The Michiana Aesthetic: Community and Collaboration in an Emerging Pottery Tradition

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[Bloomington, Ind.] : Indiana University
Drawing on extensive ethnographic field research, this dissertation explores the professional lives of a group of potters in Michiana, an informal region centered around the border of northern Indiana and southern Michigan. It focuses on the emergence and ongoing development of a regionally specific pottery tradition, which has been built over the last twenty to thirty years by a growing group of potters, most of whom note that the presence of additional, likeminded potters is a major reason they choose to pursue their craft in this location. While previous material culture studies in folklore have often focused on tracing the social life of a certain type of object, this study looks at professional potters as an occupational group and considers the significance of developing a strong sense of community with others in the same profession. Much of the premise of this dissertation lies in the fact that presence matters; local places, personalized spaces, and face-to-face interactions are crucial to these potters in many ways, even when they do not work in the same studio together. These individual artists rely on numerous social connections: through a shared history, religion, and/or lifestyle preferences; through communal educational spaces and the development of vocational habitus; through the collaborative process of wood firing and liminal experiences; through the objects they exchange, collect, and hold dear. The included chapters each illuminate one of these social connections that is of benefit, and reveals how each aspect has played a role in the development of a sense of community among the potters who share a vocation in Michiana. Throughout the text, embodied experiences such as sense of space, physicality of the work, and the tactile experience of pottery play a key role in the potters’ shared understanding of their work. As a whole, this study suggests a structured approach for the ethnographic study of the social lives of contemporary artists and demonstrates the importance of acknowledging the everyday interpersonal and embodied connections that influence an individual artist.
Thesis (Ph.D.) - Indiana University, Folklore and Ethnomusicology, 2016
ceramics, occupation, folklore, embodiment, ethnography, network
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Doctoral Dissertation