Why I work with Clay

Once, when he had lived with me for a couple of years, a younger Jesuit asked if he might visit my studio to see what I was up to. He looked at many paintings, maybe a hundred, asked a couple of questions. Then he said, “You know, I really like your sculptures.”

It really wasn’t in any way a put down, at least not consciously. This younger Jesuit had actually come to me for spiritual direction and we had a relationship of sorts. So, it was really important to me not to over-react. I have found that this is a common reality for me. People say things that seem intelligent to them. I see some other meaning – My own insecurities make me very vulnerable to the idea that someone else doesn’t like me or my work–and further thought leads me, on my dark days, to believing that they are right.

One result of this encounter, and others like it, where I get hurt by something stupidly said but unintentionally harmful, is that I work very hard at forgiveness. Another result is that I must ask visitors to say nothing about my works still in the studio, still in the incubator of my heart. I am too vulnerable, and I realize that it does them no great good for me to take them so seriously. Usually visitors have no idea what they are dealing with. We often think that the product of another’s soul is merely a decoration which we can criticize as though it were up to us to prefer or not, to like or not, to buy or not, when in reality we should simply appreciate and try to understand.

At any rate, when I teach ceramics, I become so involved in the works of my students that I am on the verge of stifling them before they are finished being creative. I have taken to making sculptures while they are working in the same room. That way we are colleagues and I treat them with respect; they too take some learning from working alongside “the master.”

So some of these sculptures come out rather well. But I do not regard them as my forte. I struggle so with the paint. The clay is fun. Here are some sculptures. I hope you like them but I hope you do not, like my younger Jesuit friend, prefer them to my paintings!

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