I’m an outsider to the visual arts world. When given a pencil, my drawing is limited to stick figures. Some crayons and a coloring book result in a well-intended but failed scribble. A hunk of clay is reduced to a limited pinch pot. It’s not just my poor artistic abilities, I have to admit to a complete lack of interest as well.
With my mother being a ceramic artist, I have grown up surrounded by a community whose skill set is very different from mine– a community of potters. Yet despite this essential difference, I have found that this clay community has always been a place of welcome and comfort. Spending my weekend at the Texas Clay Festival made me realize, not for the first time, why I look forward to attending this event and surrounding myself with these people every year.
As an Indian American, I am normally very conscious of my racial identity. However, I have found the clay community to be colorblind. With my mother being amongst the few people of color in the group of artists, my family is a definite minority. Despite this, when around potters, I have never felt conscious of my differing race or background. Through every interaction, exchange, and conversation, I find myself feeling absolutely accepted and welcome. As for the conversations, one would think that discussions carried out with professional artists would center around one main topic: art. In contrast, potters, from my experience, are quite a politically charged group of people, while being accepting of everyone’s views. When asked, for example, about my views on taking the knee for the national anthem, I felt comfortable to deliver my true, honest opinion with confidence. Typically, these types of conversations have me walking on eggshells; here, however, I have found it easy to speak without fear of judgement.
This clay community is not only incredibly open minded and inclusive, they are always willing to go the extra mile to offer a helping hand. Setting up a booth and getting ready for a pottery show is tiring and labor intensive; however, I have noticed that in addition to their own work, all the potters are always eager to take the weight off of someone else’s back. It is not an uncommon sight to see a group of potters lugging heavy materials from another’s truck, not resting until everyone is helped.
An interesting tradition that has always been part of the Texas Clay Festival is the “Clay Church”, a not religious, but very involved Sunday “service” that consists of a hearty brunch and much music, to which the main accompanying instrument is a saw and bow. (Trust me, said instrument exists.) The event really brings out the strong sense of “community” that binds all of these people together.
The support and friendliness that this “second family” has provided me extends far past the Texas Clay Festival, and to my life endeavors in general. This past year, I staged a production called “Displaced”, which highlighted the refugee crisis through Indian classical dance. Sure enough, at the very front row, cheering me on, were the same “clay friends”, who came from far and wide to be supportive and encouraging.
When I think about it, I only meet this clay family about once or twice a year. However, regardless of this, I find that it is incredibly easy to pick up where we last left off. The conversations, the jokes, the hearts of the people are all the same, despite the passage of time.
I’m an outsider to the visual arts world. But the welcoming, loving clay community doesn’t make me feel that way.