The baking dish.

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Lee made meat loaf last week. It was divine as usual. It was the three way mix of beef, pork and turkey with her own special twist. She baked the meat mixture in an oval baking dish that has been in our home since I made it in 1985.
In 1985 I was a student in Brigham Young University’s MFA program. Here is a passage from an article I published a couple of years ago in Studio Potter telling the story of the pot featured above.
“One day in graduate school, I was working on a run of about a dozen baking dishes. I had them laid out on a table and was deciding how to glaze them when a professor passed through the room. He asked in a slightly irritated voice, “What is all this production work?” I mumbled something about Zen aesthetics and the Un- known Craftsman and kept on with my work. Later, when I was inspecting the finished pieces with my wife, she picked out one she wanted for our kitchen. The one she selected grew on me, and at her urging I photographed it and entered it in the 1985 NCECA Members’ Juried Exhibition. My piece was selected for the show. Word spread quickly in our ceramics department that I had gotten a piece into the NCECA show. Soon the same professor was in my studio, wanting to “talk about my work.”
I asked him if he remembered that run of “production work” that he had complained about. I then explained that he and I work differently to get to the same point. His approach involves a series of thumbnail sketches and maquettes, from which one is chosen to be executed full scale. I work by making a lot of pieces in series (read: production work), without a lot of con- scious thought given to each individual piece. After the firing I will select the one or two that have that “thing” that I can’t articulate but rec- ognize when I pick them up and examine them with my eyes and my hands.
When I was in San Antonio for the conference, a friend and I were visiting with a young woman who had a piece in the show. Her piece was an intellectually driven sculptural vessel that addressed how women are often tied to domestic drudgery in their traditional roles. It was a very smart and well executed piece and I enjoyed looking at it. She was not aware that I had a piece in the show when she said to us, “Did you see that “pot” in the show, you know, the casserole?” Her tone and diction didn’t speak of admiration, but of disdain. I wouldn’t have said anything, but my friend piped up, “Oh yeah, that is Joe’s piece.” She was embarrassed and I was amused. It was clear to me that my mundane pot, with its intentionally understated aesthetic and requiring touch and use for communication, was fighting an uphill battle for appreciation in that academic arena.”
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That was all a lot of years ago. The dish is still in use in our kitchen where it risks wear, tear and possible breakage, but it has the best life a pot can have.

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10 Responses to “The baking dish.”

  1. Hollis Engley Says:

    Great little essay, Joe. I agree one hundred percent. Keep at it.

  2. Jean Wilson Says:

    Thank you for putting into words the sentiments with which I was raised. There is nothing wrong with things of beauty also beings things of utility.

    My grandmother who knitted and sewed would never give away a quilt, afghan, sweater or dress if she thought they were to be either stored or displayed-they were to be used and loved. I have many fond memories centered around my quilt from my grandmother which is now faded and well-worn.

    Hopefully that pot will have many more years of service and beauty, along with the two artists with whom it resides.

  3. ArtLung : The Best Life A Pot Can Have ~ 15 Jan 2011 Says:

    […] Bennion has a beautiful post over on his blog: The baking dish. It’s about different ways to work. Here’s the crucial bit: …he and I work […]

  4. Joanne Leclerc Says:

    Great words, I also believe that we have to use our good pots or things may they be a quilt or dishes or whatever treasure we have. My mom had just a couple of nice things in an Armoire and never used them, she was horrified after giving me these very precious utility pieces, that I used them, I told her: Mom, do you think I will just leave them in a cupboard to look at them, no, I will unlike you, used them, so I can appreciate them even more, she said but what if you brake them?? Well, I said, it is a chance I will have to take, but I will be carefull, since I want to have them a long time, to remember you by. She is gone now, but the pieces are still with me and I sherish and use them even more.

  5. ang Says:

    ha!!! i clicked to your page and instantly recognised a glaze i hold dear and thought what a stunner, only to be led through the function or form rhetoric oh been there done that…….and again….what a stunner :))

  6. Michèle Says:

    wonderful blog post! beautiful baking dish.

  7. chris "Arny" Arensdorf Says:

    Been using a mug I purchased from you for 20 yrs now. Still one of my favorites!!!

  8. Soozcat Says:

    Earlier this year I was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking at the historical furniture exhibits. Each area is set up as a bedroom or other living area from a specific historical period, featuring furnishings from that period — a dresser, a desk, a bed with curtains, etc. — and each area also features ropes and railings to keep people from touching anything. And just in case you should give in to a ‘From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler’ moment, each room also features a uniformed docent, standing unobtrusively at the corner of the room but built as powerfully as a bar bouncer. You Are Not To Touch Anything.

    And yes, I understand why. But I looked at so many of these objects and thought of the long-dead craftsman who made them, hundreds of years ago. He didn’t create these objects to be forever preserved behind ropes, guarded by bouncer-style docents, and faithfully dusted on a specific schedule. The chairs were made to be sat in; the dressers were made to be filled with clothes; the beds were made to be slept in. They were made with skill and artistry, but they were made to be used — and, ironically enough, because they were made with such unusual skill and artistry they were deemed to beautiful to be used again. It made me feel a little sad.

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