Z – How long have you been in this area?
T – I’ve lived here 30 years in this house 22 years.
Z – Were you part of the guild initially?
T – I was a clinical social worker with a private practice.
Z – What were some of the initial things that lead up to your current involvement with making ceramic items?
T – I took a pottery class at the Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation from a guy named Marc Leuthold. He had just finished his masters and was teaching for minimum wage. I was interested and got some encouragement from my friend so I took the class… I was 34 at the time. I took the class for about a year and loved it, but took a break when I got pregnant because of the chemicals involved with the glazes.
It’d be another 11 years and I was working at my “day job” in Raleigh. I finally took a day off per week for classes at Clay Makers in Durham. I really got hooked and in about 2004 I took two or three classes per week at Claymakers
I started talking to Dan Rhode at Central Carolina Community College about their pottery program. He was program director of the CCCC pottery/sculpture program and he convinced me to enroll in their night program I got an associates degree in five years in Applied Arts.
Z – What were some of your early experiences with your clay work?
T – I had to really work at it, the throwing and centering and Marc was a master thrower and teacher. The things I got from him were form, shape, and the foot, always carve the foot. It lifts the pot up, looks more elegant. In my Applied Arts program, we studied the pottery but also worked in a lot of disciplines: carving stone, metal work, welding, sculpture and we did casting/ iron and bronze pours. It was an amazing program with classes in 2d, 3d design, glaze chemistry, kiln building and a business plan and marketing class. We designed our own letterhead and marketing materials in that class. We also had an exhibit class where we learned about galleries and shows and visited several including the Nasher, Ackland and Tyndall galleries and met with their curators.
Z – What type of kiln do you use?
T – Electric
Z – How often do you fire?
T – Usually every week.
Z – What’s your process of glazing; do you make your own?
T – Yes, I make all my own. We learned glaze chemistry. It helped me to develop a palette. I’ve done a bit of firing with wood but feel aged out of that. I can do that occasionally. I like soda kilns; the look of that result. I have a friend I fire with two to three times per year using her soda kiln. Electric firing is a little more flat. You get the same consistent look. I’ve figured some things to make the electric glazes more interesting with layering and combining glazes. I also like the contrast of the raw clay to the glaze.
Z – What sets your pieces apart from the other potters? Is it the pallet of glaze, or shapes?
T – I get the most feedback from customers on the earthy color palette I use, the light weight of the pots and the shapes. People seem to like how my mugs feel in their hands as well.
Z – What brought you to Chatham?
T – We moved here from NY city. I had lived in NC previously before grad school in Durham and Raleigh. I always loved Chapel Hill but we rented in Chatham and ended up staying here.
Z – Has the art guild assisted the community to become more art sensitive?
T – I think we have good support in this community from people born and raised here as well as people who have moved here. So many local Pittsboro people go on the tour year after year and know the artists.
Z -Where do you think the guild, or Chatham County are moving toward?
T – I hope the guild can be a part of the larger community and be more incorporated with public art in the buildlings, displays, shows. I’d love to see more venues.
Z – How do you stand out?
T – I think it’s really hard. We have a roster of amazing potters in this county. I think the wonderful thing about the tour is some people are collectors buying expensive art… and other people want to buy a coffee mug for a gift or themselves. That mug can be the start of someone collecting or buying a set of dinnerware. I make functional pottery; I like to make things people are going to use, not put on a shelf. I love making coffee mugs, plates, bowls. I think about what kind of food is going in them. I use different cups for coffee vs tea myself, they require different shapes for me. I think about how the handle feels and the weight of the cup with the liquid in it.
Z – Have you ever had the opportunity to travel in pursuit of more pottery knowledge?
T – We went on our honeymoon to Italy. I had already done pottery for a year and I dragged my husband to Duruta, Italy, a whole town where every one makes pottery. You either made, painted or glazed. I do a lot of pottery exploring in the states; definitely all over North Carolina. Seagrove, Charlotte, Catawba Valley; all the major pottery areas. I’ve been out to Sante Fe and Helena Montana. In London I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, they have an amazing pottery collection and Henry Locke sculptures. I’ve been to The Chicago Art Institute, a wonderful Asian collection; Korean, Chinese and Japanese, very thin and light.
One of the things we did in school during our history of pottery class, was go to the Freer museum in Washington, DC. You make an appointment with the curator and you can handle 3000 year old pots. We went as a class of 6 with our teacher. My sister who lived there generously put us all up. You got to go look at cases in the vaults and write down which pots you wanted to see; you could touch them and handle them on a padded trolly. That was incredible. Pots we were studying in class, we got to touch. The experience was the most memorable I’ve had in pottery.
Z – Have you done any collaboration with other potters?
T – I have collaborated with a friend who doesn’t throw pots but loves to decorate. We did a series of small plates several years ago and some vases that I made and she decorated.
Z – Does the current political climate impact your work?
T – I’m totally distracted by the news cycle and what’s happening on a daily basis. I haven’t done anything political in my pottery, but it’s made the creative process harder to focus on.
Z – Have you found a sense of serenity in your work that calms you despite the surrounding political scene?
T – I needed something to relax and turn off all the stories from the people I was working with because I could worry or think about that too much when I was doing clinical social work I decided to retire after the first year of pottery study. I don’t know what I thought I’d do, but just kept going with the pottery.
Z – Tell us a bit more about your marketing plans starting at your CCCC class.
T – Emma Skurnik was the teacher and had us set goals for our work. Emma, I met all those goals I set in your class! For instance, I wanted to sell at a Farmer’s market, wanted to eventually be in a juried guild and sell in a retail outlet. I’ve done all those things and I’m as busy as I want to be. I couldn’t do any more. I’m covering all my costs and some years I get to put a tiny bit in my retirement account.
Z – And the studio tour helped with these marketing strategies?
T –I think the tour is a great way to get a large amount of people to see your work, those brochures get out all over the place. It helped me build up my mailing list and have develop repeat customers . The exhibits are stressful for me, my least favorite part of the tour.
Z – I saw a large swing in the quality of our offerings at the guild.
T – I worked on the jury process; on the committee. We worked hard for it to be an objective measure and talking about what the numbers mean with a score for body of work, originality, execution, professional presentation, I think the jury process is really good right now. What’s interesting is how people have varying philosophical arguments, the difference between art and craft. I think the mentoring program is important to help new artists feel welcome and part of the guild as well as be a resource for questions and issues that may come up in getting ready for their first tour. Sometimes just a phone call is helpful to an artist out there working in their studio.
Z – Do you use your work space to show?
T – I show in my house; not in my studio. Because of the steps and no easy outdoor entrance, I bring visitors through the house. People can also see how the pots look in a home setting. They’re all curious about the houses in the woods in Chatham County too so that’s half the fun for people.
Z – Do you do any work with youth?
T – I’ve had three students; two from Northwood, one from Chatham Central in a mentoring program from the school. One of them was quite talented and went on to take some pottery classes at the Arts Center.
Z – Tell us more about the internships you had?
I worked for two potters before I went on the tour, Through school we could do an internship so I worked with Lara O’Keefe and then continued on , she’s on the tour and does wood firings. It was a great experience and the most physical labor I have done in a job. I also worked for Joyce Bryan, a former tour potter, for two years. Joyce “stole” me from Lara because she paid me. (laughter)
T – I learned so much from each of them, was supported, encouraged and felt like they valued the work I did. It helped me learn to work quicker, make more and fuss a little less. I helped them prepare for the tour and worked during the tour too so it was a good preview of what it involved. Joyce actually pushed me to apply for the tour.
Z – Do you have a group you share your work with for feedback?
T – We have a core group of about six artists all clay but different work. We meet once a month, and several of us bring three or four pieces in for critique. This is also a good networking group… shows, kiln issues, glaze issues. We’ve taken a couple of trips to go look at pots, the Mint Museum Pottery Invitational , Spruce Pine Potter’s Market; We all bought pots and talked about them.
Z – This [studio] is an awesome space; inspiring views and so well organized.
T – I really love it. Being able to come down here and look out this window at this view with the trees and pond. My dog hangs out. I keep the door open when it’s nice enough.
Z – is there an inspiration in the greater community you’d like to mention?
T – When I first began learning about and buying pots I went to Seagrove. with my artist friend, Cary Esser. She introduced me to the potteries she liked including Cole Pottery, Jugtown and Ben Owens. There were about 50 potteries then and now there are over 100. I have continued to visit Seagrove and it’s always inspiring to look at great pottery and decide what you like about it; form, decoration, finishes. There is also a wonderful clay business in Star, NC in an old mill building that has become an incubator for clay, glass, community gardening. Takuro Shibata is digging and making clay from NC and a lot of local potters are using it.