Making accidents happen

1st October 2015

Making accidents happen

I had some work on show recently. The venue was small, busy and some of the pieces were delicate. 

While talking to someone I heard a woman say "No, you can't do that."

As I turned to see what was happening I saw another, well dressed older woman, vigorously spinning a wooden vessel with a particularly fragile rim. In the moment I turned, I watched her hand grab the rim to stop it spinning causing part of it to break away.

A silence stilled the room.

The woman who had broken the vessel tried to put the pieces back on to the rim and said in a clipped voice,

"It doesn't say don't touch."

Another person said "If you were my child I would have to pay for that."

Without another word the woman moved swiftly from the room and was gone. 

There were several people present. Some continued to look at the work on display and ask questions while others expressed their disbelief at what had just happened.

I tried to mask my disappointment and said something about there being loss and gain in the making process.

I took a lighter from my pocket and burned the newly broken edge. There was a brief bead of flame that quickly faded to a thin column of smoke that broke in to eddies and whorls as it rose.

I collected the broken pieces from the table and put them in the small pocket of my jeans where I often keep things that I hope will bring me luck.


I had spent the day talking to people about how my work was made. How much of my making was at the whim of elemental forces and how I embrace chance and the accidental.

How the careless hand of nature shapes and forms the landscapes on which we base our sense of beauty. 

We tend to separate the human realm from the natural world. We see the man made as synthetic. We place ourselves beyond or apart from nature. As if we are masters or imposters in an otherwise organic, unconscious order. 

This is not so.

We belong to the organic, the accidental, the careless.

We can behave crassly and we can nurture. We can be sensitive or violent. Conscious or not.

The vessel that was broken was recently finished. The wood from which it was made was unseasoned and, in the warmth of the venue, was splitting, cracking and moving. The shape and form of the vessel was still changing. I was happy with this. It was natural. 

If I can include the action of the woman as part of this natural play, no less unacceptable than the continuing movement of the wood from which the piece is made or the actions and intentions of myself and my making, I step closer to truly freeing myself from expectation and embracing chance.

All happening, be it intended or accidental, positive or negative, is an inescapable truth of existence. 

If we practice accepting this, in our making as well as in our lives, it may well help prepare and enable us to manage and cope when something truly significant happens.


I was sure when this vessel was broken it was a negative event. A loss. 

My studio is an old Shepherd's Hut at the foot of the South Downs. There is a small pond at the bottom of the hill surrounded by Willow and Alder.

Leaves fall in to the water where they sink and rot and become a mud that is thick, rich and pungent. 

It is in this mud that I have placed my most recent work.

In the spring I shall lift it to see what has been made.