My Friend Ben and Ceramics for the Revolution

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ben and one of his pieces
"Untitled Vase"
Ben and I used to work together at the same university.  He was Production Manager and Technical Director for our theatre program.  He was kind of the "go to" guy when it came to making all things happen.  Each semester, he supervised a class of up to 10 beginning theatre students in how to build sets, hang lights, and generally know their way around a scene shop.  This would regularly include being responsible for their health and safety as they learned how to use power tools, table saws, jig saws, and dangle 100 feet in the air as they adjusted the focus of hot lighting instruments.

Ben was a brave man, and an incredible teacher.  On top of that he was responsible for managing the theatre spaces for their booked in events, supervising the construction of all the sets for our theatre productions as well as the production budgets, and mentoring the education of the student Stage Managers.

I'm not sure, but I think a person needs to be a bit insane to do all that.

But Ben was determined, and he handled it with dignity and aplomb.  He was horribly busy all the time (which demanded inhuman organizational skills commensurate to air traffic controllers), and it's easy to see why people in Ben's field in educational theatre statistically burn out very quickly.

"Bar Fly"
Ben and his son, Kieran
Underneath all of Ben's work at the university, he maintained a sense of his own artistic direction by developing his personal skills with ceramics.  Yes, on top of all that Ben was striving to become a ceramist and assemblage artist.

Ben has since moved on from theatre and that institution of higher learning, and moved to Colorado where he is working on a new project all his own:  Ceramics for the Revolution.

Now, I had heard of Kickstarter Projects before Ben developed his own, but when he sent me a message saying he'd taken the plunge and decided to make part of his dream a reality through Kickstarter, I had to go check it out in more depth.

Kickstarter is a program that allows people to elicit pledges to whatever project they'd like to develop.  There are a variety of different categories.  You upload a video explaining your the idea, designate different donation levels and commensurate rewards, create a deadline, and set a monetary goal.  People donate pledge money on their credit card.  If the project reaches it's goal, the money is collected from the donors and the credit cards are charged.  But if the goal isn't reached no money is collected at all from anyone.

It's incredibly successful and quite legitimate.  It's a safe way of supporting new ideas, endeavors, business opportunities, etc.  There are hundreds and hundreds of different programs at Kickstarter looking for visionaries and faithful supporters.

In Ben's own words:

I seek a world in which we all live with intention and mindfulness in everything that we do. I want to make bowls, mugs, plates, and other dish-ware that mirror that intention. For me, that looks like the prototypes you see below. We all seek connections these days and I've got an intensely sneaking suspicion that eating, drinking, and cooking can have more intention and be more meaningful when the mug from which we sip, or the bowl in which we mix was made with attention, care, and love. It's nice knowing that your coffee mug was handcrafted, that somebody MADE it, that it wasn't mass produced in a sterile factory, and that it wasn't sold to you by an impersonal clerk. This line of dish-ware will be uniquely crafted with no two bowls, plates, mugs, or teapots the same. This line will be sold at farmers markets, craft fairs, boutiques, and galleries with smiling, knowledgeable, talkative people most of whom will actually be... well.. just me I guess. And that is sort of the point. I want the connection with the patron as much as anything. I seek those connections too. Nothing would make me more happy than to take these bowls and mugs directly from the kiln and into your hands. It's that personal connection with our transactions and exchanges that I want more of in my life. That is the Revolution!

The design and technique that I've developed is time intensive and delicate, which means that every item in the collection will have hours of my attention and care lovingly poured into them, so every time you take a sip from your unique work of art, not only will you pat yourself on the back for being a part of this project, you'll laugh quietly to yourself at the thought of some guy bent over a wheel in his garage while the heat of the kiln scorches his brow.


Another of Ben's rewards
One of Ben's rewards
One of Ben's reward bowls
I can identify with what Ben is trying to do.  Historically, in Europe, most crafts and goods that required skills to create were monitored by "guilds".  There were Bakers guilds and Blacksmithing guilds and Potters guilds.  A young person would normally apprentice to one of these guilds to learn a trade.  There was a personal connection between the maker and the user in those days--a recognition of the years of discipline it took to develop the expertise necessary to create something vital to one's life.


Of course, the industrial revolution has taken the human element out of creating a lot of our goods.  Today, it's rare to have the ability to make something by hand.  Ceramics, like sewing, is a lost art for many of us.  I think today especially we're all striving to get that human element back in our lives.  And if we can't do it ourselves at least we can appreciate it when we see it, and honor the skills of the makers that are creating beautiful, practical, and endearing pieces.  Pieces that have depth and soul and personality.  It's more than "trendy" to make something yourself, or purchase something handmade. It's and investment in our own humanity, in a way.  It's a conscious choice to embrace each other's presence and contribution on this big blue marble in space that we call home.

Now I know that sounds rather heady and hippie and peace lovin' and kumbaya, but it's really what I believe.  And I think it's important.  If we don't support each other, who will?

So.  If you have a few moments, follow this link and show Ben some support.  He deserves it.  He's got until November 1st, and if he doesn't make it all his effort will be for naught.

And Live Life with Relish!

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