Potter's gifts come full-circle, inspire hopeJohn Lawler has been creating works of art using horse hairs for a number of years.
By: Sarah Packingham, for the Budgeteer
John Lawler has been creating works of art using horse hairs for a number of years. The technique of burning the hair onto the surface of the pot or vase is nothing new.
Lawler explained that once the piece of pottery is removed from the kiln, the hairs are placed instantly onto the creation and they then carbonize, leaving incredibly unique designs that cannot be duplicated, no matter how hard one may try.
However, four or five years ago, Lawler’s niece Denise asked if he would be willing to try making something with human hair, as she was going through chemotherapy and was likely to lose her hair.
In doing so, Lawler discovered that using human hair is much more of a challenge, as it is extremely brittle and breaks easily, and the designs are still something that can never be duplicated.
Since making his first piece, Lawler has created and donated 17 pieces to those affected by cancer. His pieces for cancer patients are not something he promotes a lot, and most of them have been done by word-of-mouth.
“She really got this whole thing rolling,” Lawler said of his niece. “I have to give her all the credit.”
His most recent piece is a vase that his daughter asked him to make. Her former colleague is going through chemo-therapy, so all of the people in her office donated locks of their hair to be used on the piece. Now that the piece is completed, they will be presenting it to their former co-worker, who now lives outside of Duluth.
Lawler and his daughter also created a fund-raiser selling coffee mugs for a friend’s daughter who lived in New York. The people of Duluth didn’t know the little girl, but still supported the family and raised close to $1,500, selling mugs for $10 each.
When asked if the work done with the hair could be too overwhelming, Lawler said he hopes not, as that means too many people are being affected by cancer; but if it happens that a large quantity of pieces needs to be created, he knows other members of the Duluth art community who would be happy to help him out.
Every winter, Lawler also donates 60 coffee mugs to the Duluth Women’s Shelter, so they can have something nice and new for the holidays.
Lawler spends hours each day working on his pottery. Some days he’ll work on 10 to 15 coffee mugs, other days he’ll work on making and creating glaze. But no matter what the day, he’ll be spending hours in his basement studio.
Lawler attended college right after high school with the idea of majoring in ceramics, but after requiring extensive medical surgeries due to athletics, he dropped out. He worked odd jobs for a number of years and actually took about a 30-year hiatus from the world of ceramics, but is so happy to be back in it.
He doesn’t foresee stopping his career as a potter anytime soon, and said as long as his body is able to do the work, he’ll be doing it.
Last winter, he had carpal tunnel surgery and said it was an extremely stressful recovery period, as he had to see all his supplies sitting there waiting for him.
“The pieces that are given are so appreciated,” Lawler said of the pieces for the cancer patients. “Those that are going through chemo, there’s an energy they get from that. If it can put a smile on someone’s face who is going through that, it’s well worth it.”