Although I work alone in my studio, I don’t feel isolated. In a world that offers instant access and communication, too often of mind-numbing superficiality, it’s the hum of my wheel that that speaks to me of stronger connections. On the most basic level, working with clay connects me to the earth, its essential core. The process of throwing, of centering and bringing up the walls of a pot, re-enacts a process that has been performed for thousands of years. I feel a kinship with those ancient, nameless artisans. There is also an emotional connection made whenever a person responds to one of my pieces, a moment when our two lives meet.
Throwing a successful piece demands control over the medium, a strict adherence to a series of steps. Most of my work is the result of combining separately thrown sections, carefully joined by scoring, slipping and reshaping on the wheel. In the forming, I strive for simplicity and grace. The narrow neck is the final step, much like a period at the end of a sentence. As the pot begins to dry, I burnish it to ensure a smooth, inviting surface. For me, pottery must be both a tactile and visual art form. There is deep satisfaction in this practice of an ancient craft and the honing of a skill. So it must be the rebellious child in me, the would-be alchemist, who gets an exuberant joy out of taking these carefully constructed pots, nestling them in a bed of sawdust, minerals and wood scraps, and then setting them on fire. To see the flames leap up and smoke rise like an offering to an ancient pagan god thrills me. The anticipation of witnessing the marks left by the fire’s passage across a pot’s surface is intense. The uncertainty of what will result reminds me that life is unpredictable, sometimes disappointing, but often achingly beautiful.
Jean Wender graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1976 with a degree in Painting and Drawing. A circuitous career path has included product illustration, copywriting, art direction and corporate marketing. Her interest in ceramics began when she took a class at a local community center in the mid 1990s. In 2000, Wender’s desire to pursue her personal creative vision led her to leave the graphic arts for a series of part-time jobs that have freed her to explore further adventures in clay. She works out of a studio in Kansas City, Kan.