Thursday, April 13, 2017

Recap: April Clay Club with Kim Ellington at West Union Art Studios in Morganton

We had a great Clay Club in Morganton! Thanks to Briana Blackwelder for organizing it; to Adam and Molly Mackay and everyone at West Union Art Studios for hosting us; and to Kim Ellington for talking with us about Catawba Valley Pottery.

West Union Art Studios is a terrific group studio in downtown Morganton. In addition to the working space for potters and ceramic artists, there is a gallery in the front of the space. Signature Day Program artists display some wonderful 2D work there. The studios’ description on their Facebook page says, “West Union Art Studios, LLC brings together artists, art culture, art education, and community to Morganton, NC and the surrounding areas,” and this is very evident from spending a little time there. West Union Art Studios will be participating in downtown Morganton’s Tour d'Art on April 27th - look for more about that on the blog soon.

Kim Ellington talked about the history and tradition of pottery in the Catawba Valley, where he moved after graduating from Haywood Community College. He got to know Burlon Craig, the last in a long line of local potters, in the 1980s. Kim helped Burlon with firing his kiln and Burlon answered Kim’s many questions about making pottery, including finding local clay, making glazes and kiln-firing. Kim recommended finding your own clay if you can and suggested asking your neighbors what they know - “you’ll end up with an interesting story if nothing else.” He brought clay samples for us to see and feel. Kim talked about the glaze Catawba Valley Pottery is known for, which is made from ash, powdered glass and clay. (A substitute for glass would be a mix of half silica, half feldspar.)

Face jugs weren’t a part of the Catawba Valley Pottery tradition. Kim told us that Burlon started making them after a customer asked for one. Burlon asked what the customer would pay for a face and the customer said five bucks. (At the time, Burlon was selling his pots for five dollars per gallon - pricing by gallon was a common way of pricing pots.) So Burlon made one. A neighbor (and former potter) saw it and asked Burlon about it. The neighbor didn’t believe anyone would pay five bucks extra for a face. Burlon bet the neighbor that he would get the extra five bucks and, when he did, he got a bonus five bucks when the neighbor payed off the bet.

I am barely scratching the surface here - Kim told a bunch of stories, including one about Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach’s visit to Western North Carolina in the 1950s. I’m not going to write it all up here, but I will say: don’t miss a chance to hear Kim talk should you get it!

(One opportunity that's coming up soon is the Woodfire NC Conference that’s taking place this June. Kim is participating in the conference; you can read about that here: The conference will be preceded by a number of events across the state, including some in Western North Carolina - read more about that here:

Kim brought a number of Catawba Valley pots with him and encouraged all of us to touch them and handle them. He talked about how Catawba Valley pots are known for being very thinly turned and lighter than you would expect and this was definitely the case. It was really a treat getting to examine these pots.

Thanks again to Kim, Briana, Molly, Adam and everyone at West Union Art Studios - and to everyone who came!

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