I always wake up hungry.

I could drive to McDonalds and have a bag of breakfast, tossed out a window by anonymous hands into my lap. But there is no joy in that (and anyway, my 13 year old would lecture me about fast food, deforestation and factory farming.)

Artless, anonymous food can feed our bodies, but it leaves our souls unsatisfied.

So instead, I put my hands to cooking breakfast, a creative and rewarding task.

Coffee. While it brews, I choose from a dozen unique cups, stoneware and porcelain, ash glazed and maiolica, made by potters whose names and faces I know. In the private hours before my little homeschoolers wake up, I hold the warm mug in my cupped hands and press it again and again to my lips, both kiss and communion. It’s a good beginning. Every nursing baby knows this comfort, holding and sipping something warm.

(Given the choice of Styrofoam, though, or anonymous factory mug from the WalMart, I might well skip coffee all together. It matters who makes the things we use, and whether it’s artful skill that I hold to my lips, or mass produced, empty utility.)

There is joy in a smooth brown egg, laid by one of six hens in my small suburban back yard. We’ve come to recognize each friendly bird’s “style” of egg, by the color, speckle, shape and size. They all have dark orange yolks, and the good energy of hens who live on green grass, clover, bugs and freedom.

I honor those omelettes with real stoneware plates, made by the careful hands and good energy of a skilled studio potter.

There is joy in the yogurt I make by giving its living culture a warm place to thrive in my kitchen. In the bubbling fermentation of next year’s elderberry wine, the tangy sourdough starter I’ve nurtured for months, the alfalfa sprouts in a mason jar, and the hand-shredded sauerkraut in my stoneware crock, my kitchen is full of small, busy communities transforming the simple into something more. But the yogurt will be breakfast, with fresh garden strawberries.

There is joy in the honey from my backyard hive, another product of determined industry: 60,000 bees working together to distill summer’s blooms into sustenance. I honor that sweetness with a wood-fired honey pot, made by a Virginia potter/poet who works as hard as the bees.

The bread I toast – (because the smell wakes my children) – I made by hand. I chose and blended the grains, ground it to flour, kneaded the loaves, and baked it in the wood-fired bread oven I built by hand, using clay I dug myself. It’s heated with wood I cut and stacked, and a fire carefully tended until skill and practice tells me the time is right to bake.

I serve home canned peaches, and jam from backyard berries, in a bowls I made by hand. I chose and blended the clays, kneaded it into balls, formed them on the potter’s wheel, and decorated with glazes. They are fired in a kiln we built, brick by brick, last summer, or in the wood kiln we stoked patiently for 24 hours with wood we hauled, stacked and split ourselves.

It is said that work is love made visible. If that’s so, my children are well fed both in body and spirit, by the fruits of many labors: the bounty of birds, blossoms and bees, the peaches they peeled on canning day and the garden they planted and tended themselves. The mom who made their breakfast and the potters who made their juice cups did so with skill and love, as well.

I am proud that my own pottery inhabits the breakfast tables of others, the same way these beloved pots dignify mine.

Our modern world seems full of people buying more and caring less, eating more and enjoying less. I suspect what is missing is real work for our hands that makes us feel like participants in our own lives, the timeless daily tasks repeated until they take on an artful rhythm of their own. My farm grandma, who spent days picking and canning cherries, or on the porch shelling peas into her apron while clothes danced on the line, had a sense of peace and purpose that I work hard to recreate in my own life. I loved her pantry under the stairs, pine shelves shining with rows of pickled beets and carrots, mustard pickles and apricots in mason jars. I get the same feeling of accomplishment, beauty and plenty from the shining rows of finished pots on my own pine studio shelves.

Pottery is a primal. It connects us with our human history and with the bounty of earth, and while we no longer know the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker, our pots reconnect us with each other. With every pot meant to hold or be held, to serve and be used, we are linked to those who will use it, pass it at the table, wash and dry it as part of their own daily work.

My goal is to be like the bees, the hens, the sourdough, my grandmother, and the cherry tree, taking what the earth offers and transforming it into something more, something of use and beauty to others. My pots are about honoring the work of our own hands, in the soul-sustaining process of making, as well as in the finished pots themselves.

Kelly Averill Savino

April 2007