Common ground: finding an American aesthetic in ceramics through the history of wilderness and ceramic art in America
Botelho Alvarez, Alejandro Manuel
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My quest to find a unifying principle that constitutes 'American ceramics' has led me to survey the histories of studio ceramics in America and Wilderness and Nature in America. I've discovered resounding similarities between the two: both were responses to a flagging sense of identity and a hope to (nostalgically) confirm and promote certain values and worldviews (over others). Both our relationships with nature and American studio ceramics are monolithic in their founding ideals and have persisted into the 21st century; both have been fundamental in my upbringing and have codified my own worldview. However, I've become sensitive to the fact these particular values are rooted in privilege, are fundamentally exclusionary, and are ripe for a reexamination. In this paper I propose that we revisit the bearing of the values that wilderness and the aesthetic judgements of ceramics in the early 20th century have on society today. It does not mean that these traditions should be totally abandoned. Instead, I am convinced that a more pluralistic and inclusive approach to both is a more holistic way forward. By appraising the histories of wilderness and ceramics in America I hope to uncover some of the unrecognized people and cultures that have been deliberately redacted from the history. In so doing, I expect to find similarities and trends within the existing canon that are commonly celebrated and introduce the forgotten traditions back into the fold, such that it might lead to a new vision for American ceramics. In conclusion, I hope that this rediscovered American aesthetic might be the framework in which I create my own body of work, with a particular appeal towards process rather than form, as a criterion of excellence. With an understanding that American studio pottery has many different traditions to pull from that are still being 'digested', but that these diverse inspirations is not a weakness, but a strength.