Dodson's 'Big Boy' – Brevard NC


January 23, 2017

(Carol Dodson's essay "Big Boy" developed from a lighthearted prompt about National Chicken Boy Day. Chicken Boy is an old Route 66 statue that once stood above a diner in California. When the restaurant closed, a woman bought Chicken Boy and has since been determined to preserve the iconic figure. My questions to the writers were "Have you or anyone you've known ever acquired something a bit strange or unusual? Or have you ever felt called to be a steward of something out of the ordinary?")

"I see Big Boy is still out on the porch," my husband said, as we got ready to leave for the concert.

It took me a moment to figure out what he was talking about. Our outside cat is big, but she's a girl - and her nickname is "Bad Kitty."

John was talking about the giant pottery face jug we've been displaying on the front porch of our store. At three-feet tall and 75 pounds, it's very heavy to move. I've only attempted to get it back inside the store on one occasion. I usually seek help from a stronger back. An hour earlier I had closed the shop and removed all the pottery from the porch except the jug. Somehow I didn't even notice it.

It was the second time that day that Big Boy had come up in conversation. That morning I had noticed it on the porch with its face pointing toward the front door of the store rather than outward toward the highway, the direction from which it might entice a customer.

"It's so dark out today," our store manager said. "There's not enough light for him to show up well from the road. I thought he could look inward today."

"Being introspective, is he?" I asked.

We laughed and decided he would be an excellent image for an Internet meme, one of those silly pictures people post online with catchy sayings under them. My all-time favorite is a squirrel stretching upward with its paws reaching to the heavens. "Hallelujah!" it says. That meme has been my response to more than one email.

"What would Big Boy's meme say?" I asked.

"Please take me home with you," Shannon said in a small cartoon voice. "I'm tired of being here."

I think we are all tired of Big Boy being here. He was created over a year ago by Stuart, one of the hardest working potters in our studio. Long, monotonous hours of production work-50 mugs, then 50 spoon rests, followed by 50 bacon cookers - call for a couple of days of complete artistic abandon. On one such occasion, Stuart threw tremendous bases on two wheels in the studio, and then added fat coils, one by one, to give them more height. He stood on a stool and reached deep into the pots to integrate the coils into large jug forms.

One of the pieces came out more elongated than the other. Stuart decorated it with fluid strokes of slip trailing, creating a flowering vine pattern on the side. The second jug was more rotund and in need of a different sort of embellishment. He asked John to put a face on it. John has sculpted facial features on many pieces of pottery - mugs, pitchers, smaller jugs - but he had never created a face on such a large scale before. He accepted the challenge and created Big Boy's distinguishing features - a wide freckled face with a large toothy grin.

Everything in the process of making these jugs, from the throwing to the firing and glazing, had to be done in a special way to accommodate their gigantic size. With each step, we all held our breath and hoped for a positive outcome.

On the day that Big Boy and his flowery friend were finally wheeled out of the propane car kiln, there was exultation. They had both not only survived the single firing, but the glazes had come out beautifully. No large cracks or pock-marked surfaces. It was only John who realized that there was a slight crack under Big Boy's chin, indiscernible unless you were bent over, looking up at his face.

Stuart put a $1,200 price tag on Big Boy, and we placed him prominently in the center display of the store. He got lots of attention and a Facebook post. People patted him, admired him, and took pictures to send to friends. As the display needs of the store changed, we moved Big Boy outside where he could greet customers from his perch on the signpost or a small display table flanking the door. After dominating these prime locations for some time, he was relegated to standing on the ground beside the central railings of the store.

On Big Boy's first birthday, his price got marked down to $1,000. Later in the summer, he came close to finding a new home. A man had decided to buy him. The sales person felt obliged to point out the barely noticeable crack under Big Boy's chin. That turned out to be a deal breaker.

Despite this blow, Big Boy has remained unfailingly and contagiously optimistic. Every morning, he bears the indignity of being lifted by the handle and steadied with fingers up his flared nostrils as he is moved outside for display. With every change in location, his smile has not wavered and his eyes have not gazed away. He knows his day will come.

My daughter commented on Big Boy one afternoon after disembarking from the school bus in front of our store. Walking past him on the way to the house, she ran her hand affectionately along his side and said what we all know, "Someone is going to love him."


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