Berkshire Pottery Tour: Take a peek inside a potter's studio
Online artist galleries can showcase a craftsperson's work, but they can't replace the intimate experience of meeting the artist, wandering around his or her studio and seeing the inspiration behind the artwork.
It's why art tours and open studio events were invented and Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29 and 30, will see the fifth annual Berkshire Pottery Tour.
In addition to meeting the artists and seeing the space in which they create, tour goers may also be invited to see potters Ellen Grenadier's sea-green tiled and fern-inlaid Monterey kitchen backsplash or Daniel Bellow's mega kiln in Great Barrington or the wild array of tools Paula Shalan keeps in her Stockbridge studio— dry sticks and coral, a spare mandible and so much more.
"This is just one more way of promoting, letting people know what we do," Grenadier said. "You can see where we work, what her garden looks like, you can look on the shelves and see the weird [clay texture] tests I've been doing."
The Berkshire Pottery Tour will feature six artists in southern Berkshire County, the artisans named above, as well as Ben Evans of Richmond, Lorimer Burns of Housatonic and Linda Skipper of New Marlborough. Artist studios/galleries will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. It is being sponsored by Sheffield Pottery, a pottery and ceramics supplies store.
Each of the potters will have items for sale in various price ranges and some may be selling "seconds," pottery that didn't turn out as intended, but is still pretty nice.
"It kind of feels like a club — this is a weird profession — it's nice to be a part of the tour," Bellow said.
Before the tour, Bellow, Grenadier and Shalan let the Eagle swing by for a sneak peek. Here's what I saw:
Daniel Bellow Pottery, 17 Railroad Ave., Great Barrington, 413-429-7111
Daniel Bellow's excitement for pottery is booming and infectious. He bops around his studio, a large, garage-type space with shelves upon shelves of finished pottery, making quick pinch pots and explaining the meaning and makeup of clay.
"Can you imagine neolithic people sitting by the fire making something out of the dirt in the water, they leave it by the fire overnight and it turns into something it wasn't before," he said.
Bellow is a potter focusing on mass production. He makes his money creating similar pieces quickly: dinner sets, drinking vessels, vases, mugs, baking plates and other practical items. Anything custom is double the price.
"I feel like I'm doing shows-firing-shows-firing," said Bellow who measures his annual clay purchases by the ton.
Bellow got into being a full-time potter during the Great Recession. A former Eagle journalist, Bellow decided he needed a change of pace. He wanted to do something that separated him from his colleagues and landed on his pottery hobby.
"So much is resting on each firing," Bellow said taking pieces out of his main kiln, which is about six feet high. "Sometimes it can be frustrating to see the results."
Ellen Grenadier Pottery, 12 Tyringham Road, Monterey, 413-528-9973
Inspiration comes to Ellen Grenadier when she looks out her window at her varied and well-maintained flower garden.
In her signature pieces, Grenadier incorporates leaves and flowers into her work using three natural earth-tone glazes — green, blue and amber — to create a daydreaming-on-a-lazy-river effect. She also has a number of pieces in a white-speckled clay.
Grenadier said her interest in pottery began with the kitchen table.
"I've always loved tableware," she said. "I went to Japan in 2012 and saw how food was integrated with ceramics — it's so beautifully done."
A former member of the Clay Dragon Studio in Cambridge, Grenadier said she decided to incorporate nature into her pottery while taking a walk outdoors.
"I'd see the leaves smooshed into the mud and that's kind of what I do," she said.
Paula Shalan Ceramics, 3 Averic Road, Stockbridge, 413-298-0179
For a potter, Paula Shalan has an interesting lack of throwing wheels: as in, she has none.
Shalan is not a typical potter, but she is a traditional one. Using primitive techniques from Native Americans, Shalan makes pinch or coil pottery. The process is labor intensive with each edge and curve formed freehand.
"My heart is in the clay material and the building process," she said.
Shalan makes pieces that are decidedly not useful — they're art and art alone. She doesn't use any glazes to decorate and/or seal the pieces. To enhance her pieces, Shalan will apply washes and elbow grease to shine rough gray clay into a gleaming onyx-black. She's also started using "smoke firing" to make interesting patterns and colors on her pottery. Shalan said her smoke-firing technique is unique in how she is very much in control of the thick clouds.
"You've got to just play, working at it, making a lot of mistakes, but continuing to work and finding your voice," said Shalan, a Penland School of Crafts Center alumna.
Kristin Palpini can be reached at email@example.com, @kristinpalpini on Twitter, 413-629-4621.
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