/ Nathan Eshelman

The Artist at His Wheel

In the midst of the Great Depression, in 1939, The American Pottery Exhibit at The New York World’s Fair offered patrons two collectable pieces of pottery. Two of Homer Laughlin Pottery’s artists, Bill Barrisford and Garvin Miller, designed the plates, promoting a trending turquoise glaze featured on the company’s newest line of pottery. The first plate was entitled “The thrower at his wheel.” The second plate was called “The artist at his wheel.” Both plates together celebrated the craftsmanship and artistry required in making fine pottery. The turquoise color was a bright spot in the midst of a national economic and social crisis. The second plate, “The artist at his wheel” remains the rarer of the two plates.

“The thrower” and “The artist” were displayed in my home in Grand Rapids, Michigan while I was in seminary. They were in mint condition, and among my favorite pieces of pottery. On a given day, a visitor would recieve a brief historical tour of the plates, their provenance, and connection to the World’s Fair and The Homer Laughlin Pottery company could be heard ad nauseam. I make no excuses for who I am and what I enjoy to read, know, and collect.

On an ordinary day, over a dozen years ago, a three-year old daughter came running up the stairs, throwing the door shut behind her. The rattle of the loudly shut door against the wall caused an ordinary physical reaction and “The artist at his wheel” dislodged from his place on the wall, dropped to the floor, and was destroyed.

The pair was no more. The vessel was broken.

For various reasons, I still have the shattered pottery. The broken “Artist at his wheel” moved with me from Grand Rapids to Los Angeles in January of 2009 and it moved again with me from Los Angeles to Orlando earlier this year. Broken pottery follows me. It follows my daughter as well— forgiven, of course—but she still hears the story from time to time.

The Bible talks a lot about pottery and potters.

The Bible speaks about pottery in describing God’s love for his people. Isaiah claims that the people of God are the clay and the LORD is the potter. We are the work of his hands.

Earlier, Isaiah noted that the potter and the pottery were not equal—the clay does not ask, “Why have you made me like this?” Imperfections or vessels of “less honor” are his business, not mine.

The LORD calls upon Jeremiah to go to to the potter’s house and to watch him throw and design, noting that Israel was was the vessel being made.

The Apostle Paul uses the image of the potter and the clay when talking about God’s electing love towards his people.

Pottery is important and the stories of pottery and their makers have lessons that are of eternal value to those willing to listen. The broken “Artist at his wheel” has been been reflected on by me for over a decade.

The Bible talks a lot about pottery and potters.

Yesterday, on my way to a meeting over coffee, I stopped by a little shop outside of town. The turquoise glaze caught my eye and I walked over to a glass cabinet and stood face-to-face with a 1939 “The artist at his wheel.”

The piece was not in mint condition, as was mine that was broken over a decade ago. The foot of the artist has a “glaze skip” which makes the white clay from the Ohio River Valley shine through against the turquoise glaze. There is light crazing along the lower rim. The price reflected these imperfections, and despite the problems, I bought it anyway. I was glad to see it after all these years despite the flaws.

The Bible talks a lot about pottery and potters. Pottery invites us to meditate on his will for our lives, his electing love, his discipline against unfaithfulness, his sovereign grace, as well as other truths.

My newly procured “Artist at his wheel” is imperfect, but at least it is not damaged beyond repair. How profound to think of how great God’s grace in Christ is towards us, despite our imperfections and failures. There’s a meditation on grace for you.

The Bible talks a lot about pottery and potters. He is the artist at his wheel.

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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