It’s a long story, and it’s not pretty.
Growing up on a small hardscrabble farm along the Pecatonica river was no picnic. The heavy clay soil clung to our feet, and the feet of our cattle, sheep and chickens. We used eggs, milk, and wool for currency, but these items were difficult to transport, and except for the wool, had a short shelf life. Then my practical mother conceived, not another child, but a plan to bottle and sell pure Pecatonica river water to clueless tourists.
Gradually this business lifted us from abject poverty to only modest poverty. Unfortunately during my teens, the demand for Pecatonica bottled water (hereafter referred to as PBW), dried up, and I was cast into the world to fend for myself. With only the clay on my boots, and a few leftover cases of PBW, I hopped a slow freight train in search of work. The cities and towns swept before me. Graft and corruption, religious intolerance, ignorance, bigotry and famine abounded during the dark years of the 70’s.
Then hearing of good jobs to be had in the mines of far off Mineral Point, I arrived there one promising spring, to find the mines closed. Realizing I had been duped, I sought shelter in the shadowy, and somewhat accepting community of potters, jewelers and artists In Mineral Point; all of whom were engaged in the selling, and trading of pottery, jewelry, and art to one another (and the occasional unsuspecting visitor).
This is the place for me, I thought, and selling my last cases of PBW, I amassed a small sum of cash, and using the very clay still on my boots, fashioned a crude pot, which I signed, and traded for lodging, at the then defunct globe hotel.
I gradually learned the pottery trade. Competition was friendly but fierce among the scores of potters in the area, and when my idea for a line of clay shoes and clothing proved unworkable and uncomfortable, I gave up the dream of being an artist, and took up the trade of stone-masoning.
Now you may ask, isn’t stone-masoning a harsh, brutish, mind numbing life – which saps a person’s spirit, causes him to drink and swear to excess, and creates a generally, sour attitude toward life? Yes, this would seem to be the case.
So now, fast forward to the present. Sitting at the curb in front of the now, grandly restored Globe Hotel, with a numb mind, broken spirit, and sour attitude toward life, Arlene Byrne drives up to show me a crude pottery bowl she had purchased at a high end resale shop in a large metropolitan area.
Crudely inscribed on its base were the words “Mineral point”, “rls” and “1974”. She asked if I knew anything about it. Well did I? It was my very first pot made with clay from my muddy boots upon my arrival in Mineral Point so many years ago, and if that is not a sign of something, I don’t know what is.
I told her the sad tale of my sordid past, the failures, the dreams and humiliations. She urged me to. “Man up”, to stop the hate, and to begin to use what little life I have left, to make more pottery, which I understand is in short supply due to the retirement of so many over the hill 1960’s artists.