Regarding Donations

A collection of pottery shards from a ceramic cup that spontaniously cracked.At risk of sounding like a jerk, I need to vent.

One of my pet peeves is being solicited for pottery donations. It’s often from friends of mine, though more often from complete strangers. I do give them the benefit of the doubt that they mean no disrespect. In fact, I think that many people would insinuate that it’s a compliment. But one thing is for certain, I’m almost never asked for a donation by another potter.

A fellow potter knows how much goes into every single piece. How much work goes into the preparation, the making, the firing, the transporting, the cleaning. How much time must be dedicated to the craft, and how much time must be sacrificed by way of declining social invitations, waking up early, staying up late, or simply going in to the studio when you could be relaxing.

A fellow potter knows the heartache of a bad firing, where an entire kiln load is wasted. Even the loss of a single piece can be disheartening, though it’s to be expected occasionally. But it’s not just the firing, in the pottery making process failure is always looming. You can make a catastrophic mistake at any point, or have your pottery fail by no fault of your own. You can be completely successful and have the finished piece slip out of your grasp while you inspect your work.

A fellow potter knows how much I’ve invested in becoming a craftsman. Not just in tools, supplies, studio fees. Potters travel to learn from other potters, visiting museums, attending workshops, and gallery openings. Most potters spend a considerable amount of money on their own personal collection, acquiring pieces from renown and emerging artists alike, both as a show of support and a chance to learn from their work by living with it. Yet as much as we support each other, I’ve yet to meet a truly wealthy potter.

So when I’m asked to donate a piece of pottery, it’s not just that I made it by hand, and that I consider myself truly fortunate and thankful for every successful piece. It’s not just that I’ve traveled far and wide and invested incalculable hours in learning my craft. And it’s not just that I’ve spent thousands of dollars in an effort to be the potter that I am today. My pet peeve stems from the fact that people don’t understand, or truly appreciate, what they’re asking for.

* Artists are among the lowest paid members of society, yet we are consistantly inundated with requests for donations and volunteerism. Yet the highest paid members of society are virtually off the radar when it comes to soliciting donations. Case in point, I’ve never seen “one hour of legal services” at any of the silent auctions that I’ve attended. No free investment advice, real estate services, or doctor/dental visits. I suppose these members of society are seen as “bidders” for the art and prizes that have been solicited, but wouldn’t the an hour of a decent attorney’s time bring in more money than a piece of my pottery?

** With regard to “sponsoring” events by making charitable donations, I have absolutely never felt that the return on investment has been worthwhile. For a large corporation, or even a small business that offers an easily manufactured product or service, such promotional ventures make sense. But for me, sponsoring a fundraiser in hopes of gaining new customers is a long shot. In my experience to date, occasionally the organizer will personally buy a piece from me later. Most often the organization’s volunteers express interest, but are in no position to bid on auction items or patronize the arts, themselves.

*** Now that I’ve made myself sound like the Ebenezer Scrooge of the ceramics world, I will add a bit of a postscript. I derive great satisfaction from donating pottery to a good cause when I am inspired. In March of 2011 I raised hundreds of dollars for the tsunami relief effort in Japan by selling pottery and donating all of the proceeds (equal to about two months rent). I’ve given away some of my best work to aspiring potters in an effort to inspire them. I’ve given countless pieces to friends, students, and children to share my passion and to help foster a love of pottery. And I routinely donate work to several non-profits here in Pittsburgh that are close to my heart.