The palm-reading potter

| 30 Aug 2012 | 02:56

“There’s nothing new in pottery,” says Marilyn Dale. “The minute I think I came up with something, I look in a magazine and some Neolithic person created it a million years ago.” Which doesn’t stop her from trying. “I try to re-invent the wheel by making vases with holes in weird places.” Dale might, however, be the only person in the history of Homo sapiens to have been, over the course of her adult life: a principal of a Hebrew school, an assistant at an ophthalmologist’s office, a potter, painter, palm reader and health and wellness business owner. It’s pottery, though, that has been her bread-and-butter for 32 years, that put her kids through college. She teaches adult and kids’ pottery classes at Doc Fry Community Center in Warwick, and makes bespoke mugs, tiles, teapots, anything really, for people who come asking. First, she’ll interview her customer: What color’s your kitchen? How often do you have tea? Do you want a woven or clay handle? It may be a year later that she’ll finally sit down at the wheel to make said teapot. When she does, she’s got a detailed plan in her head. Well, usually there’s a plan in her head. “It matters how much beer I’ve had. I totally believe in wine and pottery. But I need to have a goal. When I’m molding clay I know exactly where I’m going when I sit down at the wheel. You have to know where you’re going to get there.” She throws and attaches the parts – body, lid, spout – puts the pot in the kiln for the first firing, glazes it, puts it back in for a second firing. Then a month might go by. “After I decide I like it, I say, ‘Come get your teapot,’ and they say, ‘Finally!’” It takes Dale, 59, a long time to decide whether she likes something. Her standards are high because she sees a teapot as much more than a vessel for transporting tea from stovetop to teacup. “I think that potters can make an everyday routine an almost ecstatic ritual, if that’s our intention,” she says. “A handmade plate can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich look like a feast.” She’s got certain pieces that have been sitting in her studio for years, awaiting judgment. If she doesn’t like it, the piece will never see the light of day. “When it sells, I feel good,” she says. “But when it sells and I go to someone’s house and I don’t like it, I feel awful.” If Dale really likes a piece, it may also never see the light of day. Of all the elaborate work she’s done – glass-encrusted tile mosaics, a kitchen backsplash with ceramic flowers that can be moved from one pocket to another – her favorite is a small, modest scalloped vase with a mustard-colored glaze. It sits tucked behind larger and showier vases on a shelf in her studio, where no one will ask to buy it.