Anne Lythgoe: A Potter of Purpose

The Potter’s Spotlight: Anne Lythgoe, A Potter of Purpose

I have found that a love for clay is a bridge builder. Clay brings people together, softens us, opens us up and sometimes creates relationships that are life giving and meaningful. Sometimes, unexpectedly our lives intersect with truly fascinating people.The potter Anne Lythgoe is one of these people. She is a multidimensional woman who loves life, serves others, and is also a wonderful potter. I have come to think of her as a potter of purpose. She makes pots that tell a story of inclusivity, connection, and usefulness: a life to the full. She wants her work to become a part of people’s daily routines. She believes small daily moments are “sacred”. She works for her pottery to facilitate this connection to the “sacred”. I have been delighted in our growing friendship and enjoying our connection through clay. 

Anne lives a very full life, a highly creative life and one of service. She is a Dominican Sister of Peace and lives and works in Columbus Ohio. It is there that her life has found its flow, its center. Of her life and her home in Ohio Anne said,

“I am a member of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, we have our central headquarters here and we are doing quite a bit of good work in the community to reduce violence and teach children how to resolve conflict and live in peace. We sponsor a city project called Dare to Live in Peace,  especially focused on the empowerment of girls in the Latinx community here.“ 

 She describes herself as a “peace builder’. It sounds lofty, but Anne is just that. She is a peace builder. She is intentional in all that she does. She serves her sisterhood and her community, and her pots are created to serve as well.

Pitcher with Cut Away Spout by Anne Lythgoe

Bird Mugs by Anne Lythgoe

Anne is about to complete a year in our Study From Afar [SFA] Program. She and I talk regularly, critique and discuss her work, and problem solve together. She is a potter who works with clay within the boundaries of her busy life as a community leader. When I asked her to describe her life as a potter she shared this:

“I am constantly balancing my professional life as a Dominican Sister of Peace, as a leader in the community, with my personal passion for clay and the creative process.  So I have carved out time to work in my studio just like many other potters who work in other fields.  I’m very aware that the creative process has stages that build toward an idea, a breakthrough or a moment of insight. Like most potters, I can’t just sit down and produce a fabulous bowl or pitcher by waving a Harry Potter wand. There is no potion or spell. I watch Sarah Wells Rolland or Lori Theriault and am inspired to make better work.”  

When talking with Anne, our conversations are filled with inquiry about pots, business in the arts, and sharing our lives, too. Though we have yet to meet in person, I feel in this year of mentorship we have built a relationship, a true friendship. In genuine relationships we learn from each other, we share openly, and this is definitely true in my growing relationship with Anne. Anne describes herself as “a person who is being shaped by clay.”  Being shaped by clay means you allow the creative process to work in you, change you and “shape” you. Every Friday you are likely to find Anne in the quiet of her studio making pots.

Anne at work in her studio at Yellow House Clay Works

When describing her creative process she said, 

“The secret sauce is in creating the right atmosphere: quiet preparation, stretching exercise, a playlist of music that serves as a mantra that lasts a few hours. Then, being free of distraction, I can focus on the present moment.  I subscribe to the idea of having something in mind, not thinking the clay will tell me what it wants to be. But being ready to see what might be possible in that moment. Online classes with The Village Potters have helped me be more in command of the clay as an essential element of the creative process.”

Anne is also a writer. She writes a blog regularly as part of her leadership role dedicated to world peace. She wrote a blog this year musing about a phrase I use a lot when teaching throwing. The phrase is “catching center”. Anne shares how “catching center” describes her contemplative life. It is a great read.  [The link to her blog is at the bottom of this blog.]

One aspect of our SFA program is we connect about every 6-8 weeks for a year, engaging in one on one discussions and questions. Anne and I connect easily. We discuss topics like pots, process and clay. We entertain the “what ifs” when looking at her work together. We also connect easily discussing things of the spirit, and I consider her a kindred spirit. Because she is “contemplative” [her word] she sees God in everything. When I asked her why she choose clay as her medium she said,

“I think God gave me clay. Seriously. It is a medium that is, in itself, non-verbal, heart centered, and physical in a way that engages your whole body, mind and spirit. It is the most contemplative thing I know. It is an answer to my deepest questions about who I am, why I am in the world, and what the world is asking of me. The language of clay is a spiritual language to me. So centering clay can be a spiritual practice. Wedging clay can be a preparatory practice. Exploring the shape and form of clay is an exploration of what brings me joy. And joy is the first sign of God.”

Floral Mugs by Anne Lythgoe

Pitcher by Anne Lythgoe

I think I can safely say that everything in Anne’s life is connected, integrated. Anne lives and works in her yellow house in what looks like a quiet neighborhood in Columbus. When I asked her about Yellow House ClayWorks,  she said, 

“Yellow House ClayWorks is an expression of the ministry of the Dominican Sisters to preach a word of peace to the world.” 

Anne’s yellow house in Ohio

Anne balances her life of service and her life of clay with a cohesive sense of purpose to both. 

“I think my professional life has forced me to make the most of my creative process time. Studio time is more intense for that reason. But my work in peace-building, as a Dominican Sister of Peace is, on a deeper level, something that informs my work. I hope my work invites quiet, invites thought and reflection, offers a moment of stillness and invites sharing.” Anne said.

Bowl by Anne Lythgoe

Anne says she creates pots to “hold art in your hand”. I just love this phrase, it speaks of the tangible nature of functional art, the connection we can have with art and our daily life. Anne’s art not only fits your hand, it also fits your life. Her art celebrates everyday life, food, sharing and connection. Using her pottery can bring the “sacred” to your everyday life and isn’t that what we all really want? Anne Lythgoe is a potter of purpose and I am honored to work with her and call her a friend. 

To contact Anne Lythgoe:

Here are links to Anne Lythgoe’s blog and a wonderful narrative video.

Link to Anne’s Blog: Catching Center

Link to Anne’s video on Contemplation and Clay: Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP: Pottery & Contemplation