Monday, May 23, 2011

Objects of desire

On Friday I bought a water jug. It's quite large as jugs go, stoneware with an earthen finish, glazed green inside; it was made by a potter whose name I've forgotten but I recall sounded Swedish. The jug was on display in the David Mellor factory in Hathersage. As we browsed the shop I kept going back to pick it up, judge it's weight and feel the curve of the handle; when Jane walked back to the car I quickly bought it.

'That's a lot for a jug,' she said, when I told her the price. A little defensive, I pointed out that our dinner for three (in a Beefeater steakhouse) would likely cost as much and we'd not think twice about that. And whereas the dinner would be forgotten by tomorrow, I might use the jug for years; keep it for life even.

For me, this is an increasing state of mind. As I get older I find myself buying objects that I don't as such need, but that strike me as beautiful, and useful - items that might give me pleasure every day. Not many are as pricey as the jug; I bought an antique toffee tin the next day for two pounds and the most gorgeous writing slope for forty (it will house my laptop and a plethora of 12volt chargers). Few cost more than a fill of petrol.

I'm conscious that to some that last comment might appear flippant; lots of people can't afford to fill their car at a whim, and I'm deeply fortunate not to have to count every pound. I could give all manner of justifications but deep down I suspect I'll always be sensitive to the privileges I enjoy; hard earned or not. And in truth I'd not wish to change that - it's a safety valve that helps me take as much pleasure in owning (relatively) simple things as some seemingly get only from way more expensive purchases.

In my loftier moments I like to think that I'm following in an Arts and Crafts tradition; surrounding myself with objects that exhibit a truth to materials and a sense of craftsmanship that makes life a greater a joy. Certainly, there's an honesty and utility to jugs and the like that you seldom find in the fine arts - much though I love paintings, they are by their nature 'on display' rather than in use. But in truth my purchases are less consistent philosophy and more that I'm periodically confronted by objects of desire I simply can't resist.

Years ago my father in law said to me that the best thing about becoming a headmaster was being able  to afford any book he wanted. His point was that not sweating the smaller pleasures was a greater delight than affording a bigger house or a new car, the so called and more stereotypical trappings of success. It has always struck me as a healthy approach.

I like books too and Amazon's 'buy now with 1-click'  could easily be one of my more serious vices. Thankfully I have it under control. So too is my buying of pottery. Or at least I thought so - for the next day, when Jane wasn't looking, I bought a jar for no other purpose than to look at!


  1. oh..and they are both salt glaze...I am very partial to this method of firing as well. Two exceptional pieces!!

    Now do please make note of the potter's name ;-). It's a demanding art, being a ceramist.

  2. It’s not just the warm and rustic curvy visual aesthetics of such pots and jugs that appeals to our inner visceral instincts, as it is a bridge back to a time when the value and function of these objects long preceded the eras of the decorative accessory. They are as such a fond symbol to us of bygone times when the skills required to produce these wares were highly revered by those who valued their important daily utilization.

    I can’t see IKEA achieving Ming Dynasty status, let alone value in the next millennium. They’ll have long since been recycled to make cheap waste pipes.

  3. Beautiful surroundings beautify the mind. I truly believe that. Money spent on beautiful things is never a waste.

  4. Oh Mark, I am SO with you. That pottery is just wonderful...I once bought something similar from a David Mellor store. I love generous shapes in pleasing. Most things in my home are hand-made, often commissioned (generally cheaper than shop-bought).
    Came over to thank you for your comment and to say *deep envy* at meeting I would LOVE to do that... *sigh* xx

  5. I did like that jug...and the pot...and the writing slope....
    Being able to afford the small things that give you pleasure is so important...sod the car, etc...
    I can buy a book without worrying about the price and, now my eyes and brain are adjusting to a different culture, I am starting to see things here that I want to have around use, to look at.

    We both enjoy pictures..I take your point about 'on display', yes, they are, but the pleasure in their sheer existence is new every time we look at them.

  6. I completely understand. In recent years, whenever I have received unexpected money(e.g. a small inheritance, a tax rebate) I've bought a piece of original art with it. I realise after writing that it sounds a bit grand, I don't mean it to be. I just like owning original pieces and I get daily enjoyment out of them, and they repay me every penny I spent on them.

  7. I would KILL my mother for your kitchen

  8. I love the jug. I have a bit of a thing about jugs. I am not a collector. I don't have the single mindedness to be a collector of just one thing, but the combination of beauty and usefulness in a jug really appeals to me. I too am becoming more and more likely to buy something simply because I think is beautiful yet I don't want too much stuff! It is quite a tension! Not yet managing one in, one out.

  9. I do tend to agree with you about buying old objects - and for whatever reason the antique craze seems to have died down and you can buy great chunks of history for less than it will cost you to fill your petrol lighter, let alone your car. And whoever got food poisoning from a water jug?

  10. lovely pottery, reminds me of the muchelney / john leach pottery made just down the road from me.
    i read a blog post recently about a famous writer, i forget who, who spent the first money she made from writing on a diamond bracelet.
    i don't think it is always 'materialistic' to want 'things'.
    enjoy your objects of desire!

  11. Beautiful pieces, Mark, and I share your love for jugs in particular. When I reired from my libray post years ago now, my colleagues gave me a token from a local shop that specialises in ceramics. I bought a lovely fruit bowl and no less than 3 jugs, one large and gorgeous and two much smaller and use them with huge pleasure all the time. No more keeping things for best at my age.

  12. I too like pots, though I don't know why. Maybe I too will do a post about some of mine...

  13. I follow your blog as you seem to have had similar experiences - climbing,travel,writing ,cycling and now collecting 'earthy' pieces of pottery.
    Here is a link to a pottery in Skye which has the most incredible view over to Knoydart as well as an interesting owner who does beautiful work. Iain McGilchrist describes how these shapes and textures(as well as playing and using objects such as musical instruments) tend to influence us.
    Maybe its an emotional memory thing but looking and interacting with older things like a hand made cycle frame perks my interest in ways that newer ones don't!