By: Andrew Shi
The Alliance and its members work in over 110 countries of the world, but that doesn't mean the United States isn't one of them. The Alliance has been looking for opportunities to connect with artisans in the states, to understand their challenges and share their stories. I was of course thrilled when I found a Washington Post article featuring David Norton, a self-taught potter from Virginia. Read below to hear more of his story.
1. What/who inspired you to take on pottery?
Being a potter was not a childhood dream. I studied journalism at Ohio University, and after graduation, worked in public relations and marketing. Then, I got fired. Making pottery was something I could do to provide for my family.
2. You had to make sacrifices, didn’t you?
Of course. Even today, at 64 years old, I live in a log cabin without cable and a smartphone. My neighbors have way more cash than I do; in fact, Loudoun County is one of the richest counties in America. I’ve made choices in my life to cut back on things, and I love knowing that I can motivate myself to provide for my family. Since my first day as a potter, I’ve set goals for myself every week. That’s just how I’ve adjusted to my surroundings.
3. What does it mean to be an artisan in the 21st century?
Going back six thousand years ago, before plastic came along, a potter was the most necessary guy in the community. You needed pottery to store grain over the winter to use daily as jars and bowls. Making pottery was a source of commerce, and the potter was pretty popular up until 350 years ago. That’s all changed name with plastic and machinery. Today, it’s about making a living, appealing to people who still appreciate, for example, eating from handmade pottery for its aesthetic experience.
4. Do you consider yourself an artisan?
People use that word for a craftsperson who puts individual personality in his/her work. I’m a craftsman, a blue-collared artist. If people think my work is art, then that’s great, but my first goal is to make a living. Being a self-taught potter, I didn’t have delusions about success.
5. But what about the art?
I’m a one man factory, and I don’t rush through any of my pieces. Each piece of pottery I make bears my signature and reflects my personal touch, and that’s art. There are a lot of arts schools in the nation today that are creating the atmosphere that creativity is what sells. They’re guilty of setting up students to fail. Things that people buy that are reasonably priced and worth selling over and over again—that’s what sells.
6. Should more people do what you do?
My students make bad versions of my work and sell it for half price [laughs]. Sure, it’s important to pass on the tradition, but even more important in any piece of work is personality and integrity. Good work needs to sing, speak, and serve.