Into the Mud

Words & Photos by Michelle Gardella

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Two Artifact Uprising Everyday Photo Books opened up on bed next to cat and two closed albums

Pottery saved my life last year.

The pandemic stole so much from so many. For me, it took my full-time teaching job, my contact with my family, and my tools of distraction. As someone who has always had anxiety, going out into the world and losing myself in work, conversations, and adventures was a perfect diversion. And then, I had no choice but to be with myself. Without my teaching job, my beloved River Story photo sessions, or my interactions with friends, I was left to sit with the things I had so long been running from.

But in my garage there was a pottery wheel. And on the floor beside it was a bag of clay. And one morning, my eyes puffy with grief-filled tears, my body exhausted from lack of good sleep, I sat down and went for it. In the absence of excuses, I had no choice but to just be.

Portrait of young woman by Molly Olwig






Artifact Uprising Everyday Photo Books on bed next to cat

And so I began making bowls every day. Outside my garage, a pandemic ravaged, the country went to war with itself, suffering on social media shared every second. But inside, it was just me and the clay. I didn’t have to run. At the wheel I could be with it all, safely, and then let it go. I didn’t need makeup, or to be pretty, or put together, or other performative expectations that are so often placed upon me. It was just me, covered in clay, and the realization that I am enough. Each finished piece serves as evidence that we are so much stronger than we think.

I became a potter in my childhood, stacking mud pies high into the summer skies, cooking them under the dryer vent that blew warm air that smelled like my grandmother’s hugs. Digging bare handed in the vegetable garden, my father nearby, promising that there’d be big, beautiful, bright carrots below the dirt, if we just trust the sunshine. I became a potter on weekend trips to the beach, hours spent drip-dropping sand onto castles lined with sun-bleached seashells. I know this because my mother kept photos in a dusty box in her attic marked “outtakes.” What many might toss away, she held onto, with a love for the complete story. When I forget, I can sit on the floor of her garage, pull out the box with yellowed tape at the corners, and remember.

There is so much beauty, I think, in stepping back to celebrate the process of something...


Portrait of man's dimly lit silhouette in front of window
Portrait of young woman by Molly Olwig
Artifact Uprising Everyday Photo Books on bed next to cat

That’s why this book is so important to me. An archive of the small moments of mercy that added up to a year worth remembering. Even in the middle of so much pain and confusion, there was still this daily practice that brought hope to my heart, and to the homes of others, too.

I sometimes think that the moments worth remembering are the big ones. The monumental memories that scream and shout. But there is so much beauty, I think, in stepping back to celebrate the process of something, too.

I want to hold onto the mess of it all, with grace.

Portrait of young woman by Molly Olwig
Artifact Uprising Everyday Photo Books on bed next to cat

The power of story is immeasurable. The alchemy of what we archive, shaping our realities. Pages of proof pointing to truths that define our understanding of how and why we’ve arrived at this place. The act of looking back through this last year for overlooked highlights and discarded moments is, I think, where profound magic lives. I will now have a library of “outtakes” books sitting on our shelves, beloved.

Life is busy right now. It’s intense, and challenging, and confusing — and along the way, it’s so easy to get lost. I think the reason I created this book is to give myself a place to be found. These pages are a gentle pause to see just how far I’ve come, and honor the muddy process of how I got here, with grit and grace.

Portrait of young woman by Molly Olwig
I think the reason I created this book is to give myself a place to be found.

Flip through Michelle's Everyday Photo Book




These pages are a gentle pause to see just how far I’ve come, and honor the muddy process of how I got here.
Artifact Uprising Everyday Photo Books on bed next to cat





You've Come a Long Way

Take time for reflection.
Make space for celebration.


About the Author

Michelle Gardella

Michelle Gardella's pictures and pottery both leave her covered in mud. Whether she's wading in rivers with her camera, or spinning berry bowls at her wheel, her art is rooted in an unwavering reverence for the human connection with earth and water. You can find her pottery, photography, and books at michellegardella.com.




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