My eyes, brain and limbs don’t work well together. I think it’s because I had terrible vision as a child; still do. I can’t catch or hit a ball, swing a tennis racket, sink a basket or dance. But I can make things with my hands. And doing things with my hands has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember.
I started cooking and baking when I was in kindergarten. As a teenager, I started a number of little business ventures. I made and sold candles, and paintings made of colored sand in glass jars. I learned to do calligraphy and hired myself out to address wedding invitations. In college, I kept myself in good wine by cutting and french braiding hair.
The one pot I made in high school didn’t make it off the wheel. But I never forgot the silkiness of the clay sliding between my fingers, the immediacy of the feedback, the way I “got lost” in the process. I knew some day, I would become a potter.
But first, I became a psychologist (check out my dr deb website: drdebbernstein.com), a wife and mother and a runner (I can’t see where I’m going, but I run). In 1998, I met my wonderful teacher, Judy Duboff, and finally began studying ceramics. For my 40th birthday, my loving and generous husband gave me the best gifts of my life: a Pacifica pottery wheel, and my first workshop at Peter’s Valley.
Early in my relationship with clay, it was the wheel I loved most. Later, I began to understand and to connect with the clay itself. And when I went to a wood firing I fell head over heals in love with fire!
Over the years, I have studied with some of the most accomplished potters in the world. Here’s a list of my mentors, each of whom have taught me valuable lessons about clay, fire, and life.
I work with stoneware and with porcelain. My pots are simple and relatively unadorned. I like handmade objects that showcase function. I am always thinking about food when I make my pots, and it is no surprise that my favorite form is the bowl. I like to make huge bowls and very tiny bowls. I fire some of my pots here in my electric kiln in our garage. And I wood fire every time I get a chance.
I make a lot of pots to give away for fundraisers. Every year, I help plan and donate dozens of bowls to the Warwick Valley Empty Bowls event. I donate a piece each year to the Hudson Valley Planned Parenthood art auction. I’ve contributed to fundraisers for the new library. A few years ago, Judy and I made 60 vases for the tables at The Black Dirt Feast in Pine Island.
I make pots to use in my home. I make pots to give to people I love. I make pots to give when people I care about get married, have a baby, move to a new home, renovate a kitchen or need cheering up. I sell lots of pots, too. Over the years, my work has been displayed in galleries and stores here in Warwick and I’ve participated in a bunch of Open Studios. But I like it best when people come over to my basement studio when they need or want something for a gift or for themselves. I love to barter. I made bowls and plates for Mary and she is helping me with my websites (yay!). Ashley wants a faceted bowl for her mom and will trade for cat sitting Sadie. Sometimes, I’ll make a piece or a set to order; everyone understands that handmade objects are much more variable then things made by industry.
There are few things in life that make me happier than knowing that people have my pots in their homes and use them every day. When someone tells me that they bought one of my bowls at an Empty Bowls event several years ago and eat cereal out of it every day, I nearly swoon with delight.
I’ll tell you a secret most people don’t know about most potters. We try to act humble. We are the first in line to criticize our work. We think deeply about what we need to work on or change as we develop our craft. But secretly, we love our own pots. They are like our children. Even if they are misshapen, funky, too heavy or unbalanced, we adore them. We like to hold them, look at them, touch them, and use them. And we hope everyone else will understand and appreciate their unique and irresistible charm.