Jun 21

From Mud Through Fire to Beauty

In Brief—A trip down memory lane about the making of a potter and the pieces that were produced along the road. Though the potters will fade into time, the pots will live on.


NOTE:   As I said at the beginning of my Japan blog, I will be adding photos to occasional blog pieces. This is one. Thanks to Pinterest, you will get to see some of the pots I have made. To identify the method, I’ve provided information below each photo.

Click here to see some of my pottery.

If you like what you see and read, tell your friends or share the blog on your favorite social site.



Cheaper Than Therapy—

I was in “the Zone,” in another world detached from the one surrounding me. The mound of clay turned on the rotating wheel head and my hands seemed to be in the realm of a sorcerer. As if by magic, the clay transformed itself into the base of a teapot. Four pulls. Amazed at what I had done, I completed the necessary parts to assemble into a teapot and put it on the shelf to reach the leather hard state that would permit me to trim and assemble the parts into the whole

Most potters agree that working with clay—“mud” as it is often referred to—erases whatever tensions may lead others to the couch in a therapist’s office. Tensions flow out of the potter’s body and mind as the clay turns on the wheel. Focus and concentration may be the answer, but it certainly worked for me.

I was a lawyer who was doing everything with my brain and little with my hands when, one day, I passed a pottery studio with a sign in the window saying “Pottery Lessons.” That sign beckoned me. It changed my life. Being a somewhat compulsive person, I became competent within a few months and was asked by the owner if I would be interested in teaching on the weekends. Law during the week and pottery on the weekends.

Dondrian Ceramic Wall Piece

Dondrian Ceramic Wall Piece

Never let it be said that I am not observant. I had noticed that most of the students were females between the ages of 18 and 40. I was divorced and suddenly felt like a kid with unlimited credit in a candy store. It wasn’t long before I had acquired something of a reputation. As one of my admirers said, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” I flaunted my buff body and my newfound attraction. I also improved my skill with clay.

Unfortunately, my reputation as a lady’s man and a failed relationship almost cost me the unexpected love of the wonderful woman who eventually became my wife.

I eventually stopped teaching pottery in my spare time and quit the practice of law. After stumbling about and losing my motivation, I found myself back in the television business in an executive position. My wheel and kiln sat gathering dust in my workshop while I reached a state of burnout after eight years of too much work in the corporate world. I retired and moved to Sweden, my wife’s country, choosing to have our children grow up in a cleaner, saner environment.

A New Life Blossoms…Then Ends—

Dusting off my wheel and kiln, I began removing the rust from my pottery skills and focused my energies on learning new ways of transforming clay into objects of beauty. New friends taught me new skills and provided me with the materials needed to explore unfamiliar avenues. The value of wonderful friends is probably the greatest reward I found.

I took a class in salt firing in an outdoor wood-firing kiln. I soon found myself heaving pine logs into a roaring fire and admiring the earthy warmth of the results. I became a mad scientist concocting startling crystalline glazes that were seldom seen in northern Sweden. And my old love of Japanese raku led me to successfully show and sell my work locally. Gallery shows of my raku and crystalline pieces replaced my former shallow reputation as a lady’s man with that of a member of a group of talented Swedish potters.

After several years, all that came to an abrupt end when a little brain tumor robbed me of quiet and joyful times in my studio. The ceramics magazines still stir my creative soul, but sitting at a turning wheel, experimenting with glazes, pulling glowing raku pieces from the kiln are now in the past. The old wheel sits gathering dust; the kiln stands cold, and I sit at my computer writing about the past.

Time moves on, but the pieces we made still exist to inspire future potters. The flame is passed on. Pottery is forever.


Skip to comment form

    • Art Ulene on June 21, 2015 at 17:09

    Wow! Just wow! That’s the Don Bay I knew and loved. Your art is magnificent. Thanks for sharing……. Art

      • Don Bay on June 21, 2015 at 18:25

      Thanks for the strokes. As I said in the piece, these pots are now in the past. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to play with clay for all those years. It helped keep me sane and off the therapist’s couch.

  1. Hello Don
    Thank you for sharing!!! Hope all is well at your end!!! Thank you again.

      • Don Bay on June 21, 2015 at 18:34

      I am more than happy to share. Your pottery sits not two feet from me here as an inspiration. Thanks for your friendship, hospitality and inspiration during past visits to Gotland. Keep on potting and painting.

  2. After your move to Sweden, I was mostly unaware of your reemergence into pottery…..so, I’m thrilled to see and hear about your achievements.
    Isn’t it true that we look back on certain periods of our lives and take pride or are even surprised at what we accomplished in a time now lost?
    Having a lifetime resume that looks like several different people is a wonderful thing. You can claim that distinction.

      • Don Bay on June 23, 2015 at 15:59

      The gift of your beautiful ceramic decanter amazed and humbled me. If I had the skill you have, I would have felt blessed. I have often felt that I didn’t want to be pressed into a mold that held me through my life. I sought a balance between the intellect and the physical, between TV and the law, between the corporate life and independence. I chide myself for too often slipping back into my comfort zone instead of challenging myself by following a different path. Ceramics was a different path that allowed me a measure of creativity while remaining anchored in my comfort zone. Your skill and creativity opened avenues that have allowed me to breathe. You can be justly proud of your own resume.

    • Donna Boe on June 24, 2015 at 17:59

    :Your pottery is incredibly beautiful and creative! Nothing can take from you that opportunity that you had to leave such a legacy. It must be great to have something tangible as part of your legacy.

      • Don Bay on June 25, 2015 at 16:36

      Having seen pottery from an earlier age, I sometimes wonder what a future anthropologist might think after unearthing a piece of my pottery. Will s/he wonder about the human who made this? I don’t flatter myself with any expectation that one of my pieces will be in a museum. However, it’s remotely possible that a thousand years from now one of my pieces can sit on a shelf in some future museum. I can dream, can’t I? Thanks for the kind words.

  3. Thanks for the pictures, Don. I saw some of your work in Sweden but there is much here that I didn’t see. Beautiful. I very much second the comments of others.

      • Don Bay on June 25, 2015 at 16:52

      I appreciate the strokes. Not many got photographed over the years, but thanks to my wife, what you see are some of the show pieces that happened to make it. Better than words, but some past photos probably sit fading in a trunk in the basement, never to see the light of day again. At least these were recorded and have made their way into cyberspace on this blog. Oh, well…

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