Monet of Pottery

To get a fresh perspective in a creative field, I like to read books or see exhibitions about how other creative people operate. A few examples of these are:

Frank Gehry: book reviewed here.

Dale Chihuly: exhibition reviewed here.

From two books (one and two) that I read and reviewed (one and two) this year, I learnt about a potter/ ceramicist called Frances Palmer. Both of them had a few pages devoted to her work, as they were part of a larger anthology, that covered the work of many other artists. Her work left me quite impressed and made me hungry to learn more about her work. Lo and behold, a new book came in the market, written by her! I dashed to the local book store (good to support local business) and bought it. So here is its review, that fits in very well in the creative forum of this blog.

Book title: LIFE IN THE STUDIO – Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity

This is a classic, artisanal book that summarizes the essence of Frances Palmer’s life, through her work in the field of pottery. If you work in a creative field, then keep this book permanently on your coffee table and fan through it daily for a daily dose of inspiration. The writing is that of a clear thinker and shines with brevity, meaning and purpose. It is complemented with stunning pictures covering the fields of pottery, gardening and cooking. If you replace pottery with painting, then you get Monet, for he too had similar passions and lifestyle. Well, that explains the title of this post!

The order of chapters may seem illogical, as just when you get engrossed in pottery she switches to cooking. The reader may wonder why she didn’t have three distinct and separate sections, one on each field. This is a reflection of how she works. Most creative geniuses work in multiple fields simultaneously, as they draw energy from the cross-fertilization of activities and environment in different settings. The pictures in the book are a reflection of this symbiosis with flowers in pots and food on plates.

The purpose of this book in the author’s words is: “to articulate philosophies behind my practice so that they may encourage others to follow their own artistic paths“. In doing so, the book reveals how “she crafts a universe that supports her endeavors“. She describes the journey of her life through well written essays that throw light on events, people, environment, activities in leisure time, that shaped the trajectory of her unique life. Her childhood was full of artwork, reading books on art and trips to the MET museum in New York. When she went for higher studies, she began with a major in foreign service and eventually switched to art history, graduating from Columbia University. Her early job in a fertile environment of art and architecture planted the desire in her to be on the making side of art as opposed to doing archiving or administrative work. Now, for the past 30 years she has been making useful and beautiful pots, that are sold in top notch stores, featured on magazine covers and every highly visible NY socialite flaunts her pots on the shelves of her well-manicured home interior (e.g. Martha Stewart).

I enjoyed reading it a lot as having lived in New York for twenty five years myself, I could relate to her joyful experiences – trips to museums, gardens etc. Unknown to us, the environment plays a really big role in shaping one’s aspirations in life. Her writing is precise and gives the most pertinent information about each topic, like an old, well-experienced grandma, who has learnt it from many years of experience e.g. the secret to her stunning pottery photos on Instagram is taking them in natural day light, at dawn or dusk, when there are no sharp shadows!

As a reader one can learn a lot from her story e.g. how to promote products by hosting an open house in your studio, sharing potluck meals with your products around, how to get your work featured in magazines etc. But above all this, she teaches that the key to happiness and fulfillment is to go inside us not outside. In the current era, when 617,000 women in U.S.A. have left their jobs to manage their homes and children who are schooling remotely, Frances Palmer shows a way to an alternate life.

Finally, as a blog post looks incomplete without pictures, here is a photograph taken by me at the Harvard Museum of Art, of pots made in the ancient Greek civilization. Who knows, if Frances Palmer sees them, she may begin a new collection of pots! Thank you Frances for your wonderful and timely book.


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