Thursday, December 01, 2005

Happy Birthday, Bill Bracker

Today, December 1st, would have been Bill Bracker's 65th birthday. I may be a little biased (as daughters can be), but he was an amazing man. He was born on a farm outside of Council Bluffs, Iowa and grew up on that same farm with two brothers and two sisters. He was the first person in his family to attend college. After receiving a science degree, he started teaching. His always-inquisitive mind led him to the school library, where he checked out an old reel-to-reel movie on making pottery. His new-found passion for clay first led him to construct his own wheel, then ultimately to return to school for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree then a Master of Fine Arts. He taught at the university level for over 15 years. Bill was a natural-born teacher. He loved to share his knowledge and enthusiasm with students. But he hated the bureaucracy and politics that came with teaching, so he quit teaching in the late '70s to become a full-time potter with his wife, Anne, which led to the pottery supply business that is now Bracker's Good Earth Clays.

But there is so much more to Bill Bracker than his resume. He always looked for new and interesting uses for even the most mundane objects. In addition to his pottery, he created found-object sculptures. He knew the owners of local junkyards by name and was able to convince them to create an area in the junkyard where he could pile his found "treasures" until he could take them home. He was able to "browse" in a junkyard the way some women shop for shoes. He created several spiders, welding together metal hay hooks, a car transmission, and an industrial float. Then he created an army of GreatMen - or GrateMen - which used furnace grates to suggest a ribcage and outfitted them with chinese checker shields and spears and helmets. Those sculptures then participated in an epic battle in our yard, the spiders or the GrateMen advancing or retreating, winning or losing, each time he had to move them to mow the grass.

His ability to concoct clever pranks is legendary amongst his friends. Many potters will know that you used to be able to find great boxes by doing a little dumpster diving (before the recycling bug hit everyone, of course). Lawrence used to have a TG&Y on Louisiana and 23rd St, and in addition to a plethora of boxes, he often found other cool things. On one dumpster trip he happened upon an assortment of colorful - yet realistic - plastic fruit that had been used as some sort of holiday decorations. He snapped up the bounty immediately, knowing that eventually it would play a starring role in some sort of mischief. One spring, our neighbors were astonished to look out their windows to see that their fruit trees sprouted full-grown fruit, seemingly overnight.

Bill could tell a joke with panache and illicit laughter out of even the most stoic, but he was also the king of making up bad puns and jokes that would have people groaning out loud. On the day I graduated from high school, he kept telling me I should make sure I ate something. After the third or fourth reminder from him, he finally unveilled the punchline. "You're going to be sitting up there, waiting to cross the stage to get your diploma, and somewhere close to you, you'll hear someone's stomach growl. And it's going to be embarrassing to them, but you'll be thankful because then you'll be graduate" (glad-you-ate).

Although he quit teaching in the late '70s, he continued to share his love for pottery and art with many, many people. The supply business allowed him a never ending outlet of inquisitive minds seeking more knowledge and he would spend extra time providing that to friends, teachers, and customers. Potters would frequently walk in the store for a $1 sculpting tool and walk out with a lesson on fitting the right style of rim or foot to a bowl form, or just as easily arrive to purchase $100 of tools only to be talked into just $10 of tools because the other $90 worth of tools could be found in the garage or kitchen, so why not use what you already have in new ways?

Although Dad passed away from lymphoma in 1993, he continues to live in so many people's lives through the knowledge, fond memories, funny stories, and artwork he created.

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