David Stannard

David Stannard mug

David Stannard has just died.

David was one of my first ceramics teachers at The University of Oregon in 1972 and when I got an MFA in 1980 he was on my graduate committee.

David was a potter’s potter: he went deep into materials science, deep into process, and deep into philosophy. So deep in fact that many of us were intimidated by him; at times he seemed to speak in tongues or he’d get right to the technical point leaving out the introduction that some of us needed. Later when I became less intimidated I thought it was an affectation. Later still as I learned more about myself and broadened my experience with different types of people I not only got David, I admired him.

When he visited me here in Connecticut a few years ago we talked about the fact that both of us had suffered with learning disabilities although when I had worked with him I had very little knowledge of my own learning problems and he had already made a successful life for himself as a popular university professor. Still, we both felt that we had this experience in common and there was a real connection that I had not experienced with him back in Oregon. In retrospect I have a feeling that one of the reasons I fit in so well in that ceramics department was that all of us were “learning to a different drummer.”

During that visit David gave me the mug pictured here which he made in Alaska out of local clays and local glaze materials that he’d mined and concocted himself. That’s what David did there: started a pottery for a small village so they could make and sell ceramics. The mug itself isn’t particularly remarkable without the back story of it’s materials, its making, and David’s lifelong research, and that knowledge makes the mug remarkable. I’m going to start using this mug again to keep David floating around in my consciousness.

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Reflections From Owl’s Eye-2
© 1994 David Stannard

Twenty years ago I went with my wife and two pre-school boys to live in a village on the Bering Sea. Seen from this distant time and place, it was like coming home — no schedules, no stop lights, no TV, no 2nd hand experience, no arbitrary intrusions at all. Plenty of direct experience and rhythm, though! We slept, we woke, we ate, we worked. Night followed day, and day the night. Wind came every few days, died off, then returned bringing rain, sun, drizzle, or snow — on zephyr or driving storm. Neighbor kids and ours gusted in and out like leaves on the wind, mutely settling into a quiet corner of the one room, suddenly starting up and swirling out the door to fling noisily about the village according to some dance between inner pulse and outer force. Like a school of fish in a watery world each went his own way, though grouped by common purpose and locale. Each moved in that singular world of vision-in-action called intuition.

Who was in charge of their education, then? Ah, we all know! It was as it still is with all humans. Each child develops from the beginning in accordance with a unique inner tempo and scheme. Education is each one’s own developing humanness — one’s Vision-in-action. (Humans live in an actual world filtered through their imagining). This is the nature of being human. People, places, and events provide nurture — more or less. This nurturing (good or bad) is what we call teaching. That we can apply to others, but education comes only through one’s self. ‘Educating others’ is a careless delusion that undermines the mental health of anyone who accepts the notion.

Formal Education, that is, our structured, “professionalized” teaching, needs fierce examination if a healthy, intuitive self is to be honored and nurtured as it was in pre-literate times. Let me warn and challenge young people in Alaska, especially those of the indigenous 1st Nations. This formal education is more dangerous than dozing walruses on an ice floe! The whole future society needs your healthy, challenged self. Be sober and alert. Study the views and attitudes of your teachers and administrators, but do not trade them in for your own vision and inner growth. Help your younger brothers prepare for this, and seek out that actual, informal experience of the grandfathers to emulate and translate into your own. We need this in the villages, but even more in the urban centers where arbitrary, abstract reality dominates life and separates us from the land that supports us.

But why is formal education such a dangerous world to enter? It is easy to get lost and trapped within that simulated, arbitrary world (of ideas). While in that formalized, virtual world each person must try, within his own actual living-and-developing personal vision, to explore the usefulness of those abstracted, analyzed, and generalized views. Learn the analytical language of ecology — it best translates the wisdom of 1st Nations respect for the land into a Mainstream sense of reality. Limit technology and abstract values according to local needs. For your own intuitive balance take care, mainly, to live close to the land and to your neighbors in the world of direct experience.

Human beings are the only mammal that lives in two worlds — an actual world and the virtual world of Signs, Symbols, and Images. Health depends on keeping our vision-and-experience in the double world well coordinated, but it is easy to lose one’s balance. Most of us now drift helplessly in the Mainstream’s dangerous currents of virtual living — which soon leave us in arbitrary, depersonalized relationships among ourselves and toward the actual world that we all depend on. We get trapped in those abstract categories which our imagination invents as convenient Images in that simplified, virtual world.

Money, fame, and power — these in themselves are without limit, virtual rather than actual, and without relevance to loved ones or health of the land that supports us. They are abstract values and, as with all imagined realities, easily distort our sense of the actual world we live in — very dangerous! Yes, these are increasingly dangerous times for our self-destructing species. Take care that actual, direct experience, rooted in respect for your homeland, dominates your education. Disciplined imagination, at the service of people who are mainly and actually experiencing wind, sun, and health of the land, can deliver invaluable perspective. It illuminates experience and invents for all of us both a past and a sustainable future. Cherish your education and be sure who is in charge.

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