The Way of the Potter: Don Hutchinson

Don Hutchinson at Surrey Art Gallery. iPhone photo by gayle mavor

On Sunday, I went to a special talk given by Don Hutchinson, an incredible artist, sculptor, potter in Surrey, B.C. who had a retrospective on at the Surrey Art Gallery that just ended. As an aside, if you’ve never been to the Surrey Art Gallery, you must go. It just feels GOOD in there. Good Feng shui and good programming.

Don started off meandering through some of his childhood experiences which built resilience and the idea that there was no room for waste. When you ran into a problem, you never went out and bought something, because you couldn’t. No money. You had to solve the problem some other way. He became very resilient, and like an inventor, very versatile in his approach to problem-solving on the cheap.

He said he failed art in high school. And French. And Latin. And Chemistry. 

When he graduated (somehow) from high school, he spent two weeks wondering what he should do. At first he thought he might be a priest. Then he thought, no, I’ll be a clown. And then he went into the Royal Air Force. Leaps of faith. Each one of those.

Eventually, he was accepted into Art School, the Vancouver School of Art.  At some point, he had to choose what he wanted to specialize in. He loved painting and sculpting. He didn’t really want to choose. And then he realized: potter. He could be a potter. This was the 1970s. Pottery and working in clay combines both colour and form. Two of his loves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He spoke about a teacher he had who gave the students an exercise. Create this type of vessel. When he came back at the end of the week and saw Don’s piece, he just laughed, didn’t say anything else. He then walked out. Don was humiliated and angry and frustrated. He wrecked the piece and the very next day, started over.

A week passed and he had a new vessel. The teacher came in. Looked at it and once again just laughed and walked out. That was it. Once again, Don was horrified, humiliated, frustrated and angry.

He started all over. By the end of that week, the teacher came by and Don was so frustrated and defensive that before the teacher could say anything, Don said, Look. This is it. I’m happy with it. This is the best I can do. I don’t care if you like it. I’m keeping it.

The teacher, with a bit of a satisfied grin said, Good. That’s what this was about. You’ve learned the lesson the hard way. I need you to do the best you can do. I need you to believe you’ve done the best you can and I need you to take responsibility for your work.

It was after that lesson that Don began to sign all of his pieces. By signing my piece, I was saying to myself and to anyone who bought it or looked at it that it was the best I could do at that time. Of course, years later I’d look back and think, Oh. That’s not so good. I can do better. But at that time it was the best I could do then.

I think this lesson is true for anyone working in a creative endeavour, including writers. We need to really do our best, believe it’s our best, take responsibility for the end result, even when we aren’t sure that anyone else will like it. The integrity in the process will lead (hopefully) to end results that matter and we are the most important person it must matter to.

That’s a great story. Thank you Don Hutchinson with perhaps a few details that weren’t exact in the retelling.  Don Hutchinson has been a potter for 50 years and taught at Langara College for 30 years.  Officially, he retired from being a potter two years ago and is now focused on painting in White Rock, B.C. 

2 Comments

  1. Yes, if our writing rings true to ourselves it most likely do the same for our readers. Thank you for the article and for your analysis and personal thoughts about writing.
    I think it is the same for living, a creative endeavour par excellence! We can so easily blame ourselves for not being ‘enough’, when all we can really do is our best, and that is enough.

    1. I really believe that writing for ourselves isTHE most important step, first step anyway. Because, honestly, even though, of course, I’d love to get a book published, I can’t help but notice how short lived the attention is after the book comes out and then it must be a total letdown. Like OMG, you expect me to do that AGAIN and AGAIN? So, really, writing for ourselves and enjoying that part is really imperative it would seem.

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