Of Brad Pitt, fancy shoes and pot­tery

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE - Ce­ramic mas­ter: Brad Pitt @john­meagher­muso

Ipicked the wrong time to wear a fancy pair of shoes and my favourite jeans. Elaine Fallon, founder of Brook­wood Pot­tery, sug­gests I re­move my shirt, or I’m bound to get that soiled too. Just as well I’m wear­ing a T-shirt un­der­neath. It’s my first time to try pot­tery and it’s a messy busi­ness. “My shoes are get­ting ru­ined,” I squeal, in an un­manly fash­ion. Tea tow­els are ur­gently pro­duced and I can go back to the busi­ness of try­ing to make my first bowl. It needs ev­ery nanosec­ond of con­cen­tra­tion I’ve got. The jeans will be okay af­ter a wash. Won’t they?

I did art as a sev­enth sub­ject for the Leav­ing Cert and, ar­ro­gantly, as­sumed I’d have a flair for pot­tery. But the old cliché is true: It’s much harder then it looks. I ob­serve Elaine sit­ting at the ‘wheel’, ma­nip­u­lat­ing clay into per­fect shapes and think, ‘How hard can that be?’ I’m glad I didn’t voice that opin­ion be­fore I took my seat.

We’re at work in a small shed in the back gar­den of Elaine Fallon’s pretty home in Ar­tane, Dublin. It’s from here that she and fel­low-pot­ter Marz Lawler make all man­ner of plates and mugs, but my ef­forts won’t be grac­ing the shelves of the Kilkenny De­sign Cen­tre any time soon.

It’s a much more phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity than I’d imag­ined. You throw the clay on to the spin­ning wheel with force and you re­ally put your hands to work, hold­ing and ma­nip­u­lat­ing shape with your palms and fin­gers while also try­ing to scoop wa­ter on to your evolv­ing cre­ation to make sure it re­mains pli­able.

NOTIONALLY CYLIN­DRI­CAL Elaine coos ap­pre­cia­tively as I fash­ion some­thing — with a lit­tle help from her — that looks like an ob­ject that one might grow herbs out of. I’d hoped for some­thing dain­tier, that you could con­ceiv­ably eat corn­flakes from, but this lumpy arte­fact that’s notionally cylin­dri­cal will do as a first at­tempt.

When she’s sat­is­fied that I’ve made some­thing worth go­ing into the kiln, she pro­duces a cut­ter — that, for all the world looks like a gar­rotte, last seen in The God­fa­ther and en­cour­ages me to saw the bowl/herb re­cep­ta­cle off the wheel. I find my­self pan­ick­ing slightly — what if I do it with too much force and pro­ceed to stab my­self in the stom­ach? She as­sures me this hasn’t hap­pened be­fore. No doubt she’s won­der­ing what she did in a pre­vi­ous life to be sad­dled with a hypochon­driac, risk-ad­verse met­ro­sex­ual on a week­day morn­ing.

I may have only been at the wheel for a mat­ter of min­utes, but I im­me­di­ately want to do more. There’s some­thing spe­cial about learn­ing a craft and this is one that re­quires skill, pa­tience and con­cen­tra­tion to get right. And it’s nice that both Elaine and Marz are smil­ing be­at­if­i­cally at my ef­forts.

Ap­par­ently, more men are at it — and Elaine reck­ons they like the fact that it’s skil­ful, phys­i­cally en­gag­ing and, well, quite manly. Un­like, say, knit­ting. All those ar­ti­cles about the rise of knit­ting and cro­chet­ing clubs dur­ing the re­ces­sion didn’t seem to fea­ture a soli­tary bloke.

And while it would be great to be able to fash­ion my own scarf or re­pair a beloved knit­ted jumper, I’d rather not sub­ject my­self to an oe­stro­gen-packed en­vi­ron­ment where the talk might re­volve around Orange is the New Black. Be out­raged if you want, but the pot­ter’s wheel is a much more manly place to be.

And it’s a place where that Hol­ly­wood ideal of man­hood, Brad Pitt, has ap­par­ently been spend­ing much of his downtime. In an in­ter­view with GQ — the one where he was pho­tographed in Amer­ica’s na­tional parks sport­ing out­landishly ex­pen­sive clothes and pulling his best sad-face — he spoke about how he has coped with the end of his mar­riage to An­gelina Jolie by learn­ing to make stuff with his hands and mas­ter­ing the art of ce­ram­ics.

As some­one whose ex­per­tise in ‘mak­ing stuff ’ starts and ends with a Billy book­case from Ikea, I too, like the idea of fash­ion­ing things my­self. Af­ter all, I refuse to have cof­fee at home from any­thing other than the hand­made mug I bought for €20 at Ken­mare Farmer’s Mar­ket two sum­mers ago, and I’ve an at­trac­tion to this ob­ject that one friend who’s swal­lowed too many self-help books, re­cently de­scribed as “weird need­i­ness”.

“We live in such a throw­away cul­ture,” Elaine says, “so when peo­ple spend that bit more on some­thing that’s been hand­made lo­cally, they value it much more than some­thing that was mass-pro­duced cheaply.”

She says the re­ces­sion helped make many of us trea­sure well-made things rather than hoover­ing up reams of stuff sim­ply be­cause it’s cheap. The re­ces­sion en­cour­aged Elaine to re­think her ca­reer. She had been a tal­ented hobby pot­ter but when the down­turn led to her los­ing her job in a Dublin city gallery, she set about mak­ing pot­tery her full-time oc­cu­pa­tion.

She hasn’t looked back and, with the help of the crowd-sourc­ing FundIt, hopes to open a pot­tery school just up the road in Fairview by year end.

“It’s not just about mak­ing things,” Marz says, “it’s also about tak­ing time out of your busy day to do some­thing for your­self. When you’re prac­tic­ing a craft like pot­tery, you re­ally have to be in the mo­ment and that can be very ther­a­peu­tic.”

KEEP­ING FO­CUS Elaine con­curs. “Too of­ten, our minds are dragged all over the place and our brains are try­ing to process this in­for­ma­tion over­load, but when you’re mak­ing some­thing at the wheel, you re­ally have to con­cen­trate be­cause it can go badly wrong if your mind wan­ders. There’s some­thing free­ing about just fo­cus­ing on one thing.”

Both Elaine and Marz are se­ri­ous about mind­ful­ness and one of the cour­ses they run has yoga in the morn­ing and pot­tery in the af­ter­noon. The old me would have scoffed at such an idea, but I’ve come to learn how im­por­tant it is to take time out for your­self and to be in the mo­ment.

About five years ago I took up run­ning in an ef­fort to sup­press the ab­dom­i­nal fat that had stolen up on me by stealth. From not be­ing able to run a kilo­me­tre with­out stop­ping, I found my­self do­ing the first of sev­eral Dublin marathons 18 months later.

But now, I know that the real gift run­ning gives me is men­tal rather than phys­i­cal. It al­lows me to re­cal­i­brate, to do some­thing for me, and me alone. It means I can cross the road to the Phoenix Park and es­cape for an hour or two. The phone is al­ways left be­hind. The emails can wait. The news no­ti­fi­ca­tions can be read later. The Twit­ter no­ti­fi­ca­tions can ping right off. Elaine, also a run­ner, nods know­ingly as I share all this to her. “That’s ex­actly it,” she says. “It’s about find­ing those mo­ments where you do some­thing for your­self and where by do­ing it reg­u­larly, you can im­prove and you can see your im­prove­ment. Just as you can track how much fit­ter your get­ting, when you prac­tice a craft like pot­tery you can see your­self im­prov­ing and that re­ally counts for some­thing.

“I see the plea­sure stu­dents get when they make some­thing they’re proud of. They’re think­ing, ‘I did that’, and it’s some­thing they can cher­ish for a long time.”

At the wheel: John with Elaine Fallon in Brook­wood Pot­tery, Ar­tane.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.