by Morgan Rogers
Pottery is very much alive and well in Maine and offers visitors a unique view inside workshops during the annual Maine Pottery Tour. Maine artisan studios across the state open their doors for tours during Mother’s Day weekend in May.
“The Maine Pottery Tour was started when Lori Watts of Fine Mess Pottery contacted several potters in the area. It was modeled after a pottery tour that has been very successful in Minnesota for many years,” said Mary K. Spencer of The Potter’s House.
Eleven potters opened their studios for guests to visit over the second annual tour weekend in 2013. The locations stretched from Portland to Windsor.
“The goal of the pottery tour is to make people aware of the potters in the area, not only the work they make, but also several of us teach and love to educate people about this ancient art. Secondly, we want to encourage local support. As we all know, if we shop local it helps the economy in our immediate area,” said Spencer.
Malley Webber, one of the featured potters, has been in pottery for 25 years and is able to support herself by selling her work across Maine at craft shows and galleries. The Maine Crafts Guild, The Center for Maine Craft, and The Natural Resource Council of Maine, to name a few, all offer venues for artisans to showcase and sell their work. But more are needed.
“I didn’t even know you could make a living with clay. It took me a while to come around to the idea that maybe I should be a potter,” said Webber as she skillfully sculpted a mug on the potter’s wheel at her studio Hallowell Clay Works.
The tour gives patrons the opportunity to visit artisans at their studio spaces, like Webber’s backyard in the summer.
“I’ve been recreating a kind of homestead dream here,” said Webber.
Inside her shop were shelves with her pottery in various stages of completion. She also gives pottery classes from her home. Her potter’s wheel is just outside the shop, in summer, so she can work in nature. She discussed her philosophy on pottery as she skillfully created mug after mug on the wheel.
“I guess my philosophy about potting is I try to be environmental as possible when I’m working,” said Webber.
Webber does two distinctive things that make pottery more eco-friendly.
“One thing I do differently from a lot of potters is that I dig my own clay,” said Webber as she threw a greenish hued clay on the wheel.
Most clay is brought from various places around the America and tends to have a warmer hue. Webber mixes the clay she digs in Maine with some of these clays so it is easier to work with.
“To me it makes perfect sense to put a little sweat into it and use what we have locally,” said Webber.
Additionally, she only fires her work one in the kiln instead of “twice-firing,” which is the usual practice.
“Clay isn’t traditionally all that environmental with all the firing, but there are things we can do to eliminate that,” said Webber.
The typical practice is to let the pot dry for several days and then put it in the kiln to bisque fire it, which is the first firing in the process. This hardens the ware, making it easier to handle and less likely to break during the glazing phase. After the pot is glazed it is then usually put into the kiln for the second firing to finalize the process.
“I ‘once fire’ it so to eliminate half the firing costs and the resources that are used in the firing process. I try to promote and teach people that – that is possible,” said Webber.
The catch is the ware must be handled more carefully during the glazing process as it is more likely to break in this phase, but the final product is just as strong.
“You just have to be more mindful,” explained Webber as she shaped more clay on the well used wheel.
Webber said that she enjoyed displaying her work as part of the Maine Pottery Tour and looks forward to more community events in the near future.
The Maine state website should have the next date for the 2014 Maine Pottery Day.
This article was published in Maine Insights