5 Questions: Lisa Knaus

By Alison Rooney

Lisa Knaus manages the pottery studio at the Garrison Art Center. Its annual pottery sale begins Friday, Nov. 17.

Lisa Knaus (Photo by A. Rooney)

How much clay does the studio go through?
About 500 pounds a week. I’m always like, “You guys need to slow down!” We buy it from Canada. You can dig it up, but local clays tend to melt at low temperatures because they have a lot of iron. In places like the Carolinas and Georgia you can use it straight out of the ground. My father would go to a swimming hole, dive down and dig it up, kind of for the romance of it.

What do beginners find most frustrating?
Centering a pot on the wheel as its spins. It’s an old skill, going back to the invention of the wheel and fire. It brings together a primal need to work with your hands and to express something about form.

Do people need more mugs?
Yes, because you can always give your old mugs away. Say you’re having tea with someone and she tells you how much she likes the mug. You’ve been drinking from it for 12 years, so it’s time to give it away and get a new one.

Is imperfection sometimes the best result?
It’s not that you want to make junk, but with all the technology, it’s a relief to see a spot sometimes. It relaxes the eye. We have an expression, “the kiss of the kiln,” which means to accept and trust that when you are putting something into 2,000-degree heat, you have to say goodbye and then hello, however it emerges. You have to understand that probably half your attempts aren’t going to work. As I’ve gotten older my success ratio has gone up, but I’ve also learned when to give up. My students are always trying to repair things.

At the end of the 10-day pottery sale, do you question your sanity?
Yes. That happens pretty much all year, actually. The sale is intense, but it’s good discipline for someone like me who is good at hosting but not so good at bookkeeping. I love how beautiful it all is, that sense of doing things together.

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