Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pottery: Beginnings

I'm a potter. Really I am.

I haven't had any pottery posts lately because I haven't spent more than a couple hours in my pottery studio in the last three months. I haven't fired my kiln since last summer. But I'm still a potter. I swear, I'm going to get out in that studio...soon! I have lots of ideas to work on, new directions to go in. I just need an eight day week if someone could work that out for me please. Thanks.

In the mean time, let's climb back into the ol' Time Machine and I'll show you where I started.

My pottery "career," such as it is, started when I was eighteen. My dear friend from school who is a gifted artist had signed up for some classes at the Flint Institute of Arts. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that she was taking sculpture and pottery classes. She encouraged me to take them with her. She had to really twist my arm because I was completely lacking in confidence. I had graduated from a private school where I was given a very good education and I had no plans to go to college. But pottery classes sounded fantastic for someone as talented as Sarah. I could never do something as cool as that. Of course you can, she said. I finally gave in and signed up for the beginning pottery wheel class.

On the first day I waited anxiously for my friend Sarah to show up to class. I was so nervous about taking this class, I couldn't do it without her. She never showed up that first day and she never took the course. To this day she doesn't remember what interfered but for me it was the first jump into the cold waters of independence. I took the course all on my own and loved it. I was good at it without her holding my hand!

One thing always leads to another when you work in crafts, be it pottery, woodcraft, glass work or anything else. If you find yourself drawn to do it enough to acquire some proficiency, you end up selling your work just so you can buy more materials. And the snowball starts rolling.

For several years I continued to take classes and produce pottery at the FIA. During those early years I got married and started having babies. When we moved into our country house I was producing so much work during class that the teacher gently suggested that I needed to have my own studio.

Here goes the snowball. I bought a pottery wheel and set myself up on our unheated enclosed front porch. I hauled unfired greenware to the FIA kilns for firing. That arrangement didn't work for long. When my thirdborn was still a baby I bought an electric kiln and started doing my own firing. Investing money in equipment is a commitment and a huge leap forward. It was time to support my habit by selling more work.

Mind you I was nursing babies and changing diapers, squeezing in wheel time when I could. This was during the 1980's and the trend in decorating was "Country Kitsch." I started doing craft shows in school gymnasiums. Every other booth had tole-painted wooden geese and corny signs to hang in your kitchen.

My electric kiln was utilized for folky reproduction work. Instead of using the glazes from school that I loved so well, I had to change my style and use clay slips for color. This plate is red terracotta clay with a yellow slip and sgraffitto design. They sold very well.

I learned slip trailing and tried to replicate the old salt glazed crocks in my electric kiln with limited success.

These were an exciting commission for me. Someone wanted butter churn sized crocks that they turned into lamps. Their size was a big challenge for me at the time.

These are tiles in quilt patterns that I made for the wall behind our wood stove. I also sold them as trivets. The blue is cobalt slip stenciled onto the clay.

Believe it or not, they were popular.

This is downright embarassing.
I sold a good amount of these folk reproductions wholesale to country craft stores too.

This was my very first set of dinnerware. I managed to sell it too.

A man and his son bought it as a gift for the wife/mom.
I hoped she liked it. I was always afraid that she might have reacted like,
What were you thinking buying me this??

Thus were my humble beginnings selling pottery on the street and in school gymnasiums.


  1. Timeline is cut a bit short. You should be showing the progression from *meh* to *whoa*.

  2. You certainly shouldn't be embarrassed by your early work... Ya gotta start somewhere and obviously people liked it 'cause it sold well. Besides... it was the '80s...

  3. Kristin- this was "meh" or "huh?" and I'll work up to "whoa-better" next.

  4. It was the '80s, FTW.

    Hanni Bachmann went nuts over the ichibana. She loves it, and couldn't stop raving about it. Nice work.

  5. So glad she loved the Japanese ikebana. So hard to know what to give to someone who has everything but ikebanas always fit the bill.

  6. She loves flower arrangement, and has a really nice garden to supply it.


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