worship

Photo Credit: Bruce Peterson for the Columbia Heritage Museum

Wor-ship • verb: to show respect and love for God.

Today I continue the conversation with Shelley Weaver, an artist who rediscovered her passion for ceramic arts and started working on her craft when her youngest went off to college. Today Shelley talks about art as worship, developing art in children, and what she does with all of the beauty she creates.

Shelley, do you see art as a form of worship?

This is my favorite question. It made me think for a while about what worship really is and how it works.

Worship is usually defined as praising God, or thanking God. That’s usually the church service definition. I don’t think that was ever meant to be the extent of worship, in fact, formal worship/institutional worship is probably meant to be either the culmination of carrying all the week’s blessings to be marveled over with fellow believers, or else a concentration of gratitude we meld together to carry out as sustenance in a crazy world.

It seems to me that the best and purest worship is the result of relationship and communication with God throughout the every day. We don’t have a mechanism for literal verbal exchange right now it seems. What we’ve been given is metaphor, symbol, providence, and the echo of what is divine in our connections with other people.

The Metaphor of God as the Potter…

We have God as potter, which is an apt metaphor for the One who keeps atoms and molecules spinning and unified to form matter and mass.

Particularly when I was younger and stronger and wheel throwing was more fun, I had moments on the wheel when the cylinder of clay was spinning, water was spattering away in centrifugal patterns, and I’d think of all those clay molecules starting to align.

worshipThat’s all quite a powerful insight into the nature of a Higher Power and Intelligent Designer. I have to buy my clay somewhere, some chemist-types dig and blend and formulate their own clay bodies, but God originates. It’s quite a thing to ponder.

Clay work combines all the elements: earth/minerals, oxygen, water and fire. I get to use God’s tools, as it were. Unlike God, however, I’m not in charge—I don’t control any of them. Every single stage of clay work teaches me my limitations.

The clay will bend and shape and move, but only so far. It absolutely cannot be forced, and a clay artist faces the worst disasters when he or she tries to control the clay. The water may dissipate too quickly when first drying and the piece will crack. It can evaporate too slowly, and it can also crack or even explode in the kiln when the water molecules basically boil within the piece.

I’m subject to yet another set of conditions I can’t control during the firing process. A kiln isn’t a still place. Heat rolls and moves inside the kiln walls, the vessels and sculptures wobble and settle, lean and move. Glaze chemicals interact with the glazes on other pieces. Heating and cooling times affect colors, and many times even predictable glazes and careful timing yields surprising results. Some surprises are good, some bad. There’s a lot to learn about both God and myself when I study that metaphor.

God as a potter is a meditation in worship all of itself. As a human potter or clay artist, I have a limitless opportunity to improve both my technique and the technical nature of what I build, but it will never be flawless or perfect, or nearly as I imagined it. I’m always taught humility and my limitations. That’s the Robert Browning quote, “…a man’s reach must exceed his grasp…”

When things fall far short of what I planned, there is consolation (and simultaneous disappointment) in the fact that no one can see what I’d imagined.

…We as the Clay

God, as the potter in the metaphor, also faces limitations. With God, the limitations aren’t the technique, we can assume perfect skills there, I think. The limitation is within us. However, it’s not at all true that we are passive participants in relationship or worship, as the tradition held it to be.

I chuckle sometimes when we sing the hymn about God as potter, and how it describes the people who are clay. “Mold me and make me, after your will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”  I’ve worked with some yielded and still clay. It’s terrible. It doesn’t work.

Clay is a participant in the beautiful thing that is being created. It has a molecular memory. It has plasticity, complexity, and literally, grit. Potter/Sculptor’s clay is raw clay base blended with a mixture of kaolin, feldspar and other minerals. It’s planned and mixed by the potter to respond and be transformed in certain ways, and even fired at different temperatures.

If clay is pushed too hard, or if too much water is added to make things easier, it collapses, and becomes too limp and unresponsive to use. It must be scooped up and set aside to dry and recover for a while.

So, in other words, clay that is totally “yielded and still” loses its integrity and falls flat. The potter who blended and “created” the clay depends on the clay to become what it was formulated to be. When the potter and the clay work together as intended, something beautiful is formed. How amazing that we are part of the partnership of our transformation.

The potter and the clay have to work together as intended to create something beautiful. #art Click To Tweet

There are flaws, flops and do-overs. The clay is wedged and coned and pulled up and down. It is stabbed to release bubbles, and ultimately put into fire. It has moments of vulnerability when it is wet and very thin, or dry and very brittle. It participates and is transformed.

All the weakness eventually becomes strength. Going through this process, becoming the very best version of what we were planned and created to be, is the finest type of worship. Perhaps we will be a canteen to carry water to the thirsty. Perhaps we will become something beautiful.

The thinnest, finest and most translucent of porcelains is one of the strongest clay bodies in the end. Vulnerability is beauty, weakness becomes strength. So many awakenings and so much worship. When something surprises me beyond what I had planned, I get to rejoice in my gift. I have the opportunity for both humility and gratitude. All of that is worship.

When your kids were little, how did you inspire them to develop their artistic talents?  

To go back to that earlier spiritual lesson—art and worship both involve becoming fully who God imagined and created us to be. The best art is my kids becoming fully and wholly themselves. So, I tried to encourage all their interests and see where those might lead. Active play is one of the most integral parts of artistic effort, and so it really isn’t hard to get kids to participate in some form of what we’d call art.

I have the great fun of coming to the studio on the day the owner teaches kids’ classes. It fits my schedule, so I just tuck into the back of the room and listen to the kids create and discuss the process as they go.

Some kids do detail, some do size, some just like the process, the cutting and pounding. It’s important to balance the work of teaching process with allowing them to enjoy the parts that appeal to them and inspire them to do more.

I think mainly I just allowed my own kids to have fun with the process and didn’t demand anything exactly of the result. Of course, if they grew consistently interested in art, as my youngest has, I’d look for much more challenging and structured instruction to grow their talent and teach discipline.

There wasn’t much available, once again, in the rural area where we lived, but I do think whenever possible, formal training is an amazing head start. The notion of self-taught artists is romantic, but with formal training comes the learning and appreciation of all the art and tradition, and all the artists who went before. That’s a nice thing to be a part of.

What do you do with all the art that you create?

Nothing’s really stacking up very deep, because I work very slowly. I’m not a production artist. It’s pretty amazing to see how quick and consistent those artists are. I do sell much of what I make.worship

For instance, I make and sell a good number of garden ornaments during the year. They are large flower shapes that mount on rebar and are designed to display in the garden with the real flowers. My main shapes are daffodils, dogwood blossoms, and irises—which are really a complex balancing act before they solidify and dry to leather hard. I’ve also done a series of water lilies, which were nice, and I’ll probably do more of those next summer when the fountains and ponds are in motion. We display them in front of the studio, and they sell consistently well.

My main love right now is porcelain, and clay artists have developed a clay body that replaces the structural grit with paper fiber. The result is that the bulk and some of the weight of regular porcelain fires out in the kiln—it just burns up. Paper clay porcelain is lightweight, super strong, and very resilient in the kiln. The surface is dense and so smooth to the touch, even unglazed. I’m doing wall pieces and vessels with floral embellishment that I hope will be part of the upcoming online sales.

Bay Avenue Studio

The studio is also working on an online shop which will really broaden our ability to get our art out to the people who would love to bring it into their lives. The studio is annexed to Bay Avenue Gallery here in Ocean Park, Washington. It is a little remote, but totally worth the extra couple miles up the coast to visit.

All artists featured here are local. The materials range from recovered elements in jewelry, to found objects repurposed in sculpture. There are cranberry vine baskets with sand dollar and oyster shell bottoms, and painted buoys. The majority of the artists shown are clay artists, and the owner, Sue Raymond has whimsical and graceful pieces with great presence and personality.

Everything here just sort of flows after her modeling of the gallery’s vision. It’s a very congenial collection, and there is always one of the artists, or artist and owner, Sue Raymond herself, at the helm to tell visitors about the artist and the piece, and to help with the sale and packaging for travel or shipping home.

I’m lucky to be associated with such a nice place that will let me sell my little pieces when I wish. I hope folks in the area will come see us.

I give most of the rest away. People who know me will probably start to dodge my wedding and grad gifts shortly—or dread Christmas and birthdays!  I’m currently working on a chess set for my son that he receives in installments. I’ve also done a series of tiny houses, and even tinier cities (Teeny Santorini is my favorite).

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My older daughter has me started on the first of what will be a Christmas village that will grow each year. I have the Chinook Church, and the North Head lighthouse, and a beach cottage ready so far. There will be a few more pieces done by Christmas. I haven’t received a commission from my youngest yet, but she’s also an artist, so it’s probably not needful in the same way.

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Nurture Yourself Takeaway #15—Consider ways that you can worship God through your artistic endeavors. 

Shelley Weaver lives, dreams, and creates along the Washington coast. You can follow her on Instragram @sheleweav, or look for the hashtag #bayavenuestudio. Photo credits for all photos on this post go to Shelley. She hopes to have an online store in the future.

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