All posts are copyright Barbara Rogers 2018. Please ask if you wish to share, and give attribution to the author.My ancestry and more personal notes are now at a revised version of "When I Was 75."

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mentor: M. C. Richards (Part I)

M. C. Richards and me...

"Centering, In the Art of Pottery Poetry and Person."

"The Crossing Point, Selected Talks and Writings"

Mary Caroline Richards
(1916 - 1999)

A poet, potter, teacher, and mystical philosopher who said that all of her art was "a celebration of the numinous," M.C. Richards often remarked, "We live in the universe, not just on Maple Avenue." Supremely self-confident, renowned for her warrior personality, she attributed much of her lifelong fearlessness to her mother's wisdom. When she was an impressionable eight-year-old, for example, a distraught neighbor came running to M.C.'s mother to tell her that M.C. had climbed up on the roof and was perched precariously at the edge. Her mother went out and called up to her daughter, "Oh, M.C., you look so beautiful up there all silhouetted against the sky.

Mary Caroline Richards was born in Weiser, Idaho, in 1916 and reared in Portland, OR. 
She received a doctorate in English from the University of California at Berkeley in the 1940s, when few women received more than a high-school education, and later taught at the innovative Black Mountain College and other universities. She left two marriages and a number of unsatisfactory love relationships and started a new career at the age of seventy by joining the faculty of Matthew Fox's Institute for Culture and Creation Spirituality. As a seventieth birthday gift to herself, she had her ears pierced.   -- Mary Ford-Grabowsky

My life was definitely impacted by M.C. Richards.  In the 1970's I read "Centering, In the Art of Pottery, Poetry and Person."  The book, which became an underground classic, pulled together ideas about perception, craft, education, creativity, religion and spirituality, arguing for the richness of daily experience if carefully attended to, and the creativity of the average person. ''Poets are not the only poets,'' Ms. Richards wrote.

At that time I was not yet a potter.  I was a "hippie".  I was willing to step into the unknown, several times actually.  My boyfriend, Charlie, and I opened a co-op store in Tallahassee, naming it "Pottery, Poetry and Person." after M.C.'s book title.  Another friend, Martha, was the co-op sponsor of the book portion of the store, a loft full of great new age reading including overstuffed chairs in which to sit and read.  No big box book stores had thought of doing that in 1976 yet.  My share of the co-op was some pen & ink cards and calendars, and doing most of the hands on managing/sitting there.  Other arts and crafts were also represented, leather making, silk flower arranging, batik painting on cloth, wood inlay, watercolors. 

Charlie taught at the local alternative high school.  He learned how to make pottery, bought a wheel and some kilns, and we started making pottery there in the back of the store. We invited some local potters/teachers to join the co-op.  I watched what Charlie did, and tried the same.   I even started doing demonstrations at the local fairs, as well as carrying pottery to sell there.  It was a great thing to do in the 70's in Florida.   I still have a couple of bowls that Charlie and I made...he threw them, I glazed them. One plate I made from beginning to end is carved in a Native American design, and is still in my collection also.  (It is not at all in a style MC would have promoted, being very tight compared to her organic flowing style).

Fast forward to when I finally decided to become a "real artist" and go to the University of Florida in the 80's, studying under Phil Ward and Nan Smith to learn everything I didn't know about ceramics.  There was a lot.  But I also wrote to M. C. Richards (via her publisher probably) and told her how she had influenced my life.  She actually wrote me back.  I didn't understand that a famous woman, who had published two books, could write a student on notebook paper, but I was so excited, I carried her letter folded in my pocket of my coat.  I rode (as most students do) a bike around campus.  Someplace or another, the letter fell out.  But M.C. never fell out of the special place she holds in my heart.


  1. I know, hers is a great book and yours is a great story!

  2. Wonderful story! It's always neat to learn how others have found clay.


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