THAT WAS THE RIVER; THIS IS THE SEA
Rich Briggs—Department of Art
The ocean has fascinated me from an early age. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay
Area, I could make a short drive to visit bays, harbors, and the rocky coastline of
northern California. I became a certified scuba diver at age fifteen, four years before I
would take my first pottery class. Over the years, my clay work has referenced nature.
An indirect or supportive influence of earth, sky, and water can be seen in my aesthetic
choices of texture, color, and organic forms.
While my training in clay has been formal and emphasized the utilitarian aspect,
this body of work is more about time and place than function. Collectively referred to as
“barnacle pots,” each piece tells a tale of being lost, forgotten, and misplaced. Part of the
creative vision for this project was to take the encrusted pots, made in Idaho, and
transport them to the coast where they are deposited in the ocean and photographed
underwater. This laborious process has been carried out at various locations along the
California coast and in Okinawa, Japan. Curious glances from onlookers were common as
large vessels or cannon barrels were carried to the waters’ edge, carefully lowered
below the surface, photographed, and then returned to land.
My desire was to photograph the barnacle pots in various locations, not only to
show that artifacts can be found almost anywhere, at any depth, but also to show diverse
eco-systems from different location around the Pacific. Diving Okinawa, I placed pots
near hard and soft coral. In Mendocino, California, I have placed a cannon barrel in a
kelp bed and an amphora on a rocky ledge covered with abalone, the hard-shelled
mollusk, prized for its delicious meat and iridescent shell.
In San Diego, I located a dive boat that specializes in wreck diving. It is not
uncommon for old ships to be sunk intentionally to create artificial reefs. Just one mile
from shore, several boats form what is referred to as wreck alley. The Yukon is a 366-ft
Canadian destroyer escort which lies in 100 feet of water. The Ruby E is a 165-ft retired
Coast Guard cutter lying in 85 feet of water. A buoy marks the location of each wreck and
a chain descending from the buoy anchors to the vessel to guide the diver when visibility
is poor. Clutching the chain, I descended through the murky green water with scuba
gear, digital camera in underwater housing, and barnacle pot. I had an eerie feeling
placing my man-made object next to other man-made items so far below the surface.
Each of these examples illustrates the collaborative nature of my work. While
making art may be a solitary endeavor, firing wood kilns or transporting pots to the
coast has involved students, dive partners, and family members. I am grateful for help
received in bringing this project to completion. If the work as displayed, or
photographed underwater, is able to engender a feeling of curiosity or wonder, it
reflects the lifelong attitude I have had towards the beauty, power, and mystery of the
BYU-Idaho Perspective, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 2005