Interview by Zoe Allison, recorded by Nathalie Worthington
Z – What is the name of your pottery business?
Doug – Doug Dotson Pottery
Z – When did you move to the area?
Doug – I’ve been in NC since 1989. My father was in the Navy so we lived in many locations – Hawaii, Guam, but mostly in the southeast.
Z – When did you start making pottery?
Doug – I started taking pottery classes in 1991 and was immediately obsessed. Concurrently I have a day job as a software developer. I moved here after college at the University of Florida where I got an engineering degree. I got a computer job here, and my plan was to check things out, possibly study liberal arts toward a graduate degree. It turns out I love where I work during the day, and I really love making pottery. I frequently took pottery classes and went to the open studio places. I was living in Chapel Hill and used a studio at the Duke Crafts Center. Within a few years I was making so many pots, I had to sell some. Before I started getting more serious about selling, I went to Penland in 1994. That was life changing. It made me imagine the possibilities and see all the people actually living the life. I continue having the day job and like the job, the security for my family. The pottery is an excellent balance.
I took my first pottery class when I was working as a Software Developer after moving to the Triangle area from Florida. I wanted to be doing something different and it turned out that I was immediately obsessed with clay. Within a few years, I starting selling my pottery at street fairs – I was happily making so many pots I had to find a place for them to go. I rented pottery studio space from one of my teachers in Durham for many years. Then after a two month long Penland School of Crafts class, I knew it was time to build my own studio. That is when I built my current studio in Chatham County and I’ve been here since 2002.
Z – Do you make primarily utilitarian objects?
Doug – I’m very into functional pottery. I love using handmade pottery in my house and sharing that with other people. I make sure that the glazes and shapes are made for hard work. I run pots that I make through the gauntlet of kids and dishwashers to make sure they can withstand daily use.
Z – What considerations go into your pricing of your work?
Doug – I am influenced by the school of thought of affordable pots and the idea of getting my pottery into the hands of people every day. But pricing is difficult, the market, the size, and the work involved in making it, all go into arriving at a price.
Z – Do you make your own glazes?
Doug – I make all my own glazes, some based on well known glaze recipes, others that I have come up with over the years. All of them have to be adapted to my single fired process. A lot of people fire twice, but I skip that first firing and do a single fire to cone 10. All my slips and glazes are adjusted so they’re workable on leather hard pots for the single fire. I use stoneware. I’m a sucker for a little brown pot. A little humble pot. It leaves the space for what it’s going to contain. A simple plate pairs with the food better and can be easier to live with. I have an earthy sensibility. I like the pottery that’s a little quiet but has personality.
Z – Do you have established customers?
Doug – I do have a lot of loyal customers… I’ve been selling in the area for many years at craft sales and in galleries. It is nice to have people coming back and telling me that they are collecting sets of my pottery. I do commission work also.
Z – What inspires you?
Doug – Shapes in nature, inspiring rocks and trees. There’s a very solid and sturdy aspect to our mature forest. I want sturdy and substantial pots. I don’t make thin and “precious” things. They’re more substantial, earthy and I like that. Durability is important to me. It’s almost a mission. The glazes I use; I run them through the dishwasher every day and it’s important to me that they stand up to a lot of use.
Z – Besides the tour, do you show anywhere else?
Doug – I have a few shows… Every September I host the Mockernut show with my friend Ronan Peterson from Chapel Hill. We invite another potter and a 2-D artist. Sometimes the artists are from the Chatham County Artists Guild. – in past years we’ve had Rusty Sieck, Emma Skurnik and Shannon Bueker. Sometimes in the spring I’ll do another show in the area. I have work in the Ackland Museum Store and Cedar Creek Gallery in Creedmore. So basically I sell through galleries, home sales and by appointment at my studio.
Z – What is exciting to you about what you’re currently creating?
Doug – I love the whole process of making pottery all the way from mixing up slips and glazes to unloading the kiln and taking photographs of them. I like for the work to change constantly but slowly. I enjoy looking for improvements in the process that results in an improvement of the final pieces of pottery. Working in a smooth flow while making pottery is important to me.
In particluar, I have some new plates made out of slabs of clay in this firing. I’ve been working on them, but I think this series of them is the most refined yet. I can’t wait to see what will come out of the kiln.
Z – Do you have any efforts in your artistic endeavors to inspire youth?
Doug – Occasionally, and I expect there’ll be more of that coming up. My kids and their friends love the pottery studio and clay. I’m going to do a lesson in my son’s kindergarten class this winter. I’ve taught classes in the area including some where the firings were done in my kiln.
Z – You’re the first potter we’ve encountered who uses a non-electric wheel.
Doug – Yes, my treadle wheel – it is a handmade, wooden pottery wheel with a lightweight fly wheel. Some of my teachers have used them and they are very good at moving slowly with lots of control. Using this kind of wheel helps me leave nice marks from the throwing process. I like that and want evidence of process for all stages of my pottery making process. I try to make the stages of my production process visible. I love the process so much and I just want it all out there. When things are going well, there is a total flow where one step leads to the next. You wedge, throw on the wheel, leave marks, put a handle on it and that leaves something, a layer of slip and decorate and another layer of slip and then glaze and fire leaves more marks, information and evidence.
During the firing process I spray in sodium carbonate as a final layer of glaze. that’s applied in a 65% random way. I use a garden sprayer with a couple gallons of sodium carbonate and water and spray into the kiln starting at cone 6. I spray and cut back the oxygen and that affects color and surface in ways that are both predictable and unpredictable. I can predict with about 65% certaintly what will happen. The aesthetics of valuable imperfection from Japanese influence lends itself to featuring natural processes and marks from the hand in the work.