Mark Hewitt (NC)
The novelist, Allan Gurganus, once accused me of making designer syringes for his caffeine addiction. Mugs, teacups, tea bowls, and teapots do the same. The fortunes of industrial potters, whether Spode, Wedgewood, or Minton, were in large part the result of the commercialization of tea drinking, and contemporary potters continue to provide vehicles to dispense addictions. These pots become ritual objects in elaborately staged ceremonies that are charged with complex social and cultural meaning. This applies equally to English teatime, the Japanese Tea Ceremony, and even sitting in a car in line at a fast food restaurant to buy iced tea served in a Styrofoam cup.
Ritual objects are not confined to caffeine intake, of course. They are also present in narcotic addiction- a syringe, a spoon, a rubber hose or shoelace, a lighter, a straw, cigarette papers, and let’s not forget plastic prescription bottles containing Oxycodone and Percocet. They are familiar, comforting objects, helping users “escape reality,” as John Prine drolly sings about smoking weed.
But it is alcohol consumption, likewise awash with ritual objects, that is the subject of our ceramic examination, kindly encouraged by the Chipstone Foundation and the North Carolina Pottery Center. Thank you for that!
Behind the objects in this exhibition are our individual social and cultural attitudes, as well as our personal battles with addiction, not to mention commercial pressures. Ranging from teetotalers to drunks, many of our parents, family members, and friends have all wrestled with alcohol. There were, and continue to be, good times and bad times connected to the consumption of alcohol, and our individual histories predispose us to different relationships to alcohol now.
So, how have I, as a potter, reconciled my personal, familial, social, and cultural relationships to alcohol with my ceramic sensibilities in creating an object for “The Last Drop”?
It helps to have been given a specific individual pot, namely a gorgeous early salt-glazed John Dwight tankard from 18th century Fulham, in London. From there I began weaving an aesthetic narrative that is, essentially, a morality tale.
I made a tall mug, banded it like Dwight’s, with my version of a North Devon handle and a Cardewian thumb-stop, and wrote NO on one side, and MORE on the other. The font is Times New Graffiti.
Which way do we go? None or some? Some or more? More or too much? What happens if you say NO to alcohol, and what happens if you say MORE? Who tells you to say NO, and who tells you to say MORE?
Illustrating the dueling themes of NO and MORE, I suspended related amulets from the rim of the mug, using chains and colored thread to dangle the charms and divide the space.
On the NO side is a pendant from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, MADD, representing all those who have lost loved ones to alcohol-induced road accidents. Next, signifying sexual inhibition is the slogan of the conservative sexual abstinence movement, “TRUE LOVE WAITS.” Abstinence, as a component of sex education, however, has been shown to lead to more unwanted pregnancies, not less. Then a Bible charm, symbolizing its many references to alcohol - there is the miracle of turning water into wine (not the other way round), and of course the wine of the sacrament representing the blood of Christ. But religious pieties often advise against earthly pleasures.
Between the words NO and MORE are two charms, one a hippy Peace sign with illustrations of the sun and the earth and all sweet things, embracing both yes and no. The other is from Matthew, chapter 19, verse 26, which says, “With God all things are possible,” suggesting that God would also say NO and MORE.
Moving from duality to MORE, the first pendant is a Thai amulet of a naked woman lying on a penis. Alcohol has been known to lubricate sexuality. Next is the acronym ‘BFF,” BEST FRIENDS FOREVER, for the good times we have with friends and family when drinking. A colorful cocktail glass alludes to the colorful characters who inhabit bars and pubs, and, finally, as a cautionary coda, a gun to illustrate the violence that can erupt after the consumption of alcohol.
I could have added many more charms. The list of pros and cons is endless.
The domed lid of the mug echoes an ornate German beer stein but is actually a modified desk bell. The finial was removed and replaced with a wine bottle cork.
That’s the story of the pot, but the entire piece is placed within a three-dimensional, ornate, gilded, picture frame.
Why the frame?
Pots are rarely the subject of paintings; they are usually mere stage props. Pots are objects, not subjects. To illustrate this, below are three paintings by Breughel, all of which refer, incidentally, to the consumption of alcohol, and all have lovely pots in them.
As a potter, however, pots are central to my life, not peripheral, and I wanted this particular pot to be made special, to have its uniqueness predominate, to focus the viewer's attention on it. So I did what is done to paintings, and put a frame around it.
It is a 3D portrait, framing not only an argument but also, more importantly, a pot.
Many years ago I read one of William Safire’s pieces on language in the New York Times Magazine, and my murky memory leads me back to this “relative fallacy” when researching this project.
It is copied from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If-by-whiskey.
The label if-by-whiskey refers to a 1952 speech by Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from the U.S. state of Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages:
“My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey:
“If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.
“But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.
Mark Hewitt, 2017. Pittsboro, NC. H. 18"
This is the piece Mark created for THE LAST DROP: INTOXICATING POTTERY, PAST AND PRESENT.
London or Staffordshire, England, ca. 1690-1700. Salt-glazed stoneware. Courtesy, Chipstone Foundation. 1999.5. H. 5 ¾”
This is the historical piece from which Mark chose to draw inspiration.