29 November 2012

History of the Birds (pt. 1)

I posted a photo of a couple of my biblio-birds in progress on my facebook page a few days ago and got comments from both of the Bringle sisters so I figure I must be on to something! 
As this is my 500th post, I thought I'd mark it with a little backstory.

    I'm not sure what it is that is so satisfying about making these birds...parts of them are downright tedious and I did grow weary of them for a while, but after giving them a rest I've been back at it again. It takes a different state of mind to make them than throwing my 'proper pots' does, and it still feels luxurious to spend so much time on just a few pieces.   
    I first became aware of the Martin Bros. back in the '70's when I was getting into clay. There was an article in Ceramics Monthly (b/w photos in those days) about the 4 brothers who ran a pottery on the edge of London at the turn of the 20th century. They made an extraordinary range of work including what came to be known as "Wally Birds" after Walter, who was the idea man behind this series of pots called 'tobacco jars' modeled in the form of anthropomorphic birds. They were amazingly expressive and nowadays are highly collectable. They were salt glazed and I must have seen a few photos of them in an early salt glaze book as well.
    When I first learned about them it never occured to me that I would ever make anything like them, but they tickled my fancy and then receded to the back of my mind. I would bump into them in a book or auction catalog from time to time and then 8 or 9 years ago I visited a collector in England who owned dozens and dozens of them and I got a real good dose. I still had no idea that I ought to try and make them, but I sure found them intriguing.
    And yet, several years ago, on a goofy whim and completely out of the blue, I made one, or at least my version of one. I like to suggest that the final inspiration came from watching my bird feeder while throwing pots, but who knows...a preponderance of intriguing encounters, birds on the brain, asking the 'what if' question, and there you have it...one answered question has led to a whole new body of work. I have always made other things in addition to the tens of thousands of useful pots that have paid the bills all these years. Usually they are much more esoteric...I'm still not sure how to label them.
    I see my interpretations as more cartoon-like versions of birds than the fairly realistic Martin Bros. work. And I quickly found other forms to apply to the idea to.
A Martin Brother's "Wally Bird"
    I often work this way...ideas fester and percolate for a long time and are usually rooted in historic work. I then use an idea as a jumping off point, but I'm not interested in reproduction. Whether it's my desire to make work that is appropriate to this day and age, or whether it's my interest in exploring or even my need to leave my mark on things, I find that I am most excited about moving an old idea forward, and at it's root, that is what I think 'tradition' or 'traditional pottery' is all about. Tradition does not mean stasis, and our traditions continue to have value as they evolve.
    So, Here's a bunch of photos from the last 2 years. I'll post more soon. 


2 feet tall
* P.S. "The History of the Byrds" is one of my all time favorite albums...with apologies for lifting the title!


Dennis Allen said...

speechless, and you know that doesn't happen often.

Elizabeth Seaver said...

What fun to see an overview of your birds, Dan. I'm so happy to have some!

cookingwithgas said...

they are lovely and the Bringle sisters know good when they see it.
I have seen others make these more closely coping the one you posted. I love yours because you did take them and run with them.
I am happy you are not done yet.
They all have such personality.

Barbara Rogers said...

A great collection of your birds, which are definitely collectables. Thanks for sharing the pics. Keep on making these, please!

smokieclennell said...

Dan- You are the bird man. Really great! t

Quietly Otaku said...

I think sometimes our minds work on things even when we don't realise it! Great work : )

Sl8ofHand said...

As Elizabeth says, we are thrilled to have a small flock live in our house...we don't even cage them!

Hannah said...

Hey where have you gone? Long time no blog....