The Remembrance Project: Gerry Williams

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Gerry Williams died August 25, 2014, in Goffstown, New Hampshire. That’s 6.3 miles from the town of Dunbarton, where, for over 50 years, he practiced his belief that making ceramics and making peace were imperatively linked. He was 88 years old, and, as someone described, “oddly detached, and 100 percent present.”

He lived in rural New Hampshire but began life in rural India, where his parents taught Bengali schoolchildren. Gerry’s father persuaded Ghandi that septic systems were a necessity for sanitation, and installed the first toilet in his ashram. In turn, Ghandi’s writings persuaded Gerry that pacifism was a necessity for life.

A work by Gerry Williams. (Courtesy of the Williams family)
A work by Gerry Williams.

Leaving India for college in Iowa, Gerry registered as a conscientious objector. During World War II, he was assigned to test malarial treatments. He and other objectors were inoculated with glassfuls of mosquitoes overturned on their chests. Then they’d play cards in an isolated hospital ward for a week, waiting for symptoms to hit.

In 1950, rather randomly, he came upon a description in a book: a potter sitting by the road, selling his wares. Gerry had never touched a piece of clay before, but his daughter said the image of this practical craftsman, connected by his hands to earth, struck him like a shaft of light. Soon he had apprenticed himself to a master potter in New Hampshire, and was digging his own clay from the nearby mudflats.

A second shaft of light struck a few years later, when his future wife interviewed him for the radio show she hosted. She was not a potter, and yet, body and soul, they were immediately joined. They raised a family, co-created an international ceramic magazine, hosted workshops in their home, and travelled the world together — always together.

He must have thrown 10,000 singular pots — his daughters thought of them as siblings — and loved when customers used his works for holding pencils. He was famous for a rare ox-blood red glaze, which he made by hand-mixing chemicals without any protection. That was a toxic irony for someone so bound to the natural world.

Artists from everywhere visited for the joy of watching him throw pots and listening to him philosophize. He was passionate about civil rights, and preoccupied with political moments. The evening Martin Luther King was shot, he rushed into the house, covered with clay, to follow the news with his family.

When his wife entered her final illness, a few years before he entered his own, Gerry quietly shut down his kiln. There are pots he never finished, still inside.

Did you know Gerry Williams? Share your memories in the comments section.


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