Stuart Kestenbaum is Maine’s poet laureate. His most recent book is How to Start Over. For many years he was the director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts and is now senior advisor for Monson Arts. He also serves on the Maine Crafts Association Board of Advisors.
What Maine Craft Means to Me
by Stuart Kestenbaum
This winter my friend Jack Troy, potter and poet, asked me to read and comment on his new poetry manuscript. Many of the poems reach back to Jack’s youth and evoke the wonder and mystery of becoming who we are. As a thank you, he sent me two of his tea bowls. I must confess I am in love with them. Every day since they arrived, well packed in a small box from Pennsylvania, I drink my coffee from them. I just finished my second cup. The one I’m looking at now is deep bronzed, with hints of gold on the outside and a creamy white on the inside. The two glazes overlap and make a dark landscape of clouds on the rim. Not an intentional landscape, nor a literal one, but an evocative connection that sends my eye into the canyon of the small cup. The outside, with its dark form, undulates where Jack has pushed or marked it slightly, giving it a presence that conveys a hint of something fragile- something damaged or hurt- yet able to stand on its own.
The cups arrived at my home just as the country was shutting down in response to COVID-19, and it has been my steady companion. When the coffee is too hot, I hold it with my thumb on the rim and my fingers on the foot. When the coffee is cooler, I can cradle the cup in both hands, my fingers tracing its contours. This modest cup makes space around it. It stops me in my tracks. It gives me a new way to see the world. Change, as we are discovering and re-discovering, can be enormous, can turn our world upside down. But change can be small too. Or perhaps all change starts with the gesture. The pot can create a space around itself, can make the holder a participant in the silence that created it. The clay and hands give way to form.
Years ago, when I was an aspiring potter, my favorite moment was when I had finished making a group of pots, and looked at them on a ware board, still wet, newborn objects, the walls defining the space within and without. I’ve always wanted pots to carry that feeling of being still wet, as if just created, still carrying the surprise of its creation. Filled, rinsed, re-filled, washed and filled again. We can be renewed in many ways.
What Maine Craft Means to Me Essay Series invites you to explore the many intersections and layers of craft, people and time in Maine through the words of those with deep connections to our state and our field.
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