BY PHIL HUTINET
In what has grown into an annual fall tradition, Hill Center will host the third annual Pottery on the Hill October 31 through November 2 with a “Pottery Jam” at District Clay on October 30.
This year, sixteen nationally recognized ceramic artists will display and sell a wide array of work to the public. Participating potters include the following: Bob Briscoe, Kevin Crowe, Naomi Dalglish, Dan Finnegan, Warren Frederick, Ryan Greenheck, Michael Hunt, Michael Kline, Jenny Mendes, Matthew Metz, Donna Polseno, Ken Sedberry, Mark Shapiro, Stacy Snyder, Sam Taylor and Julie Wiggins.
While visitors to the last two expos will recognize the work of several returning potters, this year’s roster includes many first-timers who have travelled as far away as California to display their wares. Unlike traditional craft fairs, Pottery on the Hill organizers carefully hand-pick critically acclaimed artists and professionally curate the exhibition setting in an indoor expo-like setting. Potter Mark Shapiro compares Pottery on the Hill to the “farm to table movement” in as much as people have direct access to the potters’ finished products as well as the artists themselves. In addition, Pottery on the Hill puts the ceramic art in context. Last year, the expo has a florist make arrangements in the artists’ vases to demonstrate the utilitarian nature of the artwork sold.
This year, Pottery on the Hill will partner with recently opened District Clay in the Brookland-Woodridge neighborhood to provide interactive demonstrations of how potters practice their craft. “Pottery Slam,” which will take place on October 30 at District Clay, promises more than interactivity between the audience members, the pottery wheel and the clay; participants will also have the opportunity to work directly with several professional ceramic artists from Pottery on the Hill. Who knows where the improvisational format will lead and what both novice and seasoned potter alike will create jointly or individually in this novel format!
Potter Mark Shapiro counts himself among the group of artists who has shown work since the first Pottery on the Hill. He will trend set once again by participating in the first Pottery Slam and eagerly looks forward to seeing what both his peers and the audience will create during this first of its kind improvisational session. He hopes that this format will encourage a younger generation to engage with the age old craft of throwing clay and creating pottery.
As a youth, Shapiro recalls making pots as early as 11 but stopping around the age of 16. With an affinity for the feel of materials such as metal and wood, Shapiro shifted away from throwing clay, spending most of his twenties working as a fine arts sculptor in lower Manhattan. However by age 28, he grew dissatisfied with his practice as a sculptor, finding the end product limited and ultimately undemocratic.
“I was interested in making something accessible to everyone,” Shapiro explains. “Pottery is more complex than sculpture. It has to be able to sit on a gallery shelf. It can’t chip. It has to feel good on people’s lips.” Unlike sculpture which ends up in a museum or in a wealthy person’s private collection, pottery’s utilitarian nature renders it ubiquitous and quotidian. So, for three decades, Shapiro has created thousands of vessels that have found a use in countless homes fulfilling his desire to create something new every day.
Shapiro left the bustle of lower Manhattan and relocated to a sylvan setting in Western Massachusetts between the Berkshire Mountains and Pioneer Valley. In this rural setting, he founded Stonepool Pottery where he still practices his craft today. Over the years, Stonepool has partnered with a large number of artists and has trained several generations of practicing potters. Visitors can tour the working studio and browse the retail gallery.
On the grounds of Stonepool’s estate stands a large wood burning kiln which Shapiro uses twice a year to fire his ceramic creations. The two chambered kiln uses approximately 1,000 pieces of scrap wood, mostly pine, purchased from local mills. The meticulous process of loading the kiln takes three full days, with help from a crew of five people, which Shapiro likens to putting together “parts of a puzzle.”
As part of the firing process, Shapiro introduces salt into the kiln on boards. The salting process takes place five times at 20 minute intervals. With its alkaline properties, salt creates the patina one finds on Shapiro’s work generating pleasing variations in the ceramic’s surface patterns. German potters first discovered this technique in the fifteenth century and its effects still please ceramic artists and users five hundred years later!
Despite the skill needed to create earthenware and the laborious process required to fire it, for Shapiro, a ceramic piece remains unfinished until it falls into the hands of a user. The cup, plate, bowl or pitcher comes alive once it is used and washed in the sink. Shapiro describes this final process as the “intimacy” which develops between the end user and the object which takes place the moment a user connects with the ceramic object transcending its aesthetic and functional roles.
At Pottery on the Hill, the 16 invited artists belong to a close knit-artistic community. Shapiro speaks highly of this community praising its openness and generosity, lauding the artists’ “big tent” philosophy not often found in other crafts or art forms. To illustrate his point, Shapiro discusses how potters make glaze formulas openly available to all and in fact, few keep skilled information proprietary.
In this same spirit of inclusiveness, Shapiro sees Pottery on the Hill as a coming together and celebration of the ceramics community as a whole with laymen, students and industry professionals convening, interacting and learning from one another. What brings Shapiro back to the expo for a third year in a row is both the quality of the experience and more importantly that “Pottery on the Hill expresses the values that we [as an artistic community] embody.”
Pottery on the Hill’s Events are as follows:
- Pottery Slam at District Clay— Thursday, October 30 from 6-9pm
District Clay is Located at 2414 Douglas Avenue NE Visit the studio online at www.districtclay.com
- Preview Reception at Hill Center— Friday, October 31 at 6:30 pm. The cost is $30
- Show and Sale at Hill Center— Saturday November 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. & Sunday, November. 2 from noon to 5 p.m. The Show and Sale is free of charge.
- PURCHASE ADVANCED TICKETS FOR FRIDAY’S PREVIEW HERE
Hill Center is located at 921 Pennsylvania Avenue SE
Stonepool Pottery is located at 42 Conwell Road, Worthington, MA or visit them online at www.stonepoolpottery.com