8.5 years. 230,000 beer mugs. 500,000 lbs of clay.
These numbers in a way sum up my day job at a production pottery that I recently left to pursue my own studio work, full time. This pottery specializes in coffee mugs, beer mugs and steins, and the number 230,000 represents roughly how many of these beer mugs I made (all wheel thrown) over the 8.5 years of my employment, which was roughly 500,000 pounds of clay. If I make pots for another 33 years (supposing a retirement age of 65, which I hope to make it to, and then subsequently not retire) I would have to go through about 15,000 pounds of clay a year to again thrown 500,000 pounds of clay. It is somewhat unbelievable to have made that many beer mugs, thrown that much clay, spent all those hours at the wheel. Now, it is liberating to think that perhaps the hardest physical work of my career is behind me.
The past eight and a half years were marked by highs and lows, aches and pains. I once threw 60 beer mugs in an hour; I also dealt with tendonitis and carpal tunnel issues. One day I threw 325 pots in a day, about 650 pounds of clay, but I often felt burnt out after a day hunching over the wheel. There were many benefits to these years at the production pottery; I learned a lot about kiln repair in my early years there, I rapidly gained throwing skill, and now I have a level of comfort with clay which allows me to experiment and push forms in which ever way I want to.
In the end the numbers are an interesting way to put the past years in perspective, but this is the perspective of the machine, the data gathered by the computer to optimize productivity. This is the perspective of the widget calculator.
As I look back on these years of production I hope that I am through with these numbers, these numeral summarizations of a life, of nearly a decade. I hope that the next decade is summarized in different ways: 17 revelations in slip decoration, 42 failed glaze recipes, 3 successful glaze recipes, 100,000 hours of quality studio time, 300,000 hours of life, 500 pounds of tomatoes, and perhaps only another 60,000 pounds of clay. I hope it is measured in the growth of plants, the warming of a cool morning into a beautiful afternoon, in the passage of water, in the laughter of friends and family, in the cumulative effects of observation and dedication to a craft. I hope in the end those 230,000 beer mugs seem a distant memory, something hazy and out of focus, and what I see as I look behind me is something much less quantifiable, something that cannot be added, divided and subtracted, something that can only be enjoyed, intimately, like the carefully crafted handle on your favorite coffee mug.