We’ve had the same set of tableware for twelve years and six homes, over which time it has been reduced to seven pieces, badly chipped and scratched. Time for new ones. I suppose for most Americans this would mean driving to the mall, or Wal-mart, or maybe going online. Here in inner Southeast Portland, it means rolling three blocks to Janet the neighborhood potter, whose studio is right off her house. There’s no parking lot; it’s on a main bike route. Hurray for lax zoning!

I picked out twenty-three pieces of functional art — stoneware — from her shelves as we chatted about glazes and color trends, cobalt and titanium blues, bicycle-route commercial exposure, and stroked her orange male tabby. It’s beautiful! Unlike our previous uniform white porcelain set, each of Janet’s pieces are different, bearing the imprint of her thumbs, and subject to the mysterious viscissitudes of her kiln conditions, so adding new pieces in the future won’t be breaking the pattern; there is no pattern aside from her overall sensibility. I wrote her a check, lashed two boxes to the Xtracycle deck, and made off like a bandit. The cost? Less than some attractive but uniform sets from remote anonymous sources, and more than dull generic sets that will need wholesale replacement in another dozen years. I’ll take my son to watch soon so he knows from whom plates come.

To be honest, if I saw this stuff on a shelf in some housewares department, I’d think it was interesting, but even if I picked it up and looked harder, it wouldn’t hit me the same way as talking to the woman who formed it, and knowing that she’s my neighbor. It feels like rarest treasure, same as the food we’ve biked home for the last forty weeks from Laura and crew at the 47th Avenue Farm.

I love this town.

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