making beauty in our lives


This piece is being moved from a gallery in New Hampshire to Denver for an upcoming Exhibition on the Pentateuch.  It was first shown in a collection I did for the Museum of Fine Arts.  Each clay vessel in the show will reflect one of the books of the Pentateuch (The first five books of the Old Testament).


I have been wrestling about including this piece in the show and still may recreate it.  The vessel is of stoneware in reduction, fired to cone 10 and is topped with a slice of purple agate.


Last night, a friend stopped me whining about the choices I am making for the exhibition at a gallery in Denver next spring. She stopped me in my tracks, as only a wise woman in her eighties can, and said “Charles, it’s about beauty, not content. It is ok for it just to be beautiful.  Beauty is a way we see God.” I was stunned by the comment (as I am about most of the wise and wonderful things Mary says.  We were at our usual bar drinking scotch together.  That is another reason I love Mary!)


Making beauty happen is not about making great art, though our culture is impoverished without it. Making beauty can happen for each of us at any moment.  We can “make” a kind smile.  We can “make” a gentle word of encouragement. We can make a sandwich and make it more beautiful by adding parsley and a cut radish just for the sake of making the plate beautiful.  We can make a beautiful dinner of bright greens and deep reds and buff ochre on a platter.  We can make love; and we can make words which heal or challenge or comfort. We can even doodle on a friend’s napkin in a meeting with a picture that makes them smile.  It is not the thing that matters, it is the act that matters.


Jesus’ death is messy and disjointed.  We still argue about dates and times.  Was it the Sabbath or the eve of the Sabbath?  The tools used by the Romans were just the tools of the day.  Today Jesus would be killed by the church and state in other ways, using other tools – ecclesial courts, whispering clerics and envious Governors – perhaps the electric chair or cement shoes or a hanging.  The point is not the act but the gesture of a God who would create beauty out of such gore.


Our lives are so full of gore, so full of mis-steps, missed opportunities, failed relationships, bouquets of sin by commission and omission. But we then take the clay or the smile or the touch of a shoulder or the text of a comment – and we make something beautiful. These are not great works of art.  My pot here in this photo is just $2 worth of clay and $3 worth of propane and $1 worth of chemicals.  Six dollars and one hour.  But when they are combined – beauty exists.


What is today’s version of that propane and clay and chemical mix in our life? What beauty can we make out of a phone call or a smile or a kind text to a friend?


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