Early 1980’s

Forty years ago this month I arrived in Fredericksburg, Virginia with all of my worldly possessions packed into my ’66 Chevy van. The Fredericksburg Pottery was founded by two local families in 1976 and was located at the corner of Sophia Street and Hanover Street in the historic district.

Fredericksburg in 1980 was a very different town…early that year the Spotsylvania Mall was opened and most of the shops left downtown. It might be hard for more recent residents to believe, but a number of major department stores including Sears and Penney’s used to be located in our fair city.

I was hired to expand the pottery’s business. There was no longer enough foot traffic to support us so I designed a simple line of pottery and trained the two potters that I had inherited to make them. We then began selling work up and down the East Coast to galleries and craft shops and restaurants. The most significant restaurant was in our back yard…just a few months after I arrived Sammy T’s was opened. It was a welcome addition to town, bringing in a menu that went way beyond barbecue (vegetarian and vegan food!). We made them an offer that they couldn’t refuse…I would trade pottery for food so that I could get my work on the tables in front of their customers. This was a happy relationship and I met most of my friends in that cozy restaurant. I made little creamers and bud vases and I still occasionally meet a former customer (or employee) who confesses to taking one or two home! I didn’t mind, as it meant I could make more and eat more!

I spent three years building the business and while we were successful I grew to understand that I needed the freedom to work on my own. I had four bosses and two employees and it was all too much for me then. I have always been an explorer in the studio, trying new things, discarding old ideas and our business didn’t allow for that. My skills had grown during that time, but I wanted more freedom to express myself.

In 1984 I purchased the business and moved to a farm on the Rappahanock River in Dogue. I was now on my own and I carried on the wholesale business while spending a lot of time developing new work and ideas. I sold pots in a couple of shops downtown as well. This was the second of what has turned out to be 5 different studios…it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that I had been a nomadic pottery builder, before I arrived here I had been traveling nonstop since leaving home at 18.

Stay tuned for part 2!

It was 40 Years Ago Today… (close enough)

40 years ago I packed up my Connestoga wagon with all of my worldly possessions and sailed down the Interstate 95 corridor from Poughkeepsie, NY to Fredericksburg, Virginia. I thought that I was accepting a job managing the Fredericksburg Pottery, turns out I was starting a life!

I will share some of the stories of those 40 years as the days go by, leading up to my 40 for 40 sale online September 26th. I will be listing 40 older pots of mine…classics we can call them.

In the meantime I am having my website rebuilt and doing my best to survive in this brave new world. Come on back, there are tales to be told!

Nostalgia Sunday

I made this pot in the autumn of 1979 as I was winding up my time at the Winchcombe Pottery. That was 40 years ago, an impossible concept to comprehend. Exactly 39 years ago this week I arrived in Fredericksburg to become the manager of the Fredericksburg Pottery and I still call ‘the ‘Burg’ my home today. It is a community that I came to love and it has been very fertile ground for my creative endeavors.

It’s hard to imagine how different the town was that September…2 out of every three storefronts were empty and no one lived above the shops. I started a wholesale business because there just wasn’t enough trade in town, but over the years as Fredericksburg was ‘discovered’ again my business grew and eventually I sold all of my work from the storefront downtown.

Of course, there are legions of tales I could tell about those early days, from dancing on the bar at Sammy’ T’s to building an art center (Libertytown), but I don’t need to go there just now. It’s just that I am looking out over the mountains here at the Penland School of Craft as I write, feeling nostalgic for my adopted home.

This is also the 39th anniversary of my dear mother’s passing. I arrived in Fredericksburg that year with a very heavy heart and my memories of those days are always tinged with a little sadness.

My mom was a simple soul, but full of wisdom. I asked her once what she thought of my pottery infatuation…she replied that she had no idea what it was I was doing, but if I thought it was the right thing than she was all for it. That was a gift. It’s important to have people who believe in you.

I’m feeling out of practice as a writer of blogs. I know this is somewhat random.

Ten Past Five

I always enjoy the start of a new cycle in the studio…it’s always a time of great anticipation as I reinvent myself yet again. I have plenty of ideas for new work, but I also need to build up some of my standard inventory. Juggling those two is always a challenge, but I have a new idea this year that is contained in the title herewith. I have always made pots in big batches…when I started out it was normal to make a hundred mugs, or bowls, or creamers etc. Then at some point that was reduced to 50…But nowadays I find 50 mugs tedious…there is little to learn from them after all these years (although they continue to evolve slowly…lately more slender with softer changes of form…).

Many years ago ‘our fearless social media leader’ Michael Kline introduced the concept of 12 before 12…it was a personal challenge to make at least 12 pots before noon, a fun way to bring a little discipline to our studio practice. It was a brilliant and infectious concept and went pretty viral for a while there. I will confess here that it’s quite possible that I never achieved this, charming though the idea was. I rarely work with wet clay in the morning…I generally start my day by finishing up work from the previous days and moving to the wheel in the afternoon. So, what’s that got to do with my new brainchild?!

So my intention this year is to make 10 mugs starting at 5PM each day I’m in the studio. I can easily do that in an hour, it frees up the rest of the day for more challenging work and in no time I should have plenty of mugs! Ten past five. 10 past 5. It’s my new thing. It could be yours too!

Bartmanns and Me

I have always been drawn to this medieval bottle form with it’s robust form and often over the top sprig decoration. I have had a beard all my adult life and it’s hard not to find some connection to the bearded men depicted on them. When I first learned of them they were referred to as Bellermines, but nowadays the story behind that seems to be a bit of a myth. This rather large one depicted here was made in 2010…my first homage to that beautiful pot. I scratched into the bottom the following: “Friday, March 26th, 2010. Another rainy day. This ‘Bartman'(sic) Bottle was inspired by the conference I attended in Colonial Williamsburg last weekend! (Firing #8)”.

I made a much more contemporary version last autumn for the excellent exhibition “The Last Drop” at the NC Pottery Center in Seagrove, NC. The challenge was to re-interpret an old pot used for alcohol into a 21st century object. While the old pots would have held all kinds of liquids, certainly liquor was an important one. Nowadays we are in the midst of the glory days of good beer making and growlers have become a common sight. It was an obvious choice (once I thought of it…) and the finished pot was a winner, purchased on opening night by the curator!

My Origin Story!

I received a bulky package in the mail today from my one and only Uncle Mike! He was going through papers from his father, my grandfather, John Jerome Murray. The package contained dozens of letters that I wrote to him and my grandmother in the mid-1970’s…when I left home at 18 I didn’t really ever go back, but I wrote a lot in those days. I could never have told you that I wrote this much, but I was far away and my life was somewhere between the one I was born to and the life that I made. Writing kept me connected to Buffalo, from Arizona, New England and the old England,  Virginia and points in between. And I loved my grandparents! I suppose that I wanted them to know that I was doing well and was looking for their approval as I took a different path from the one expected of me. I’m proud of that me for being so diligent!

It’s a bit emotional to read the words I wrote in those days…missing family and girlfriends, struggling financially, expressing great hope as each new chapter unfolded, describing the life in an English country pottery that might have appeared exotic to the folks back home. But the coolest thing so far is this: an excerpt from a letter I wrote on Oct. 14 1973. It was my first semester of college (the first of three institutions of higher learning I attended)…I’m sure every potter has answered the question…”how did you become a potter?”. Well I have been telling the same story for a very long time and right there in my youthful and awkward writing on a yellowed piece of ruled paper is that very story in my 18 year old words.

Tom (Dowd) showed me how to make a pot out of clay in the ceramics studio. I made one small little one. He takes ceramics for one of his courses. I might next semester”  And I did!!! Standing in drop/ad lines to force my way in. Why I was so motivated by that one small pot I have no recollection… for several years I just figured that it would be a nice hobby. It really wasn’t until I walked in the door of the Winchcombe Pottery in the winter of 1978 that I knew I could be a potter. God knows what would have become of me if I hadn’t found that place?

One day I’ll write the story of getting to England and all the almost unbelievable connections that led me there. And then there is the 5 years between this letter and that. Those years have their own particular charm! But in the meantime, I’m completely pumped up with this discovery! It moves to the front of the archives.

I am fascinated to to know that my grandfather kept everything I sent him…show notices, business cards, articles, letters, postcards etc. I inherited that gene…I have kept almost every piece of personal correspondence I’ve ever received. Drop me a line!

Firing Ruminations

The firing that I first thought might happen last Wednesday eventually happened on Monday. Now the kiln is cooling and I’ll unload tomorrow. The firing of the first chamber lasts about 16 hours and I start early in the morning so we’re not here too late into the evening. I hate getting up early, but I do understand the pleasure in watching and hearing the world wake up as I light the tiniest of fires. Morning people are often righteous about their early rising… they have a point, but when I’m still at work at 9PM, they are already tucked into their smug (I mean snug!) beds!

Anyway, that little fire grows slowly each hour until it becomes a voracious wood eater, needing a new meal every few minutes. There are always one or two times in the firing, mostly when we’re getting pretty hot, that the kiln will stall… dropping 75 -100 degrees in just a few minutes and then taking many more minutes to regain the former temperature. And then, just when it gets aggravating, it’ll start climbing again. This firing could be magic…it’s never been so even with cone 11 down everywhere and cone 12 standing everywhere. That’s my ideal temperature and I’ve never seen it in all 4 spots that I monitor!

And then I got a peek through the spy holes yesterday and I’ve been borderline giddy… this could mark another big change in my work. This firing has the first big batch of black n’ blue slips  and the bits I can see look sweet. I actually woke up early today, too excited to get back to sleep. Tomorrow will reveal all. Can’t wait. Of course, we might have a tornado…

It’s Firing Season!

I’m loading the first of 3 firings on the trot. This photo shows the back half of the chamber loaded up.

I’ve never had a a sabbatical, it seems I’m always juggling the ‘make-fire-sell’ circus. But I did manage to set aside a rare chunk of time this winter to do nothing but make and make…without firing or doing shows or, to tell the truth, without doing much else other than get up every day and go to the studio. I began by making a bunch of big jars and refining some ideas about texture that I’ve kicked around in the past, then spent a couple of weeks on some bird ideas (see photo!). I also got to make some new forms that I’ve pondered on for awhile. I often stew about an idea for a long time before I dive into it…it’s a luxury that I have making pots full time.

Altogether, I’m guessing that I made 600-700 pots…I started to count them the other day, but I ran out of steam and stopped. I’m also making a big commitment to a new black n’ blue slip for the first time. Always a little scary, but it’s time for a change and these uber-thin slips should reveal the new textures at their best.

Now it’s time for alchemy…I’m going to turn this base material (clay) into gold!

(As long as people keep buying them!?)

Looking Forward

A potter’s life is all about cycles…I made pots like mad this winter, tucked away in my studio in the woods, and then 3 firings in a few short weeks before, as the last pots are cooling, loading up the van and putting in some miles to do the shows needed to pay the bills. I love it all! The quiet days of making coupled with intense bursts of human interaction suit me at this point in life. Since my return from Minnesota I have been putting things in order and finishing off the new studio that I began earlier this year. With nothing urgent on the calendar it’s good to slow the pace down (just a bit!) and take care of some of the projects that are too easily avoided when I’m in the middle of a throwing jag. I know I am not alone in this, but once I sit down on the wheel, most everything else slides from view and I become single minded…fill those boards, fill that kiln…it remains a compelling process for me after many years.

Slowing down does not mean that I am ‘bone idle’ as my British friends might say, but there is time to watch some of the great international soccer tournaments taking place! But, perhaps more importantly, I’ve been working with the folks at the Hill Center in D.C. as we plan the 5th year of “Pottery on the Hill”. The show has grown each year and this year’s will be bigger and better than ever. You can see Sam Taylor in the background of this photo doing his best Jack Benny impression. Sam and Haynes Bayless will be driving the P.O.W. Truck to our nation’s capital, bringing their unique mobile pottery education vehicle to add another layer to our modest ‘onion’ of a show. I am also writing an article about the show that we hope will find a publisher. Don’t forget to mark the last week-end of October to join us.

I have a plan to make a fountain in the next few weeks and then back to Buffalo for a family reunion before heading back to the Cotswolds. This is the “goof off and enjoy life” part of the cycle. Life is good!



Pots for the Holidays!

I never imagined the interest in my Brown Friday sale would be so keen.

With plenty of pots remaining we will continue to sell them at LibertyTown until our Open House (December 12th).

I will have ALL NEW WORK ready on the 12th including a NEW FLOCK OF BIRDS!

Today was the day I had to change gears from a pottery maker to a chemist. I spent the day measuring out glaze material and mixing and sieving some of my old standards:

Amber Ash, Runny Ash and dry Crackle Slip are regulars.

I also tested some colored slips, as I get closer to finishing my gas fired salt kiln I’m beginning to think more concretely about the surfaces I want to achieve.

Always so much to do, like take more photos for my online store!


Autumn is my favorite season and it was made even more interesting 3 years ago when we opened the doors for the very first “Pottery on the Hill” exhibition and sale. I never did many shows myself, which makes me an unlikely organizer of an event like this, but with plenty of good advise and with the great support of the staff at the Hill Center we have built a wonderful PB033711event that brings great handmade pottery to our nation’s capital. This year’s dates are October 30 – November 1. On Thursday evening we will be presenting a “Pottery Slam” at the Art League School in Alexandria. Sam Taylor, Mark Shapiro and I will be making pots together, sharing idas and generally having a good time. Please consider joining us and supporting some of America’s best makers!

Virginia Earth: Ceramic Arts at the Portsmouth Arts and Cultural Center

This exhibition runs until October 18th. Artists include Sukjin Choi, David Crane, Kevin Crowe, Randy and Catherine Edmonson, Dan Finnegan, Warren Frederick, Steven Glass, Silvie Granatelli, Chris Gryder, Diane Hottenstein, Mike Jabbur, Marlene Jack, John Jessiman, Elizabeth Kendall, Andrea Keys, Barbra Kobylinska, Josh Manning, Dale Marhanka, Stephen Marder, Richard Nickel, Adam Paulek, Bill Pinkham, Brian Pitney, Donna Polseno, Ellen Shankin, Akiko Tanaka and Catherine White.

You might imagine that I have returned home to kick up my feet and savor the adventures of the summer so far, but with 2 exhibitions and 3 shows between now and the end of October I have  gone right back into the studio and gotten back on the wheel. I am using some of the new (to me) Starworks clay bodies, making planters to fill the bottom layer of my kiln. I have a scheme thanks to Claude and Toff, my Czech partners and kiln mavens, to get much more heat to the bottom, but until I can prove it works I put pots that seem less risky there. Speaking of Claude these little ying and yang vases came as a result of a little moment that he and I took to play with something I was going to discard.P1030333

On The Road Again

I was born and grew up in Buffalo, New York and I’ve lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia since 1980, but I also call a little picturesque village on the edge of the Cotswolds home as well. I spent the late 1970’s living there in the west of England, mostly as the teaboy and general dogsbody at the Winchcombe Pottery. It was there that I met, among many other wonderful characters, Toff Milway. Toff and I became fast friends and when he and his wife Georgie began their own business down the road I started spending summers there, helping out in any way I could to earn my keep and do my part. I’ve been there dozens of times now…for birthdays and a few christmases, kiln building and most importantly, plum picking. They are great friends and my life is infinitely richer for that. I am turning 60 next month and I’m not too keen on that number so, in an effort to distract myself, I am returning to spend a few weeks, visiting with old friends and seeing a bunch of theatre (I speak both American AND British!) and looking after the place for a bit while Toff and Georgie travel.

The weather, of course, is rather grim in the winter and I’m packing every warm bit of clothing that I own. I’m also hoping that there is plenty of peat for the fireplace.CIMG6994 The British are a hardy people! I’m sure that I can use a little toughening up! Back in the summer of 2012 I began writing a series of blogs about those early and formative days in England. I think it’s the best of my very modest attempts to be a writer. You can still find ’em by scrolling back on the Journal section of my website.

I hope to add more to that series this trip. Something about treading on that same ground and viewing that same landscape and hearing the melodies of the British language makes it easy to remember.

Best Wishes to one and all for an excellent 2015!


Potters of Madison County

studio-banner-1.1I am pleased to announce that I have been invited to this 5th annual show in Marshall, North Carolina on April 5th, 2014. It’s nice to return to NC again with my work and to share a venue with plenty of other fine potters.

If you can’t make that show perhaps you can join Gay Smith, Ronan Peterson and me in Ohio at the Wooster Functional workshop. We three will be this year’s presenters later in April.

Dan Finnegan – Star of Stage and Screen

Several years ago I was asked to be the subject of a short film by a young local filmmaker, Timothy Ryan Poe. It was an interesting process and I really like what he did. If you know me at all, you know that I can be a bit overenthusiastic, but this film shows a very different side of me. Ryan knew very little about my world and my work and I deliberately avoided shaping the film. I wanted to see what he would find interesting. As a result it is less of an action film than a ‘talkie’ with some really cool scenes of my studio, kiln and the property where I work. And there are several  little short films included…my favorite is seeing a pot made from directly above!

The filming happened during a very hot spell and I look like hell….my friends hate this photo, but it’s a reality show! No make-up here!

I have plenty of copies available. $15.00 which includes shipping in the US. Let me know via email or facebook and I’ll post it right away.


Ryan's video

Murder in the Library

I’ve learned from Tony Clennell that a catchy title can draw a lot of readers, so, if you’ve made your way here, we can both thank Tony!

So, I’ve been making variations on these birds for a 4 years or so and I’ve tried to continue to find new ways to go forward.

Lately (actually it’s been a year or more) I’ve been thinking of creating dioramas…putting the birds in scenes and/or groups. This first one takes a macabre twist, inspired, I suppose by my affection for detective novels…Sherlock Holmes, John Rebus, Inspector Morse, Poirot, ad infinitum. The yellow knife is a substitute….I plan on using the plastic sword from cheesy bar drinks, the ones that often skewer a cherry in your Shirley Temple!

I was showing it off to Ellie, my brilliant 7 year old friend, and she made a suggestion that made my wish I had thought of it before her. But that doesn’t mean that I’m above stealing it, so stay tuned for the next chapter (that’s a hint). I guess the lesson there is this – “Pottery, so easy even a 7 year old can do it”!P1010826 P1010827

Recent Acquisitions!

Matthew Metz

Matthew Metz

I had a visit at the studio today from John and Kathy, old friends who have been buying my pots for a VERY long time. They showed me a photo of their newly painted display case that contains a lovely retrospective of the last 20 years or so of my work! Having made and sold pots in the same town for almost 34 years now, there are a number of ‘shrines’ to my work in the area! Isn’t that right, Boots? and Lou and Jerry? and Steve and Nicky? and Dave and Diane? (you get the idea). I lay claim to several additions being built to make room for even more pots!

I have a pretty sweet collection myself, with a heavy focus on British pots and the color brown. I made some sweet additions lately as I was on the road and I spent a little time tonight in my photo studio for your (and my) viewing pleasure!

Bandana Pottery...Michael Hunt & Naomi Dalglish

Bandana Pottery…Michael Hunt & Naomi Dalglish

Fork Mountain pottery Kent & Suzi

Fork Mountain Pottery…Kent McLaughlin & Suzi Lindsay

Julie Wiggins
Julie Wiggins


Searching for Momentum

Tile makingWith a good size kiln to fill. my making cycle is a long one and I seem to  creep up on the next  one somewhat stealthily. I was on the road for most of 3 weeks and it was weeks before that when i made the last pot for the last firing (#16). I tend to concentrate on projects that make life in the studio easier or make the place more beautiful before I open that first box of clay. Once that happens, obsession kicks in and all other things fade away as making and then finishing the next pot is all that matters. It’s good to know myself in this way in order to outwit myself. But today I made the first foray back to the mud, making some bag wall tiles from reclaim clay. Pottery making madness will soon ensue.

Buffalo, My Hometown.

I was able to spend a day and a half in Buffalo, New York on my return from Pinecroft. I was born in the 2nd ward in South Buffalo and grew up amidst the working class families, mainly Irish and Catholic, who supplied the labor for the steel mills and chemical plants that stood like a wall between us and Lake Erie.

Buffalo was one of the richest cities in America 100 years ago…timber and agriculture made people rich and when the Erie Canal was built many more fortunes were made as the city’s lakefront filled with grain elevators and warehouses to accommodate all the goods being shipped from the midwest headed for NYC. The city benefited from the strong ethnic communities that arrived. Along with the Irish, German and Italian and Polish neighborhoods all developed and brought old world skills to this boom town.

Buffalo was the first illuminated city thanks to the power harnessed on the Niagra River by The Falls. The Pan-American Exposition was held there, a precursor to the World’s Fair. President William McKinley was assassinated there while shaking hands with members of the public. He died on the site of my high school and Teddy Roosevelt was sworn in just down the street.

While my memories are primarily of life in the more modest neighborhoods, Buffalo is a city of fabulous architecture and it there that you can see it’s former grandeur. Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and Joseph Ellicott were among the many noted architects that designed there. I drove around in wonder as house after house, building after building showed the glory  of a bygone age when craftmanship and material mattered. It seems to me that there is a renewal of sorts going on…that would be a very good thing.Bflo. tileworkBflo. downtownBflo. Erie Co. Public LibraryBflo. random tileworkBflo. Grain ElevatorsBflo. Savings Bank DomeBflo. ArmoryBflo. Forest LawnBflo. Erie CanalBflo. Canisius HighMy high school was a former Masonic Temple and a private residence before then. It is quite grand.

Buttoned Up and Letting Go

CIMG5038I have been mooching around the kiln the last couple of days, taking care of a variety of odd jobs as I fill time before Wednesday evenings ignition. I often struggle with the timing of my firings…it’s the one part of my working life that I can’t do alone and juggling the schedule of my own needs, those of my helpers and life in general stresse me out. And I’m never sure how long it will take me to glaze and load. And I hate to be rushed, so this feels luxurious…so luxurious in fact that I am going to D.C. in the evening to see a production of Henry IV pt. 1 while Beth and Christina start the fire! Never before have I been so cavalier!  The last firing was less than wonderful, but as always, I have high hopes and great expectations. I know that the kiln is full of some very good work…now wood and fire and salt and ash and air all have a chance to have their way with my efforts. It’s a powerful thing.

I think that this is the first time I’ve fired this kiln (#16) without an assistant or two. When I sold the Art Center and returned to full-time studio work I decided that I wanted to also return to working solo…at least for a while. So mixing wadding, stacking wood, cleaning shelves and fireboxes, sieving glazes and bricking up the doors (that’s wicket for my British friends) were part of this load. So was Michael putting shelves into the kiln for me  and building a little addition to my studio in the meantime.

I must remember to buy salt…I’ve forgotten more than once!

Pottery on the Hill the 3rd

October 31, November 1 and 2

Washington, D.C.

Preview Reception
Friday, October 31, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: $25/advance, $30/day of
Purchase tickets

Pottery Show & Sale
Saturday, November 1, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday, November 2, 12 Noon-4 p.m.
Free admission

Preview Reception
Friday, October 31, 6:30 p.m.

Tickets: $25/advance, $30/day of
Purchase tickets online or call 202-549-4172

Integrate art into your every day life! Be the first to experience the incredible, pots, mugs, vases, platters and much more from 16 of the nation’s top ceramic artists in our signature preview reception.

In this intimate celebration of pottery, rub shoulders with the potters, raise a glass, enjoy incredible hors d’oeuvres, and revel in the fine pieces of work meant to be used every day in our lives.

Don’t miss your chance for a sneak peek and the first opportunity to purchase these incredible works.

Pottery Show & Sale
Saturday, Nov. 1, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday, Nov. 2, 12 p.m.-4 p.m.

Sixteen of the nation’s top ceramic artists gather at Hill Center, bringing with them a wide array of bright, patterned ceramic table platters, fanciful mugs, one-of-a-kind cups, cooking pots and astonishing vases and whimsies. Many hundreds of pieces of their work, many never exhibited before, will be for sale.

Pottery on the Hill is simply one of the most unique pottery shows in the country, offering something for both the most avid pottery collector and the casual observer. With the opportunity to meet the artists in person and hear the inspiration behind their works, you can learn how to use these functional, dependable pieces at home.

On Saturday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., don’t miss “throwing” demos to learn how pottery is made and then check out all of the great arts organizations who offer pottery classes in the area.

Admission is free.


Join us at District Clay for an old-fashioned pottery slam from 6-8:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 30. Potters Dan Finnegan, Sam Taylor, and Mark Shapiro will make some pots of their own, collaborate on the same pots, and throw down the gauntlet to challenge each other to try new things. The audience will be invited to toss ideas into the ring as well in an interactive way. Light refreshments will be served. Free admission. Register online


Making Choices

I am choosing pots for my upcoming exhibition at the Cooley Gallery in Leesburg, Va. 

The opening is this Friday night, April 4th, from 6 – 9pm. I have participated in very few exhibitions over the years and when I have, they have tended to be as part of a larger group show. This, for me, is a rare one-man show and while it is modest in size it still takes me way too long to choose the work than ever it should. Part of my dilemma is the result of having such varied interests in clay that I have to decide which of my interests in clay to show. My youthful tendency was to show a bit of everything, but I know now that a  well edited and focused body of work makes a much stronger statement. I think that this is true of most big craft fairs as well. I didn’t do many, and seldom did much business, but I always had ten different ideas on hand at any given point.  This way of working served me well as I settled into my retail shop, where I sold most of my pots for 20 years. The variety made it more likely to connect with a customer on the streets of Fredericksburg.  In the midst of aisle upon aisle of vendors at a show, a single voice has a much better chance of standing out in the crowd.All of this is by way of saying that this particular vase pictured here is a current favorite of mine and I will build around it as I make further choices. It’s about 14″ high and will be available at the gallery and on their website starting Friday.

Old School

As promised, here are some of the earliest things I made while in college. The photos are rough but I still enjoy remembering those early days as I began to explore the possibilities and the limits of clay. I was lured to the ceramics class during my freshman year at S.U.C. at Geneseo, NY. after seeing some of the students do a raku firing in the middle of a snowstorm. The sound of hot pots whistling through the snowbanks where they threw them after reduction is a permanent one in my brain. My first few teachers weren’t very interested in wheel throwing and I followed their lead.

I wasn’t much of a photographer in those days, which saves you from some of the other ideas I was playing with in those days…lots of kewpie doll molds, there was an architectural phase and then there was ‘the penis people'(!) to name a few.  They were all terribly interesting to me then and now don’t necessarily ‘stand the test of time’, but I have always taken pleasure from exploring new ideas in clay. That’s still true today I’m glad to say.

This work is circa 1974-1977 and is all raku fired and chronological.

I have continued to use this idea of stretched slabs from time to time, but since these early days I have always worked in stoneware. I’m a big fan of the permanence that high firing begets.

This is the first thing I made that other people really responded to…I confess that like that feeling.


I think I called this one “Siesta” 
I made a whole burnt out western movie set.

 I modified a pizza peel to move these big flat wall pieces.

This is about 20″ across. broken and reassembled after reduction. I wish I still had this one.

Tomorrows big thrill…my first pot.

And Now, for Something Completely Different!


My earliest work with clay tended toward the sculptural…I love this material…from industrial sanitary ware to the roughest of sculptural forms and most things in between. I left college (after 3 attempts) because I didn’t see a future for the work I was doing and the only other option that I could see was to pursue a teaching job. But I was certain that I wouldn’t fit in the world of academia very well, and I didn’t think that I would be fulfilled by that career. So I left….and in one of those unlooked for opportunities that life sometimes presents, I found myself working at the Winchcombe Pottery. I thought that I was going to England to follow the girl of my dreams (gorilla my dreams), but instead I found a way forward that has suited me all these years since. I love making pots that my friends and customers can use as part of their everyday lives and I particularly enjoy the challenge of making useful pots with personality. Truth be told, as long as I’m making something I am content.

But in spite of a 40 year career as a potmaker, I never completely gave up on the more abstract ideas that first got me excited about ceramics. Lately, that sculptural instinct has led me to the birds that I’ve been making for a few years now, and I continue to be amused by the possibilities that they present.

Now, I’m stuck at home for a bit, recovering from hernia surgery and trying to catch up on some paperwork and some other quieter projects. That includes taking some photos of some older work. I’ve probably posted some of these before, but they are oldies but goodies as the saying goes. I have only exhibited this work once before, but I’d like to find a venue to show them off again one day. Any ideas? I have been making things like this since my earliest days. My first pottery book was Paulus Berenson’s “Finding One’s Way with Clay” and I used to do a lot of the ‘exercises’ he suggested. I’ve was very fortunate to spend some time with him at Penland, but I don’t think I’ve ever told him about this body of work that he inspired. The pinched bowls that he makes today are stunning!

Tomorrow I’m going to go real ‘old school’ on you!



To NCECA or not to NCECA, that is the question…

imagesI’ve been making pots now for 40 years and I’ve attended the NCECA conference just once (in Loiusville, Ky.) Each year as it approaches I have an ongoing internal struggle…it is a thrilling idea to  be surrounded by like-minded folks and to see all of the  exhibitions and sit in on some of the panel discussions, but is it a valuable use of my time and resources? Of course, NCECA is primarily about education and academia, with a few bones thrown to the working potters of the world. This year there is a panel discussion titled “Where have all the Potters Gone?” led by Mark Hewitt, Tony Clennell and Lisa Hammond. This should be a great conversation and I’m sorry to miss it, and I’m sorry to miss Cynthia Bringle’s closing talk. I think that my own answer to the question is “not to NCECA because I have pots to make!”.

But, I also think that it is an overly dramatic question. There has been talk about the greying of the craft world for 20 years now (maybe more) and yet I continue to be impressed by the great work that continues to bubble up from the younger folks who are drawn into our world. I can’t say that I’m anxious to see another mug decorated with decals anytime soon, but in general there is fantastic work being produced across the spectrum of ceramics and there has never been a better appreciation for the value of that work. In 1980 I was selling mugs for four bucks, for goodness sakes…we have come a long way, baby, and I think that it is a perfect time to become a maker.

I suppose that a question like “Where have all the Potters Gone” is more logical if you are only looking at the periodicals that represent us or observing the work produced in academia, but I know lots of people making some or all of their living from their pottery. They aren’t making a lot of noise…they just get on with the work, building a way of life that has rich rewards and deep fulfillment.

I still wish that I could have been there, but perhaps next year. I thought that I would be loading my kiln, but instead, I’m recovering from a hernia operation. That’s not a story I’m interested in telling.