A Few of My Pots
My pots are made of stoneware and high fired. Photos by Joseph Szalay.
Early American pottery, old time English and French country wares, and the great pots of ancient Korea and China inspire my work. I love simplicity of form, the unexpected kiss marks of the flames in the kiln, and the notion of functionality.
You can use my pottery for everyday meals or special gatherings. I like to think my work goes well on New England farm tables and in sleek, high-tech kitchens.
Much of my adult life was spent working as a bookseller, managing the trade books at the UConn Co-op, organizing readings and the myriad things a bookseller does. All the while though, and even before I sold books, I made pots. My first pottery was The Stone House Pottery located on an old blueberry farm in Bolton, Connecticut during the seventies and into the eighties. Here, I built a catenary arch kiln from salvaged hard bricks and fired with homemade pipe burners. There were many challenges – the kiln took three days to fire – but this was also a time when there were numerous local craft fairs. All things hand made, especially pottery, were popular. It was during this time that I began to single fire my pots to save on fuel, a practice I continue to this day.
It was also during these years that I began to write about ceramics, including a booklet for Garden Way, a piece on tile-making for Mother Earth News, a piece on early Connecticut pottery for Ceramics Monthly, another for CM on flower pots, with a few short stories and essays on other topics thrown in.
In the mid-eighties, we – my three children (now grown with homes of their own) and the photographer Joseph Szalay – moved to Ashford. Here, I established Willow Tree Pottery, named for the weeping willow tree we planted in the old hay field in front of the house. I built a crossdraft kiln, followed by the downdraft kiln I fire today. My studio, with whitewashed walls, is in our walkout basement and looks out onto the gardens. The kiln shed is just a few steps from the studio door. I have thrown on the same kickwheel, a Lockerbie, all these years.
After writing the book, Connecticut: Driving Through History, published by Covered Bridge Press, I became involved in putting together the catalog for what was to be MC Richard’s retrospective exhibit at the Worcester Center for Crafts but became her memorial exhibit. I wrote the biographical essay and edited the catalog, Imagine Inventing Yellow: the Life and Work of MC Richards. This was followed by a catalog for the Mikhail Zakin exhibit that I edited.
Berkley, Penguin USA published my book Clay The History and Evolution of Humankind’s Relationship with Earth’s Most Primal Element. Books have been part of my life as long as I can remember. Clay came into my life when I was a young woman. I took classes first with Lois Eldridge in her Glastonbury studio, and then with Betsy Tanzer at Wesleyan Potters, but am largely self-taught. Most of my days involve clay or books or both. In addition there are the gardens, family and friends, things to do with my granddaughters, and alas, politics.
My hope is that the pleasure I feel when sitting at the wheel, the wet clay spinning in my hands, the excitement of firing, comes to you through my pots.
My Life in Clay with Books
Books have been an integral part of my work in clay. Ceramics history and material culture particularly interest me. Often, I write about the books I am reading and post about them in my BiblioPotter blog, which you can find on this site.
As much as I like reading, I like doing research, interviewing and writing. Over the years I have had to opportunity to publish pieces in Ceramics Monthly, Studio Potter, the old Goodfellow Review, Mother Earth News and elsewhere, even writing a little booklet for Garden Way. Ceramics has not been my only topic; I wrote a column on bookselling for College Store for 24 years, and have published pieces on gardening, nature, and in my youth, a few short stories.
In my earliest years, I wrote under my first and middle name, rather than use my last name. Most of that work has vanished except the few copies and tear sheets yellowing in my closet.
The University of New England Press (UPNE) published Guy Wolff: Master Potter in the Garden and reissued Clay:The History and Evolution of Humankind's Relationship with Earth's Most Primal Element.
Currently, I am working on The Art and History of Sunken Gardens. Joe (Joseph Szalay) is taking the photos.
I have been working on a book for Timber Press called Anatomy of a Garden. How I came to be writing such a book is a story for another day, but it’s a fun project. The histories of ceramics and horticulture have been linked for millennium and, like many potters, I am deeply interested in …
Things of Beauty Growing: British Studio Pottery is both an exhibit and a book that if you are in any way involved with clay, you must not miss. The exhibit is currently at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, CT where it remains through December 3. It moves to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, …
“The main restrictions that I have at the moment are a small studio and how I transport my work, unfired, in a trailer that I tow with my bicycle to the kiln service,” Canadian potter Dawn Vachon tells Australian author Amber Creswell Bell in her new book, Clay: Contemporary Ceramic Artisans. Bell profiles fifty-three potters, …