The Heartwork Collection reflects upon love's roles both as a casualty and as an agent of hope in our concurrent physical and mental health crises.

 

Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, a mental health pandemic has simultaneously gripped the land I call home, contributing to fear, violence, hatred and despair. Anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide rates have risen dramatically, stoked by unemployment, social isolation, prolonged physical discomfort, missed birthdays and holidays, fear of dying alone, and simple lack of physical affection. These in turn have exacerbated political division and social unrest. This multitude of crises demands answers to existential questions for my nation and culture.

 

In this dark time, I find myself genuinely inspired by the sweet, goofy, generous love of my community. Loveland has a quiet reputation worldwide as a destination for romantic gestures big and small. People travel here to get married and remarried each year. Heart signs and sculptures dot the landscape and multiply around Valentine’s. Volunteers decorate and remail 120,000 valentines each year from 110 different countries and all 50 states. These lighthearted symbols and gestures can be cynically dismissed as local tourism, but my own experience living in a town that champions love has been one of uncommon friendliness and neighborliness.

 

Historically, potters’ best works reach for universal truth within their local language of materials, forms and symbols. To this end, the Heartwork Collection harnesses a variety of local materials and simple emblems related to love. XO’s and hearts bring lighthearted, goofy joy to uncomplicated functional forms. Other marks, such as chemical structures for neurotransmitters and sinus rhythm “pulses” mine science for symbols.

 

These symbols of love are then sublimated in a trial by fire. In the wood kiln, 30 foot brilliant white flames wash over them with heat extreme enough to melt stone, and caustic vapor coats and scours the clay’s skin. Many of the symbols are destroyed, fried in the flames or buried in the coals. Love does not win every battle. However, some symbols, like the heart-shaped wad marks, are born in this crucible. All that survive are hardier for it, marked by a struggle to maintain their sweetness and their desire to serve.

 

My sincere hope is that these pieces will encourage me and my greater community to contemplate the humble and heroic love in ourselves and in each other.