My work in Jordan and Ethiopia profoundly changed my work. I went to Jordan between my undergraduate degree and my graduate degree. At that point, I was already serious about clay, and although my early training had a functional emphasis (the well known American potter Warren Mackenzie was a teacher and influence), I had become more interested in sculpture. But my work had little focus and I was frustrated by what I saw as the triviality of my work. It didn’t seem to have a core or substance.
Before University, I had been an exchange student in Norway and had learned a lot about history, arts and culture there, but had not put it to any good use. However, when I went to Jordan, two things happened. I traveled all over the region - into Syria and Israel, and throughout Jordan, notable the amazing Petra. I was deeply impressed by the ancient culture and the design of the buildings and tombs and the handmade objects resonated with me. I understood finally that there was a connection between people and cultures and it was in a way manifested through the visual vocabulary around me. It related to the textiles of Scandinavia and the work that I had done as a kid. The desire to create some order, through geometry, on the natural world, and on roughly hewn stone and constructions seemed universal.
My other experience there that had a huge and lasting impact on me was the excavation itself. At Ain Ghazal, working in a “square” (archeological sites are frequently divided into precise squares so as to map out the location of a find onto three points in space) and seeing how the layers of the earth marked time and culture, hiding, or harboring, the evidence of past people was exciting to me. I recognized and felt awed by all of the people who had come before me. Ain Ghazal was first settled about 7250 B.C., during the so-called Pre-Pottery Neolithic B (PPNB) period. The result of our excavation was the discovery of a diverse assemblage of symbols including tokens of many shapes, animal and human figurines, modeled human skulls, “monumental” statues and mural and floor paintings. My square had a beautiful floor painting of iron oxide on plaster. During the final days of the field season, I worked to uncover the floor. As a ceramic artist, discovering a plaster floor painted with iron oxide, the same Iron oxide that I used so often in my work, was a thrill. But more significantly, as I knelt, sweeping the dust from the floor, I felt a profound sense of connection to the women who had lived there 9000 plus years before. I knew that we had shared many of the same feelings and concerns; I felt connected and understood that there was a huge chain of humanity of which I was a part. I still get goose bumps thinking of it. And that sense of our common humanity is what still informs my work today.
My subsequent adventure was in Ethiopia. I am very fortunate to have married a man who works at what is called the “Lucy” site in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Lucy is an Australopithicus afarensis, and her species populated that part of Africa between 3 and 4 million years ago. She is pat of our species ancestry. As one scans the ground for fossils, walking in the same rough wadis where our earliest ancestors walked, the sense of our history coming to surface is very powerful. It’s a beautiful place, though drier now than it was when Lucy lived there. It is very quiet and empty, and potent with history.
Patricia Sannit, Cradle, 2010, hand-built, carved and incised reclaimed clays, slip and stain, 21”x32”x12” - View Patricia’s works