Just about the time I handed Inventing Imaginary Worlds over to my publishers, I happened to walk past a store display that stopped me in my tracks. I was in Oxford, England, visiting my daughter Meredith. My book had taken its first inspiration from Meredith’s worldplay in childhood; now she worked as a postdoc on the ecology and conservation interests that had first sprouted in imaginary Karland. I pointed to a clay sphere sitting in the window of a ceramics gallery. That reminds me, I said, of an imaginary world.
Inside the gallery I found more spheres and many pots, hand-built by the potter and visual artist, Elspeth Owen. Owen, I soon learned, lived and worked near Cambridge. And her methods were basic, simple. “Either I pinch: that is I start with a ball of clay and slowly hollow it until the shape is formed: or I roll out and then bend and curve the clay. Layers of coloured slip are painted on, the surfaces are burnished and the work is low-fired to a temperature of about 1000c.” The result is a light-weight vessel, with thin, permeable walls that suggest, in her words, “a link between the inside and the outside of the form…”
One piece—one bit of earth—one sphere—caught my eye. The surface colors and textures spelled out seas, landmasses, and atmospheres that might easily simulate a world. A small slit did indeed open up passage from inside to out, outside to in, like a breath of imagination binding mental space and physical place. On impulse, I purchased the ceramic globe and I keep it on my mantelpiece, where it reminds me of the playfulness and delicacy of human creativity.
For more information about Elspeth Owen, see: