When I was a university student, I rented a bunkhouse from a ceramics instructor in town. He had established himself in the art community as one of the best potters around. His vessels had been featured in major motion pictures and used as models for sought-after canvas paintings. Once, when I was traveling in the Midwest, I visited a village that had been restored to circa 1840s living. I spotted some of his pots on display there, too.
His masterpieces were exquisite, and his personality and style eccentric. Some referred to him as the hairy potter because of his long beard. He usually donned a wrinkled shirt and a dirty cowboy hat more in the style of an Akubra than a Stetson. Weathered cowboy boots completed the ensemble. Instead of using proper leather treatment, I noticed he would simply occasionally wipe them down with a curious potion that was actually furniture polish. Later on I learned it was just one of many Melaleuca products the hairy potter kept throughout the home.
Not only was the hairy potter an excellent ceramist, he was also a gifted educator. Once when he was teaching a beginning pottery class, a student became visibly frustrated as he failed and failed to properly center his clay on the potter’s wheel. The hairy potter walked over to the deflated student and asked, “What’s the matter?”
“I’ll never learn how to throw a pot,” replied the student. “It’s just too hard to figure out. I think I’m going to quit and try a different class.”
The hairy potter thought a moment and then with a twinkle in his eye said, “Give it just one more day. Come back tomorrow, and if you still feel frustrated at the end of class, then I will support your decision to move on to another course.”
The student agreed.
That night, the hairy potter didn’t sleep a wink. Instead, he spent the entire night figuring out how to throw a pot on a potter’s wheel – using only his bare feet! He practiced and practiced so that a pot thrown with his feet looked as good as a pot thrown with his hands.
The next day, he started class by asking the frustrated student to come sit in the front row. The hairy potter then took off his cowboy boots and proceeded to throw a pot using his bare feet. Amazed, the entire class applauded at the successful masterpiece he produced. Turning to the frustrated student, who was now smiling in amazement, the hairy potter asked, “Now, if I can learn to throw a pot with my bare feet over the course of a night, do you think you can try to learn to throw a pot with your hands over the course of a semester?”