Confessions: A Potter Talks Regifting
My sister Megan texted me recently with what was framed as a confession: she had taken one of my Carrie Fisher mugs to a white elephant swap. It was stolen twice and went home with someone very happy to own it.
I've told Megan before that she is free to regift my work. I feel free to regift items as well, if I am not using an item. I'm delighted that she took me at my word.
Many people are surprised by this attitude. Perhaps they think that I have an intended use for the item that can only be fulfilled by the original owner, or they were taught as children that regifting was rude or cheap.
I tell customers often that once they purchase something, or I have gifted them an item, it is theirs to use how they wish, even if that means regifting. Yes, I do make items with an intended purpose, but I already see myself using items differently than expected. For instance, I have a cup with a toad on it that I expected to use for hot beverages. Instead, it has become an ice cream dish. I have a bread plate that is now a plant saucer.
Here's the thing about ceramics. Much of my best work will outlive me. The seed of this belief was planted before I was even a potter, while I was spending a semester at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. A friend and I took a trip to Guayaquil and in that time visited the Museo Antropológico y de Arte Contemporáneo (Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art) where I saw pre-Colombian ceramics from societies I had learned about in my course of Antropología Andina (Andean Anthropology). It was astounding how old they were, how mundane many were, that they had lasted through so many eras. In most cases the information about their maker was gone but parts of their life were evident in the details.
I have no way to know if my work will last thousands of years. I have left some of my tiles out throughout the harsh Michigan winters and some have crumbled while others remain four years later. I know one potter who lives a couple neighborhoods south of me who periodically buries pots in his backyard for the anthropologists who someday uncover what may be the Lost City of Detroit. I'm tempted to do the same.
Much of my recent work is drawn from my personal history - some parts of which are a shared experience and some of which are particular to me. The petoskey mugs evoke summer trips to Lake Michigan with my grandparents and beachcombing with my wife Rebecca on spring trips to Charlevoix. Most poignantly, petoskey stones are fossils of ancient coral, so my ceramics are emulating an ancient, extinct life form. Collecting them is a very Michigander pastime. I'm thrilled to be able to introduce the emotions people experience from finding a petoskey stone into drinkware that they can use in daily life, and humbled when they purchase this work for themselves or as gifts.
In some ways, my work is already a fossil. It's an artifact whose artisan lives, for now. Trying to control where my art goes or what it's used for will be entirely impossible in less than a century, and so I have let go now. When someone regifts my work, I believe that they are doing it to bring the most joy into the world.
There's a common saying amongst potters that pottery teaches us the art of letting go.
I believe that regifting follows that spirit.
So if you've been uncertain what to get for that certain someone, look around your home. Perhaps the most joy for them is already in your possession.