Every now and again, life tosses you the opportunity to take part in a role reversal. It can be a powerful experience. Fortunately for me, a favorite former student is teaching ceramics in Detroit. At the risk of making a total fool of myself, I decided to sign up for class. It turns out that working with clay was just the tip of the educational iceberg. Class with Henry is full on performance art!
This afternoon Henry and I met for a cup of coffee to discuss the “philosophy of making a cup”. Henry believes in a relationship between personal creativity, social responsibility and connectivity. He spent the bulk of last year building a kiln in the city of Detroit. His desire is to use the kiln as a “sort of public art space where people come together to celebrate the process of making something beautiful”. Art is a verb in Henry’s mind – it signifies action, process, connectivity and joy. Henry believes there needs to be a new shift in our collective
understanding of the power of art.
Henry believes the art of the future should reflect an understanding of the shared goals of society and be steeped in connectivity. He is more committed to process than object but decidedly attached to technique. Routine is what keeps him in the moment but skill is what ties him to the process. “Heck, Molly, it is impossible to explain because I only confused myself and my audience but there is something about the invisible cord that ties every moment seamlessly together. All I know is that it is bigger than me. It just pulls me along creating this thing that in the end looks like a cup but is really the outgrowth of a million tiny moments of interaction with the clay.”
Henry’s art lives within a socially interactive framework. Firing up the kiln this past June was a neighborhood celebration. “Listen this isn’t just about me and my work. This is really about re- imagining space. I mean, how many people get to fire up a community kiln in their driveway?”
Henry’s passion for ceramics is infectious. You can’t help but have a good time in his presence. And, that is the secret to his success as a teacher. When you sit at the wheel in Henry’s class you get so busy watching his show that you forget to concentrate on the clay moving beneath your fingers. The invisible force that moves Henry somehow moves you too – you “catch” it while you interact. Henry’s students literally fall in love with clay. Everyone’s cup holds the unity of the interaction and as a result the cups literally emanate that purity.
I believe Henry, like so many other young people today, is re-patterning conscious daily life through his behavior, his personal philosophy and his interactions. It is an exciting time to be alive as I feel the transformative power of all my new, young teachers. The ultimate power of their awareness is deep deep beneath the surface pushing gently upward toward the creation of a richer, truer more authentic individual and cultural life experience. Thanks for taking me on Henry – it is a joy to be your student!
To see what Henry is up to in Detroit and view more of his work visit – www.henrycrissman.com
Molly Beauregard | Program Director