My life as a potter began 48 years ago as I stood in the kitchen unpacking boxes with my new housemate. She was the former wife of a potter, but I knew the piece in my hands was not his work. It was, however, a perfectly formed, quiet little soup bowl. When I asked who made the bowl, she responded that she had. I looked at the bowl and then at the Melmac bowls I had unpacked from my boxes (For those of you who are young, Melmac was the original hard plastic material for kitchenware – a miracle of the ‘50s). I had two thoughts in that moment: a) pottery beats plastic, and b) if she can do that, I can do that!
And so my adventure in clay began. I took a class at the local art center, but instead of perfectly round bowls, I made hockey pucks with off-centered holes. At the same time, I had the opportunity to work with Leroy Kitzman, a master potter who taught me the art of Raku firing, technical knowledge like, “for every 1/8” you pull the pot up, the wheelhead must go around one time,” and the spiritual component of working with clay – that to center the clay, I must first center myself. Hockey pucks gave way to bowls.
In 1975 I headed to Europe, with my mind set on a couple of months of fun in the sun on Greek beaches. A stop in a Swiss Youth Hostel had me spending the evening talking to an Art History major from New York City who, with wild-eyed enthusiasm of a zealot, convinced me that I had to go to Florence and see……he rattled off a dozen museums and other spots not to miss. It was a life-altering moment – rather like unwrapping the bowl. I did spend a wee bit of time in the sun, but most of the trip was spent in galleries, museums, and archeological and architectural sites the length of Italy, around the isles of Greece, into Istanbul, down the length of the Nile, over to Tunisia, and then into Spain.
I returned home, dutifully began in the grad program I had been accepted to – and lasted all of a week before I picked up the phone and called the husband of my old housemate and asked if he wanted an apprentice. Jay Widmer, like Leroy Kitzman, was a master potter. And, from him I learned the rhythm of the studio, the tricks of the trade, and the Japanese sensibility that holds that the elements of the pot, from the foot, to the throw rings, and on to the lip, are a reflection of the potter’s journey and are instructive about the craftsman.
Fast forward through a return to school to study art, getting a high school art teaching job, teaching ceramics at Blue Mountain College, meeting and marrying my husband, Bob Crider, and moving to Longview, WA, where I set up my first studio and taught Ceramics at Lower Columbia College and began to exhibit work. We moved to Walla Walla, where I taught Ceramics at Walla Walla Community College, and was the Technical Director at the Whitman College’s Sheehan Gallery.
When we made the move to Yakima in 1997, I took a break from clay – teaching full time and focusing on our children. We had a move to Maine, where I was the studio director at Portland Pottery, taught classes but did not exhibit work. We returned to Yakima in 2008. What had been intended as a temporary studio suspension, had become an extended hiatus of 17 years. Reopening my studio in 2014, I gravitated to carving, in particular Gingko leaves, a symbol of peace and calmness. I’ve since added maple leaves, hops and hop leaves, and magnolia’s now and again to my list of things to carve. I’ve also started creating some horse hair fired pots and playing around with a bit of figurative sculpture work.
My work today is a leap forward from the carved work I began making just as my studio life was put on hold.
I am, therefore, drawn to “Little Gidding,” a poem from Four Quartets, by T.S. Elliot:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Bernadette Trabue Crider