Pottery: Innovation in an Ancient Craft

What do you think of when you hear the word “innovation?”

Maybe you think of the future? Do you think of technology? Maybe more generally progress comes to mind.

What if you hear the word, “pottery?”

Do you think of ancient archeological digs? Do images of crafts, arts, or hobbies pop up?

Since the dawn of human history, our ancestors were discovering the power of clay.

This strange malleable mud can be formed into a useful tool. Clay, when shaped, dried and put into a fire, becomes permanent and rigid. Now, with a little creative innovation we can make what we needed to survive. Bowls, storage vessels, and water jugs allowed for a certain consistency in human life. Water could be carried from the river to the campsite. Grain could be stored after the harvest.

I would have loved to see the face of early humans as they worked out the potential of clay. The dawn of ceramics was the dawn of our future. Each generation of potter explored and pushed the limits of what was thought possible with clay. The first potters were our first innovators.

So how do we at Studio 2 Ceramics practice this ancient tradition of innovation?

When we started developing our MN Mugs, it came in fits and starts. We spent many hours in the studio testing forms, process, and techniques to get the results that had been bouncing around our brains. After each new set of mugs came out of the kiln we’d spent some time with the new products and then walk away. We’d let them stew in our heads. Asking, “What worked with this design?” “Are we happy with them?” “What could be improved?” We looked at what other potters were doing and made adjustments.

Many morning and afternoons, usually while walking our dogs, we’d talk about the studio and bounce ideas off one another, trying our best to let the ideas come out unfiltered. These unedited ideas are our spark for innovation. A partially formed thought here, a “what if” question there and hours of testing and observation pushes us to innovate naturally. Many times I’d start my ideas with, “This may be a terrible idea” and often the unedited version wasn’t great. But that didn’t stop us from trying them out and see what worked and what didn’t.

The biggest enemy of innovation is keeping our ideas to ourselves. When we make, we collaborate with each other, with other artists, with illustrators, friends, and our customers. Because we share our ideas, creativity can follow freely.

Our ancient ancestors shared ideas, too. They collaborated on designs and adjusted the forms to best suit their needs.

How will you practice innovation today? Who will you collaborate with on an idea you have?

Share your ideas with us on facebook and Twitter!

– Jim

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