Voices from the MotherVerse Q & A Series #8: Debbie Manson

(Creativity) is in the approach of living every day with awareness and intuition as part of consciousness, following the energetic journey of exploration and discovery.”


1. Describe your current family situation

I live with my husband in a small village in Central Portugal. My son, 39, now lives in the U.K., having lived here with us for 8 years. Our daughter, 30, now lives in Sydney, having lived here for 2 years with her husband. My two step-sons, 42 and 40 years, both live in the U.K. They each have one child, so we have two grandchildren! 

2. In your eyes, what does ‘creativity’ mean and why is it important to you?

Creativity comes with the package of being a mother/parent. It is the most fundamental manifestation of Creativity. Creativity is a way of being, a way of interpreting and managing in the world and does not always result in a manifestation. It is in the approach of living every day with awareness and intuition as part of consciousness, following the energetic journey of exploration and discovery. Psychologically, as humans, we have an “urge to create” and this need to ask the questions and to find expression is innate. The way we express our sense of Creativeness is impossible to restrict by definition and we see around us constant efforts for this urge to show itself, ranging from Storytelling to Dance to Making. This is important to me and every human (other living beings also express their essences, but that’s another discussion!) because it is so connected to what it means to be alive (open to interpretation), to mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health and well-being.

3. How do you carve out time and space within family life for your creative practice?

Now that the children are grown and living independently, and I don’t have the timetable of having to go out to work,  there is, for the first time, the opportunity to manage my time. I am a potter, I make pots! I am now able to spend almost as much time in the pottery as I want to…..there are other responsibilities and “stuff” to do as well. Most of what we do in our lives comes within the realms of creativity. We go Wave Dancing once a week, the garden is bliss and requires a lot of hard work to grow food and beauty. We are very lucky in our lives. My husband is a maker and has been his entire working life, therefore he totally understands the Passion for Making, the time and attention necessary for this choice. I do most of the cooking and he doesn’t care what time dinner is. If I’m firing and need to be with the kiln, he helpfully prepares the meals! 

 When the children were young my favourite ways to keep them occupied were with arts and  crafts activities, reading, writing, recitations, music, as well as physical activities. I was potting before becoming a mother; it is my passion and I have been determined and fortunate enough to continue despite all odds of moving home and workshop loads of times (any old wooden shed was good enough) and when the children were very young I just made pots after they went to bed. When they were old enough to sit at a table they could have lumps of clay, when they were long/tall enough to sit on the wheel they were helped to throw pots if they wanted to! They have both become such creative adults, so I guess the exposure, involvement and encouragement gave them the taste.  

4. What kind of creative activities do you feel drawn to again and again?

Potting and growing/gardening. Making pots involves learning techniques and then practising (forever!). My preference is to throw on a wheel. The whole process is about as elemental/fundamental and holistic as you can get, involving earth, water, air, fire and metal.

5. How do you get inspiration flowing when you feel stuck?

Sometimes it’s good to have a little break to re-evaluate, to stand back and allow some differences to filter in. The online possibilities for researching other’s work is infinite! There are a lot of potters in the world and each uses his or her own hands to make their own pieces. I have students, fairly regularly, usually one-to-one, and that is inspiring. The discussions we have about what they aspire to make provokes thought and ideas in order to help them on their path. Sometimes using different materials provides the impetus for new approaches.

6. In what ways do you sabotage your own creative life?

Ha! Who doesn’t have an inner critic? Being involved with art-making and art-makers for so many years has enabled a healthy perspective of knowing how subjective that world is. Each of us is the same and each of us is different in the same existence. I love BIG hefty wood-fired pots and have to acknowledge that I am a small person without access to unlimited supplies of wood. It doesn’t stop me exploring what is possible! I receive a lot of external encouragement and I have made some pieces that I love so much in their “imperfections” that they stay with us.

7. Who or what are your creative allies or mentors?

Fortunate circumstances have meant that I’ve been involved with various potting communities. I shared a workshop for a while in Devon with a superb potter and learned an enormous amount. We established a group of potters to exhibit together of such diversity it was exciting and inspiring. Here in Portugal, it took a while to find comrades, however a few years ago I was introduced to and invited to join an Associação. It was wonderful to meet other potters whose work I could relate to and who relate to mine since there is nothing traditionally Portuguese about it. Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student; it’s a world of sharing as well as solitude. Makers often work alone in individual studios and then come together for exhibitions.

8. How would you describe the relationship between your creativity and your mothering?

As previously discussed, giving birth/becoming a mother is the most basic creative experience we can have. How much more creative can we be? It’s a miracle and awesome in its entirety: demanding, challenging, satisfying, painful, frustrating; the whole range of feelings, thoughts, ways of being, learning and expressing are integral to parenting. Mothers (not alone) are responsible for nature and nurture through giving birth and parenting, whether present or absent, enjoying it, loving it, fearing it or hating it. Children can be so much fun in their youthful energetic states, there is nothing to compare, and supporting them to find their own ways for finding what and how they want to express their humanness is an honour. 
I have had the honour to work professionally for many years as a Creative Therapist with children and families (so not just with my own children) and have come to recognise and respect the power of creative expression for health and well-being on every level.

9. To what extent does your creative work generate a financial income for your family? How does this reality compare to your aspirations around this?

My financial contribution from my creative endeavours to our family income has been significant over the years and especially if my professional career as a Creative Therapist is included. We have worked at what we love and money has not been the major incentive, therefore there have certainly been lean times. My husband is the major earner and at this stage of his occupation he has no shortage of work. I feel quite happy now for my pottery effort to pay for itself + bonuses. I never sought big business for my work and am satisfied to make what I want, sell it, take some orders, teach others, and give nice gifts! My aspirations are more about making ‘better’, more beautiful work than about earning more.

10. What would you say to a mother who is struggling to express herself in the midst of her family commitments?

My suggestion is to think about what is appropriate for the different stages of life, especially parenting in the lives of children. They grow up really quickly, circumstances forever change, soon they will be more and more independent. Depending on how this mother feels her needs, involve the children as much as possible. Do creative stuff with them, they love it! There are so many ways for us to express ourselves. There are also often ways to ask for and receive help. Make friends and reciprocate.

11. Big yourself up, sister – share your current / most exciting projects, web and social media links:

My son set up an Instagram account for me and I’m addicted to looking at others’ work and receiving attention and comments from potters all around the world! You can find me at “potterybydebbie”.

The Associação: ceramica3cs.com

I was born in 1950 in Lakewood, New Jersey, USA. Some of my earliest memories are of making thumb pots from a pure clay deposit on the family farm where I grew up with 5 siblings. My mother baked our pots in the oven and I clearly remember some of them. When I was 16, I went to Mexico and saw some guy making pots on a wheel, just on the street, and I was awestruck by the magic of the process! At my college in N.J. there was a great Art Department, two excellent potters for professors as well as some especially talented students. I watched them for hours and practised. I went to England in 1970 as an exchange student, took another ceramics course and continued to practise. I returned to live in England in 1973 on a permanent basis, lived and worked at a boarding school for boys where the Headmaster was a self-sufficiency enthusiast and he was keen for me to teach pottery to the boys (& him!) We bought a wheel at the old Fulham Pottery along with tools and raw materials, were given a small electric kiln, dug clay from the river & got started. That’s when I really learned how to make pots, through teaching others. 
So, many years later, after moving to Portugal in 2010, we feel privileged to have the time, space and energy to continue with our passions in such beautiful surroundings. It’s a complex world and life is complicated, sometimes confusing; it’s good to have a refuge that creates beauty and contributes to the wellness of others and ourselves. Pottery and other “making/creations” are ancient traditions. In carrying on there is a connection with timelessness, the earth, the knowledge and the ancients. 

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