So what does a potter do when the mercury drops out of the bottom of the thermometer and his space heater just can’t warm up the garage studio? Well I’m planning to spend the day in front of the fireplace with Otto Pearsall.
I never met Mr.Otto Pearsall, but I’ve enjoyed many winter evenings in his company.
His son, George, and I met at a craft show shortly after I took up potting. George showed me pictures of his father’s finely crafted pots. He told me that his dad threw pots well into his nineties. When Mr. Pearsall became unable to prepare his own clay, George wedged and pugged it for him so his dad could still practice the craft he loved. By the time George and I met, his dad was too frail to sit at the potter’s wheel. The last of Mr Pearsall’s clay had dried in his pugmill, locking the blades for good.
George asked if I’d be interested in his father’s collection of pottery books.
“Sure!” I said, unaware of the incredible library he had amassed.
There were boxes and boxes of pottery books. There were books about wheel throwing, slab building and coil pots. There were books from the seventies with pictures of earthtone pots suspended from macrame hangers. There were books about Pre-Columbian pots from Panama, Pennsylvania German tulipware, Anasazi pottery, redware, Japanese ceramics, and Mid-Century earthenware.
There were books by and about the masters, MIchael Cardew, Lucie Rie, Warren MacKenzie, and of course Bernard Leach.
There were portfolios of carefully curated ceramic exhibits. And there were academic monographs.
I suspect some university ceramic departments maintain lesser libraries than Mr. Pearsall’s collection.
I discovered that the pages of many books still held tabs and sticky notes he had inserted to mark key passages and pictures. It was like having a personal pottery professor to highlight the most important points.
Unfortunately Mr. Pearsall passed away before I had the opportunity to meet him. But as I spent time with his library, I began to feel that I was spending time with him, sharing his love of the art form that is at once ancient and contemporary.
There is nothing I enjoy more than potting. But when it is too cold to pot, a day with Mr. Pearsall and his library is a pretty great alternative.