Interview by Zoe Allison, recorded by Nathalie Worthington
Z – How long have you been doing clay here?
David – I’ve been working out of Rusty’s studio for three years. I moved to Durham four years ago in June of 2014
Z – Where did you live before Chatham County?
David – I grew up in Baltimore and went to school in Oberlin, Ohio. In college there was a pottery course for three semesters. You learned glazing, clay firing using multiple types of kilns. like electric and gas. After I graduated I spent the next couple of months going to coffee shops applying for jobs and in the afternoons went to the pottery coop.
The job I got was working in a nonprofit in Durham. In addition to that I worked at Clay Makers as an assistant (4 hours/week) and my payment was being able to take a class every session and I had a key to the studio. I took a class with Rusty and then my research job at a nonprofit in Durham job cut me to half time. That’s when I approached Rusty to be his apprentice half time. Jan 1 of 2015 I started working with Rusty and then my job stopped paying in March of 2015 and I went full time as a potter.
Z – Do you know which you’ll do more of; functional pottery or sculpture?
David – I don’t know except I’ve been trained in functional and I’m still excited about making utilitarian pieces. It’s easier to sell but also it’s what’s in my finger tips right now.
Z – Is there something that stands out about your work?
David – I try to make things that are comfortable for the hand.
Z – Do you make or purchase your clay?
David – I buy it from Star Works which is a native North Carolina clay dug and processed locally. It’s amazing clay. it has a lot of character. It’s nice to be able to buy that great clay
Z – Do you do mostly wheel throwing?
David – Everything starts on the wheel. Sometimes I incorporate some slab building especially for my platters. I love using the wheel. I work out of my house in Durham and then come out one week a month to fire the kiln.
Z – What cone do you fire to?
David – I go to cone 10. I’m firing everything in the soda kiln now. I went to Penland last summer and transferred the excitement to working here. Rusty let me move a big kiln over here from the old studio 1/4 mi. down the road. I cut holes through the asbestos board and a few other small adjustments to make it work as a soda kiln.
Z – How do you price your work?
David – I’m an economics major so my pricing is a subconscious sum of time, materials, and what makes sense and it’s particularly relevant when I feel a piece results in the way I intended. This isn’t consistent quite yet but I’m getting there.
Z – How many years have you been on the tour?
David – This is my second year.
Z – Have guild members also been supportive?
David – I don’t go to all the events. William has been hugely supportive, Mark Hewitt and Laura O-keefe. The pottery community here is so generous and helpful with any questions. Doug Dotson, Ron Philbeck, Rusty, Trish Welsh, William Moore… they all totally answer my million questions and give me really good advice. I met Maria Wright who totally wins all the shows… she’s been great to talk with.
Z – What makes a soda kiln different?
David – By introducing the sodium carbonate from portals on either side of the kiln. I use a big intense garden sprayer (made for concrete work) I introduce at cone 8… takes about an hour spraying all the ports ’til all the soda is used up in the tank.. It makes flashes and bright colors. Doug Dotson is also a soda firer; no-one else that I know of. The soda gives it the atmospheric quality and unpredictability. The soda affects the piece depending on where it is in the kiln. I have a little control but not much but I really like that. The soda pulls the silica out of the clay; almost like pulling through the clay piece I like the spraying, unpredictability, and have the decoration result without having to manipulate it.
Z – Are you process driven?
David – I just feel lucky to sell the things I like to make.
Z – Do you make your own glazes?
David – I mix my own glazes. I’m in the obsessed, addicted phase of pottery. I wake up in the morning really excited about the work I’m going to do.
Z – Is the studio tour your only show?
David – I’ve been doing other shows: Trish, Joe Lavern and I share a place at Chapel Hill farmer’s market. I was part of the Durham pottery tour this past weekend. It’s fun to have folks see my studio at my house. I showed in Blowing Rock and went up to DC once. I’m working through all the places I can and a few shops and galleries, like Zola in Durham. Picasso
s gift shop at Adamance Arts in Graham. Durham coop market… I make al the mugs for their coffee service.
Z – What sets your products apart?
David – I don’t know if it shows through to my work, but inspiration and the excitement of waking up every morning thinking about other people excited to hold their cup of coffee. I’ll be making more honey jars too.
Z – What do you hope people will get from purchasing or gifting your products?
David – I hope people are able to take pause and notice real physical things they can hold in a world where we’re losing what is physical, tangible, and real; something that was made by a human who was putting love and intention into it… Having a piece of hand made pottery is an opportunity to think about that and their relationship to the physical world. I’m also excited about facilitating community and people coming together around purpose. Food and drink are a good center point for that. Hopefully that community happens around my work.
Z – How has the Chatham Artists Guild impacted your work?
David – The biggest thing I’ve noticed is just how generous our artists are, and how excited about new people coming in and how supportive. It’s extremely warm and supportive.
Z – Have you collaborated with any other artists?
David – I haven’t yet; firing with Rusty and William, we share a lot of firings and techniques. I’m currently collaborating with a candle maker where I make little ceramic cups and she makes candles for them. They sell like hot cakes.
Z – Has the current political climate had any affect on your work?
David – it totally has. I find solace in making the pottery as a way to process my emotions. My work is a refuge from the scene and I think people are buying less because they’re more uncertain. There’s a general amount of uncertainty and anxiety people are walking around with.
Z – Is your family happy with these developments in your career?
David – Yeah, compared to Chicago where I almost landed, it’s a lot closer. I drive home in 5 hours so I ended up being a lot closer. They’ve been very supportive of my move to be a potter but they think it’s a phase. Maybe that’s why they’re so supportive, and hey’ve been down to visit. My mom and grandmother came to our spring show last year. 93 year old grandma threw some pots on the wheel! They’ve seen the work and I”ll be giving a sale in Philadelphia after Thanksgiving.
Z – How do you set up for the studio tour?
David – My display systems are always evolving. I go to antique stores and make a support shelving that comes alive when the pots go on it.
Z – Do you work with youth in ceramics?
David – To inspire youth, last year we did a “pots for tots” program where kids could decorate a pot during the studio tour and in turn take another home that another kid had made.
Z – What are you currently excited about?
David – I have 350 mugs in the kiln right now, going to a retreat center in Baltimore. The kiln firing always keeps me here ’til wee hours of the night. It’s amazing to have time to look at the stars.
I was in Rusty’s class at Clay Makers and we came out to this studio. The place hit my heart in a great way, and I had no idea I would have this deep relationship with this place. My relationship with Chatham County and this pottery is deep and inspiring. I’m grateful for being part of this place and the guild.