Back in December of last year, a rather kismet meeting occurred between Michael and a woman named Martha.
Martha was a woman who Michael did some landscaping work for after answering an add on Craigslist. She needed some trees to be cut down, we needed some firewood. However, that job lead to so much more than just firewood! After the work was done, Martha asked Michael if he knew of anyone looking for pottery equipment. “What kind of equipment?”, he asked. “Oh, some tools, a wheel, a kiln, glazes, clay…a whole studio.” My husband, the man whose love of tools comes second only to the love of his family told Martha that he’d like to see these “tools” she spoke of. Minutes later, I answered my cell phone to an out-of-breath, overly excited man on the other end of the line. “Honey, you are never going to BELIEVE what I am looking at.” And by the end of that conversation, in true Dara-Michael fashion, we jumped right in and bought ourselves a pottery studio…for a SONG!!!!!
The story gets even sweeter, however.
It turns out that Martha was the niece of the potter, Nora who was in homecare hospice with only a few months to live. Martha moved to Napa from Portland to take care of her aunt’s estate. Nora began potting in the 50’s in Sacramento while her husband was a professor at UC Sacramento. They never had any children and Nora devoted her life to her art. About 10 years ago, after her husband had retired, they moved to Napa. He passed away shortly thereafter, but Nora stayed on in their big house with the adjoining pottery studio he had custom built for her.
Michael brought most of the big equipment home the day after I received that phone call, but I really wanted to meet Nora, so we went back together to get the rest of the small tools. I wanted to see this woman, to pay her my respects and gratitude, to let her know that I would honor and put to good use her precious tools. Nora was a soft spoken, sprightly woman who was welcoming and kind to me. We made small talk about children and the weather, pottery and painting. As I listened to her, I studied her hands and the gestures she made, thinking of all the years of work and creating they have done. I wasn’t there for very long, but I was able to express to Nora what I felt in my heart and I left there feeling quite humbled and content.
A few nights later, alone in my own studio I began to open up the boxes we brought home from Nora’s. It was as if I was opening up and about to read a diary that didn’t belong to me. Even though I now “owned” these tools, I felt as if I was trespassing on someone else’s life. I carefully arranged her implements and added my own pottery tools to them, blending them together. Looking through her boxes I discovered that Nora must have loved nature. She collected all sorts of shells, nuts and leaves to use for printing and pattern making in the clay. She made her own clay stamps with her initials on the handles. She used all sorts of utilitarian, every day items as tools. She seemed like a resourceful, mindful and compassionate woman.
Doing this made me take stock of my own collection of “tools” and how they help to define the person I am, where I’ve been in my life and where I am heading. The paint brushes and pencils, the stacks of paper and rolled up canvases…they tell the story of my life in some way. They are precious to me because I’ve grown with them for so many years. I couldn’t help but think of how I would want them to be taken care of when it’s my turn to go. I would hope they would go to good use, to a person who would treat them with care while creating their mark on the world.
I don’t know if Nora has passed on yet, but I do know this; her tools are in good hands. We still have a bit of electrical work to maneuver out in the “kiln shed” (which of course was designed and built by Michael), but hopefully by the end of summer we will have it up and running. I look forward to getting my hands wet with clay and creating something that Nora would be proud of.