Maine potters throw open studio doors to offer sampling of their wares

This article appeared in the Kennebec JournalBy Betty Adams
Here is an excerpt:

Would local foods taste and look better if they were served on plates and bowls crafted of local clay? Find out by sampling some of Malley Weber’s earthenware and ceramics created from clay she digs from the alluvial plain of the Androscoggin River and brings to her Hallowell studio.

In Farmingdale, Neal Loken decorates each of his ceramic bowls and vases and lamp bases and mugs with a silver maple leaf taken from a tall tree in his backyard. Wife Barb Loken creates whimsical pieces of art and pottery, including the “Drink Smart,” pig-handled Albert Swine Stein.

“He does the straight and beautiful stuff while I do the comic relief,” she said.

Their friend from Tibet, Pasang Tsering, crafts tiles of hopeful messages in Tibetan script.

In Augusta, Lori Keenan Watts of Fine Mess Pottery adds baking soda, soda ash and woodchips to a free-standing, mortarless, brick kiln heated to about 2,400 degrees. The combination creates a unique glaze on each of her pottery pieces. “I like to introduce a little bit of randomness,” she said.

These artists and more opened their studios this weekend for the third annual Maine Pottery Tour, which continues from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Nine studios in central Maine welcomed guests along with studios in southern and coastal Maine. A list of participating potters is offered on mainepotterytourblog.blogspot.com.

Once in the spring and once in August Weber shovels clay into 25-pound bags to haul up an embankment so she can use them in her wares at Hallowell Clay Works. There’s no mistaking the reddish tint of the local clay.

On Saturday she had a potter’s wheel outside ready for a demonstration. A trio of other wheels was lined up inside her studio in the area where she teaches classes.

Weber takes her teaching on the road as well, integrating ceramics into the curriculum at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley. “Ceramics is really a great blend of arts and sciences,” she said on Saturday. Currently she’s working with a chemistry class. Last time it was an earth science class where she discussed Maine geology and the glacial marine clay that she mines.

“We have all this clay in Maine,” Weber said. “It doesn’t make any sense to ship it in.”

But it comes at a price. “When you dig your own, you have to clean it,” she said. “It’s a ton of extra work.”

Weber has been a potter for 27 years and has begun working with hospice and bereavement groups, using clay to promote healing and occasionally working with families who want to make cremation urns for their loved ones.

She and other potters are hoping the studio tours increase awareness of local artists. “We’re trying to build it so every year we get more and more potters, kind of like Maine Maple Sunday,” Weber said.

For the open studio weekend, the owners of Loken Pottery converted the front section into a display area and cleared off the desk and other areas. “It’s the cleanest it’s ever been in the life of the studio,” Barb Loken said, as she waved a hand around.

The Lokens, potters for 45 years, normally don’t sell their wares from the studio. They have a number of outlets, including Maine Potters Market in Portland’s Old Port. For the full article go here.

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