- Global Clay: Themes in World Ceramic Traditions by John A. Burrison
A useful introduction to the important and often understated parallels among global pottery practices, John Burrison's Global Clay brings together many areas of his research expertise on folk pottery of the American South and British Isles, while introducing global practices somewhat newer to the scope of his scholarly output. Burrison orients his project's goals, along with his own positioning and approaches, from the get-go: Global Clay is not a survey in the linear, chronological, or even geographical [End Page 342] sense. Rather, it is topical—driven primarily by thematic ideas and aesthetics he has observed throughout his career of researching, writing about, collecting, and exhibiting ceramics from around the world. Burrison's folkloristic lens situates his focus on the continuity and change of traditions across time and space, which brings him to the central question: "How did certain cultural products come to be so widespread. . . ?" (p. 1). He positions his findings around the theories of polygenesis and diffusion, though he argues more prominently for the former.
While researchers and educators may find individual chapters useful for discussions about pottery's relationship to people, communities, animals, religion, and the afterlife, the text as a whole is an enjoyable and quick read, with numerous beautiful illustrations that a general audience would also appreciate. Burrison's intention was not to represent every ceramic tradition around the world but rather to explore and support his chosen themes through illustrations and text. In its broad global focus, spanning from ancient history to the present, his project is an important, albeit ambitious, undertaking. As he argues in the introductory chapter, "'Global' is not just a faddish catchword, and global thinking is not just a current trend but an imperative, if we are to make sense of and adapt to the new world order that impacts us all with its many opportunities and challenges" (p. 8). In this way, his project responds to broader historical and contemporary global flows through the lens of ceramics in an effort to reveal the shared humanity expressed "in useful and beautiful things made of clay" (p. 8).
In addition to positioning his approach, goals, and central argument in the introductory chapter, Burrison talks about his early introduction to pottery through his friendships with folklorist and ceramic scholar Henry Glassie and north Georgia folk potter Lanier Meaders. In its defining of "folk" and other basic pottery terminology and information, chapter 1, "International Folk Pottery: A Brief Primer," reads as a secondary introduction to the text. Burrison also discusses the roots of certain traditions, mentioning where they started and diffused, as well as similar traditions that appear to have developed independently. He includes a brief section on gender and pottery, which simply mentions where and when ceramics tend to be created more by men than by women or vice versa and his speculations about the reasons for this divide.
In chapter 2, "Monuments to Clay: Public Markers of Craft Identity," Burrison explores the vital role for potters of working in communities as well as the topic of reception and how potters interact with the public through what he calls "public markers." This latter discussion is Burrison's significant contribution to the study of global ceramics and one that warrants greater exploration and analysis. In particular, I would like to know more about the histories and cultural processes that led to the creation of particular types of public markers, beyond the basic descriptions of what he noticed and documented in his travels and research. In the latter part of this chapter, he emphasizes a lack of museums and exhibitions focusing on pottery, especially folk pottery, within the United States compared to elsewhere in the world. He mentions some exceptions, including the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia at the Sautee Nacoochee Center, where he is curator.
In chapter 3, "The Sincerest Form of Flattery: Cross-Cultural Imitations," Burrison turns his attention to the prominent cultural diffusion of Chinese...