Enough for the day: the life of handled objects


making patra bowls

This excerpt is from the Prologue of The Hare with Amber Eyes. The author, Edmund de Waal, is a world-famous ceramicist. Having spent thirty years making beautiful pots—which are then sold, collected, and handed on—he has a particular sense of the secret lives of objects. I think the following selection relates well to the thoughts and questions that surfaced while making and sending off the Patra vessels. Most of all I’m curious about what stories they accrue while on their passage. Thank you for adding your narrative to “the slow accretion of stories” collected in the bowl.

“I want to know what the relationship has been between this object that I am rolling between my fingers – hard and tricky and Japanese – and where it has been. I want to be able to reach to the handle of the door and turn it and feel it open. I want to walk into each room where this object has lived, to feel the volume of the space, to know what pictures were on the walls, how the light fell from the windows. And I want to know whose hands it has been in, and what they felt about and thought about it – if they thought about it. I want to know what it has witnessed.

All this matters because my job it to make things. How objects get handled, used and handed on is not just a mildly interesting question for me. It Is my question. I have made many, many thousands of pots. I am very bad at names, I mumble and fudge, but I am good on pots. I can remember the weight and the balance of a pot, how its surface works with its volume. I can read how an edge creates tension or loses it. I can feel if it has been made at speed or with diligence. If it has warmth.

I can see how it works with the objects that sit nearby. How it displaces a small part of the world around it.

I can also remember if something invited touch with the whole hand or just the fingers, or was an object that asked you to stay away. It is not that handling something is better than not handling it. Some things in the world are meant to be looked at from a distance and not fumbled around with. And, as a potter, I find it a bit strange when people who have my pots talk of them as if they are alive: I am not sure if I can cope with the afterlife of what I have made. But some objects do seem to retain the pulse of their making.

This pulse intrigues me. There is a breath of hesitancy before touching or not touching, a strange moment. If I choose to pick up this small white cup with its single chip near the handle, will it figure in my life? A simple object, this cup that is more ivory than white, too small for my morning coffee, not quite balanced, could become part of my life of handled things. It could fall into the territory of personal story-telling; the sensuous, sinuous intertwining of things with memories. A favoured, favourite thing. Or I could put it away. Or I could pass it on.

How objects are handed on is all about story-telling. I am giving you this because I love you. Or because it was given to me. Because I bought it somewhere special. Because you will care for it. Because it will complicate your life. Because it will make someone else envious. There is no easy story in legacy. What is remembered and what is forgotten? There can be a chain of forgetting, the rubbing away of previous ownership as much as the slow accretion of stories.”  – Edmund de Waal


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