“You work for 25 years at something,” says momentous western Massachusetts studio potter Mark Shapiro, “and if you do it with commitment and an open spirit, your work changes, grows, and deepens.” Even as it continues to consist of functional teapots, cups, and platters, architectural boxes and ovoid sculptural jugs, its finite forms accommodate new configurations, surprising new unities of size, shape, color, and texture.
After establishing yourself at crafts shows and joining the nation’s finest potters, you find your work being invited for solo exhibitions at the Ferrin in Lenox, the AKAR in Iowa City, the Clay Studio in Philadelphia, and, from October 9th – 27th, at the Lacoste Gallery in Concord, Massachusetts. Within weeks of the Lacoste exhibit, your friends and paid apprentices help you unload your wood-burning brick kiln. You stack it—500 pieces from a single firing—on shelves and skids in the studio you built on a rise above your early American saltbox house in the country.
You’ll pack up and ship off to Lucy Lacoste a significant portion of this unloading, 50 pieces or more, and trust her to place the work on pedestals and shelves in the back of her gallery. In the quiet white space, your work will form one aesthetic whole, more than it did when it found itself in group exhibits.
“You go from being someone who makes the stuff and sells it, however you can,” you say if you’re glad to have worked this hard to get here, “to someone who gets to think about the work in groups.” Nearing 50, you enjoy “more opportunity,” you say if you’re Mark Shapiro, “to make pots that speak to one another—that speak about a moment in time,” not from miscellaneous bursts of inspiration but from sustained interest in the “shape-shifting nature of clay” and the sense of contributing to the “compelling records of the human touch on the earth.”
Your exhibit includes teacups with black calligraphic scribbles on their facets; iron and coppery green bowls and platters with black concentric whorls or variegated rings on their bottoms; plump teapots with stout spouts and any number of surface patterns, some with horizontal rows of scribbles and bands, some with alternating vertical stripes; squat boxes with granular, salt-glazed surfaces; solid, irregularly cylindrical vases with an expressive gesture of squiggles on each flattened facet; tall boxes, tapering toward the top, with striped and banded sides; and tall jugs narrow at base and lip and plumped out proportionately in the middle, as if swollen by something living inside them.
At the opening, you talk about the influences—the early American stoneware you’ve been interested in lately, the Asian ceramics traditions you’ve honored all along—and a bit about the technique—the soda ash in your firing, the locally mined materials in your glazing—and then you go back home to western Mass to make more pottery, to see if your work will “continue to reveal additional possibilities and depths” the way it so reliably has thus far.