To Inspire, Transform & Heal

Linda Wiggen Kraft
Creativity for the Soul

Mandala Bowls – The Earth & Fire of Healing

I recently created a set of pottery bowls inspired by the beauty of a glaze called M.D. Shino or Malcolm Davis Shino, and the legacy of the man Malcolm Davis who created his famous variation of Shino glaze. Clay and pottery transformed and healed the life of Davis after a time of great political turmoil in which he was intimately involved. A leader in the civil rights movement, peace movement and opposed to the Vietnam war, Reverend Davis an ordained minister. He discovered the healing power of clay in 1974. His journey from political activist and pastor to potter in a time of great political turmoil is relevant today.


In early 1960s Davis organized civil rights bus caravans, voter registration and sit ins in the South. He became an ordained minister for United Church of Christ and in 1967 chaplain for George Washington University.




But the stress of his leadership and activism was immense. He said: “The government was bearing down hard on any kind of protest. We also became targets of oppression. My office was bugged, and later bombed. The stress began to take its toll; I was burned out and frightened. Judy (his wife) and I were both on Nixon’s enemy list…”


In 1974 he went with a friend to a pottery class and was transformed. He shared: “I was 37 years old, and had never touched clay before in my life. And I didn’t want to now, either. I didn’t want to get my hands dirty… Somehow I rolled a coil out of the clay and wrapped it around and around. And soon I had a little bowl with three feet. I thought, that’s cool! The next week I went back. This was fabulous! This was something concrete. It was not like saving souls or changing capitalism. I’ve got something in my hands I could see and evaluate. In three hours I achieved something to show. I had spent my life trying to achieve the new society, with nothing to show for it except that Nixon was still president. The third week I had this fabulous pot… I was hooked. That little six-week session came to an end and I knew that my life was changed. I knew that clay would be in my life.”


In 1982 Malcolm Davis left his ministry and became a full time potter. He became famous worldwide for the glaze and pottery he created.  He died in 2012, the Washington Post obituary said: “For Mr. Davis, pottery was much more than a craft. There was something deep and enduring about molding vessels by hand, something that connected him to traditions and people reaching across time.


He called it his destiny. ‘What we do with the clay,’ he said in 2010, ‘what we create with our hands, what we offer from our spirits may not end racism or stop injustice, but it may just help keep our culture human’.”



Today Malcolm Davis lives on in most clay studios with the famous Malcolm Davis Shino glaze. It is a glaze that is like the wild beautiful child that always turns out in unexpected amazing ways. It “crawls”, “pits” and “crazes”. It pulls apart from itself. It has chemical reactions that mystify with beautiful colors. I have fallen under its spell. When I glaze with M.D. Shino I look at each bowl, round platter or plate and see a unique mandala, a complete universe of shapes, textures and colors. Bowls are the holders of food, of tears, of  pieces of paper holding our dreams and so much more. When glazed with M.D. Shino there is a mystery revealed and hidden that pulls us in.


Malcolm Davis shared about this type of glaze: “Shino is a glaze surface that appeared in 16th-century Japan…Today it is considered to have been the Golden Age of Japanese ceramics. The simple Zen Buddhist ceremony of tea was being transformed into a much more formal celebration of tea and the handmade object. Tea masters were becoming arbiters of taste as they collected handmade items for the tea ceremony: tea bowls and tea caddies, water jars, and vases and prints … The early masters responded to the irregularities of the glaze and its surface. We don’t even know what the word “shino” means… My theory is that there was this tea master named Shino who loved these pots, bought them out, and many years later the type of pots was named after the guy who loved them and collected so many of them.

The first shino tea bowl I fired in my West Virginia kiln was far beyond what I wanted. It was crazed and pitted and the glaze crawled away on the inside – all the imperfections… I was disgusted and threw the pot into the trash bin. Weeks later, when I was taking out the trash, I noticed the tea bowl had not broken, and pulled it out. And Lord! I began to see all the magic the kiln had given me that I had not noticed two weeks earlier. I saved the pot and it won first prize in several shows, earning me thousands of dollars in prizes.”


The first pottery piece I made with M.D. Shino was a large platter. It came out of the kiln and I thought it was ruined. A Japanese woman who takes classes in the same studio  (Craft Alliance Center of Art & Design)  loved it. I reconsidered. My pottery teacher suggested I add black into the “crawl” areas. It was refired. Now I love it, and it is on display and for use in my house.



I agree with Malcolm David when he says: “Clay is a medium through which we discover ourselves, and express ourselves in ways we otherwise might not do. For me, making work is a time for meditation and reflection, a kind of prayerful act, another of my homes.”







For many of us, the question of where to go from here after the shock of the U. S. election remains. Davis was concerned about his life changes from activism and being a pastor to pottery making; “My commitment to social justice and my desire for social change continually pose the question: Can I justify making pots? Once I was hoping to change the world, and now I am making dishes. Am I making any contribution at all? Or is it just self-indulgence? I would like to believe that the making of objects that flow from our hands and hearts not only contributes to a more human world, but also is essential and necessary.”

I think now there is an urgent need for both, activism for truth and making of art.  Let both forces guide you and bring you to action.



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