When he was involved in a horrific traffic accident on Route 1 in Waldoboro on Feb. 22, 2008, Richard Robertson suffered life-threatening injuries that crushed and even shattered his bones. The damage to his diaphragm, his spleen and other organs also left his career as a potter in serious doubt.
“I was asking myself, ‘Would I live?’ Would I walk?’ ‘Would I carry?’ ‘Would I work?’” Robertson said in an interview recently at his studio. “Making pottery requires intense physical work, especially lifting and carrying. I had no idea if I would recover enough to undertake it again.”
A new show called “A Gathering of Crows,” scheduled for July 24-25 at Rockport Pottery, demonstrates that Robertson not only survived but also found a way to thrive practically and artistically after the trauma of the accident.
Highlighted in the show will be Robertson’s bird pieces, including bowls shaped like crows as well as some casserole dishes shaped like loons and gulls. Enhancing the crow theme will be calligraphy with a crow in it by Michael Podesta, concrete crow reliefs by Richard Abbott, and striking watercolors featuring crows by Ivan Rasmussen. The event runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both days at 140 Vinal St., Rockport.
It’s no accident that the work Robertson produced as he recovered is winged. He said he felt literally uplifted by the support of his wife, Lynette, his friends and members of the community — and by his faith.
“My wife stayed by my side every day, quitting her job to be with me. Friends would leave checks for us to live on. Even the local librarian,” Molly Larson of the Rockport Public Library, “sent me a message wishing me well,” Robertson said.
Robertson underwent surgery and months of recovery including strenuous and often painful physical therapy. “There was a huge psychological impact, too,” he said. “There’s something very uncreative about undergoing traumatic stress. I found myself in a creative vacuum. You have to recover from that, too.”
Robertson said his first days returning to his studio were “very strange. I had never come to my work from a place of such emptiness and such inactivity.” Friends encouraged him to sketch out ideas, and to playfully visualize future projects, but he found this to be profoundly difficult.
Finally, it was work outside of his studio that called him to move out of this traumatic aftermath. A graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, who saw his chief calling as artistic rather than as a call to the ministry, Robertson had nevertheless enjoyed serving on occasion as a substitute preacher at Pen Bay Presbyterian Church in Bucksport and Second Parish Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Portland. When he was asked to preach again, he rose to the occasion, and found that thinking about questions of faith for the purpose of preaching also gave him insights into his own plight.
Soon he was coming alive not only in the pulpit but in his pottery studio. When a friend told him about how he and his children had cultivated a friendship with a wild loon who learned to accept fish from their hands, Robertson was enchanted by the account. He began to make casserole crocks in the shape of loons.
Then Sherry and Ivan Rasmussen, artists who own the gallery Alone Moose in Bar Harbor, invited him to contribute pieces with a bird theme. This resulted in Robertson making bowls in the shape of crows. Now, as the Rasmussens plan a “Turtles on the Edge” gallery focus to call attention to endangered turtles in Maine, Robertson is also making casserole dishes shaped like endangered spotted turtles. Currently, his work is sold at Alone Moose, his own Rockport Pottery studio, Mainely Pottery in Belfast, and at Archipelago and the Farnsworth Art Museum gift shop, both located in Rockland.
Now vigorous physically and spiritually, Robertson seems up to any challenge. Standing in his studio packed with a bounty of bowls, casseroles and other pottery he has produced in recent months, Robertson said: “Using your gifts to do what you are best able to do, I think that’s what the creative life is all about.”