ALPINE, TX, Aug. 29, 2011, Inspired by his two young daughters who would dig for treasure around their rural Far West Texas home, John Davis became interested in making pottery that looked like something unearthed from a prehistoric camp in the nearby Big Bend National Park.
Davis began using a firing technique that was developed in 16th century Japan to create bowls that equaled the beauty and grace of the meditative tea ceremony. Tranquil movements combined with a call for harmony, wisdom and compassion makes the ceremony spiritual in nature.
While red hot, pottery is pulled from a kiln with long-handled tongs and placed inside a metal container with combustible material. The locally recycled newspaper Davis uses bursts into flames on contact, and the container is quickly closed to cut off oxygen. A few minutes later the can is opened and sprayed with water to stop the reduction process. The shock of cold seals the glaze and smoke reaction and produces a distinctive metallic surface that shimmers with tints of cobalt, gold, copper, turquoise, and violet. The technique is labor intensive, the outcome unpredictable, and many are pieces are lost to thermal shock, but no other process produces work as delicate and earthy to the touch.
Davis makes raku Christmas ornaments, candlesticks, vases and keepsake boxes, but says his “innerSpirit Rattles” are his bestseller. Rattles have been used since ancient times for meditation. Gentle sounds help soothe and center thoughts. Says Robin Davis, Davis’ wife and business partner, “The Chihuahuan Desert is isolated, harsh, and rugged, but the beauty and peacefulness of our area reinforces faith, and encourages an appreciation of even the smallest things in life. I believe the rattles carry a little of this emotion inside each one. ”
Many innerSpirit Rattles are adorned with beads and raised designs like dragonflies and swirly patterns reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, which seems appropriate since J. Davis Studio is not far from the Marfa Lights, unexplained mysterious orbs of light that dance across the plains when the sun goes down.
The palm sized treasures are sold in galleries, catalogs, and gift shops throughout the United States. Even gift shops in hospitals, churches, national parks, and museums (like the Renwick Museum Store at the Smithsonian Institution) carry the unusual artwork.
For the doubters of the world, each rattle comes with story card that reads, “Use to rattle your worries away, or (if you insist) just to keep your papers from blowing away.”