Hsin gave demonstrations on a wide variety of topics, everything from spiral wedging to glazing techniques to making trimming tools from hacksaw blades, but most of his instruction was about wheelthrowing and altering thrown forms. It was great to see him working at the wheel, but it was especially important to ask him questions along the way, to have him stop and show us what he was doing and why.
I had an opportunity to speak with him at length about how he got into pottery and his life as a potter. Here are a few of the things he shared with me. He grew up in Taiwan and attended a Taiwanese university studying to be a mechanical engineer. Like so many other stories about potters that I've heard before, he decided to take a ceramics class and fell in love with it. He ended up majoring in ceramics and after graduation taught school for a few years. He decided to go to graduate school for his MFA, but since there were no MFA programs at that time in Taiwan, he chose to study at the University of Iowa. After Hsin and his wife graduated from Iowa, she took a job in California and he went with her. When he turned 50, after many years of teaching and making pots, he began to wonder "why am I here in this world," as he put it. He felt he'd developed techniques that would be useful to many people but needed a platform from which to communicate them. Soon a video of Susan Boyle singing on "Britain's Got Talent" went viral on youtube and caught his attention. Suddenly it clicked that he should make instructional videos on youtube that would communicate all that he'd learned over the course of decades of working with clay. And they have. Since 2010 when he posted his first video, his videos have had more than 1 million views.
At one point the two of us were wedging clay together at the wedging table and I asked him what potters have had the greatest influence on his work. I was surprised when he said "Peter Voulkos and Don Reitz." He explained that his ceramic program in Taiwan had trained him well to make classically shaped vessels but during his MFA program he had the opportunity to take workshops with Voulkos and Reitz which changed his approach. Under their influence he began slashing and punching and cutting one vessel after another. In time he found a way to blend both influences and it helped me understand better why many of his finished pots look quite different than they do when they're fresh off the wheel. It was interesting to me that almost every time he made a classically shaped pot during a demo, he would end up altering it in some way that made it less "perfect."
In February I'm taking a workshop with Carol Gouthro, another great potter, and I'll let you know how that goes.