Tuesday, January 25, 2011

And On The Other Hand, Part One.

From the moment I came in to this world my hands have been a hot topic. I was born with a rare (apparently one in 30 000) birth anomalie known as Symbrachydactyly . Please don't ask me to pronounce it, I am not sure I can. The definition is pretty vague, and covers a lot of related finger and hand deformities. In my case, I was born with a shortened left forearm, tiny fingers with no bones, and a partially formed thumb. The muscles, tendons, bones and nerves are all messed up in that hand. All in all a pretty short and oversimplefied definition of a very complex problem. The gist of it is, the experts don't know why, it just is what it is.

I have spent a great deal of my life consciously not thinking about hands and a great deal of it being forced to think about hands. But now I am choosing to think about, and talk about hands. My Hands. This is a pretty big leap for me, having spent most of my life wishing people would shut the hell up about them, and move on to something or someone more interesting. I would much rather talk about my work, not about how many hands it took to make it.
My outlook on the hand discussion changed rather abruptly Several months ago when a friend posted a link to this video of Renate Hiller "On Handwork" to her facebook page.


 This video was the catalyst to my journey of looking really hard inside myself to uncover what exactly hands meant to me. As an artist, as a human, as a person with a disability. I watched it over and over again, her words sinking in to my mind and making my head spin.

"The use of the hands is vital to the human being. For having flexibility, dexterity.  In a way, the entire human being is in the hands."-Renate Hiller, on handwork.

This absolutely blew my mind. As an artist I agreed with it all, the feeling you get from working with your hands, from being a maker. That empathetic connection with the world when you create something for use by people. A beautiful,  tactile object made by the hands. But for me, it was a bit more than that. It was that eureka moment when I realised just what it was that made people want to know why, and how a person with one hand could possibly do what I do. It made me realize that I could no longer seperate what I do, from how I do it. This really pissed me off. Now suddenly I wanted to know how, and why I did things the way I do. My pat answer .."I don't know, I just do it." wasn't going to suffice any longer. I was going to have to join the discussion, find the answers, and share them. I was not looking forward to this process at all.

Looking inward is never easy, but is sometimes vital to discovering what makes us the person we are. When I decided to write a blogpost about having one hand, and making pots, it was going to be just that, Some "how I do it" photos, and a short blurb about how you can do anything you want even with one hand. It wasn't that easy, and I never got to the "how I do it" stage; or for that matter, the "anything you want to do" stage. It is a much larger and more complex problem than I initially thought. and so dear blog readers, there will be more.


  1. Looking forward to the next bit, of course. This takes a lot of courage and inward thinking and consideration, cannot wait to hear more!

  2. You are amazing.

    I was actually surprised to hear you talk about yourself as having a disability. Obviously I've noticed your hand but never thought it disabled you in any manner!

    Excited for more!

  3. Thanks Gary.. Its been harder than I thought.

  4. Gayle, I seldom refer to it as a disability. It was a word that wasn't allowed in my house. I plan to talk about just that in a future post.

  5. From one woman with differing abilities to another, ENJOY the process. As hard as this journey into knowing will be, the fruits of it will be unbelievable.

    Stephanie Bedford Adronov

  6. Lizzy, I think it's wonderful that you're writing this. I look forward to the rest of the story. :)

  7. This is awesome!!!

    As someone who has known you for my whole life you never stop amazing me!!! I am so proud of what you have accomplished and never in any of those years have I ever considered you having a disability!! You can and always have been able to do more than most with your hands!!

    Keep up the great work - Luv ya dearly xo

  8. You do it because you were born to create and nothing will stop you! Thanks for sharing you story. I can't wait to hear the rest.

    You're really inspiring, Lizzie. Not only the fact that you make kick ass pottery with one hand, but as a mother to two creative and wonderful kids. You have one super powered hand attached to a super woman!

  9. OK, Liz, I am hooked and can't wait to see what comes next. I will offer a couple of thoughts.
    Firstly, people are always fascinated by any sort of craft work; pottery, weaving, painting etc. If given the opportunity, folks like to look over the shoulders of artists and see how it's done. They are amazed; we are sometimes embarrassed. You have the extra added amazing factor of doing great work, and great art, and making it look easy, AND you have something that sets you apart. It makes people that you know, and those you don't, say "wow". I am one of them. But I'd buy your work even if you had 2 arms and hands that were mirror images of each other, I do not think about it. I just see your work as an expression of who you are.
    Secondly, I think there is an art project in this exploration you are now taking part in! I want you to know you will probably be speaking for a lot of people who make things with their hands, and who have the kind of 'disability' (feels pretty darn strange using that word when talking about you, Liz Burtt!)that is not as visable as yours.
    Part Two? Like I said, can't wait. Part One was just a teaser.

  10. Wow, Lizzie! This illustrates what an awesome thing the internet is- I know you primarily by your work and your sense of humor in our BABB interactions. It's amazing the way our other parts take over and compensate for our parts that don't work as well. My brother was born with damage to the left side of his brain- the side that controls abstract thought amongst other things- so his right side makes up for it. The dude can put a puzzle together just by picking up a piece and looking at the shape of it and know where it goes. Sometimes what we think are drawbacks compel us to work harder and smarter and more ingeniously. Bravo for being brave enough to reveal this part of you to us, Lizzie! Keep it up!

  11. I noticed your left hand when I first met you, and then it just blended into being part of you. I remember having a chat one time when you were needing a job and your unemployment worker suggested that you apply for funding because of your "disability". You really didn't want to. I am assuming because you never really saw yourself as being disabled. I said, "To me you are a whole person, but of they want to give you funding to get a job? Jeeze! Go for it!"
    And as an aside, I love what you are doing now! YOu have found your place.

  12. Thank's Jackie. I have found my Place... now if I can make it pay a bit more..