job, but watching him work made me realize that I'm really only happy when I'm creating things. I think that's why I liked my former job so much, because even though I was making signs, I was making them with my brain and with my hands. I'm not especially good at any one thing, but I want to be good at something. I want to be good enough that I can make things and people can take them and use them, and keep them and pass them down. That's what I want to do. Now I know. Anyone know how I can make it happen? :)

It had been raining very hard the whole time he was working, but when the rain let up, I realized I needed to head back home. I apologized for staying so long, but they seemed to enjoy having someone there. I got my bowl, got back in the car, and found my way back home.

It was a great day.

*I overheard someone talking about a "jeepus" the other day and couldn't figure out what they were talking about. It wasn't until they said "The jeepus couldn't find the way" that I realized they were talking about a G.P.S. I don't know if they really thought that's what it was called, or if it was just what THEY called it, but now I can't think of them as anything else!

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