It was another pottery weekend on the 28th and 29th of September. I spent a good chunk of Saturday and most of Sunday touring Michiana, gazing at pots, and rubbing elbows with some of the finest potters in all of Michigan and Indiana.
Day 1, Saturday
Mark Goertzen, Dick Lehman
On Saturday I drove up to Constantine, MI and arrived at the Goertzen residence a little before 11:00. I said hello to Dick Lehman and Mark Goertzen and walked around and looked at some of the pots that were already set up. Soon a crowd had gathered and it was time to start unloading the kiln.
Mark climbed into his kiln, Dante, and started handing out the first stack, the pots closest to the door. Everything was fantastic as usual. There were plenty of “oohs” and “ahhs” from the onlookers as they brought out pots one or two at a time. But I was really excited when he handed out my bowl and cup.
That’s right, I have now been part of a wood fire! I had been invited to go see the kiln loading and they let me put in a couple small things. I even made it back for a little while during the early stages of firing. I’ll have a more detailed post about it later. For now, you can see an article and gallery by Tyler Klassen.
I stuck around until the first stack was unloaded. They were going to unload the second stack later in the day but I had more stops to make on the tour.
Todd Pletcher, Eric Strader, Troy Bungart
After tearing myself away from all the glorious pots coming out of the wood kiln, I made my way to Todd Pletcher’s place. He had improved his parking options by opening up a bunch of space behind his studio. I walked into the display part of his studio and looked at some of his new pots. He had some soda fired pieces from a recent trip to Arrowmont.
He also had a small tent outside with more pots. A lot of nice wood fired work and some of his electric fired pots. He also had a couple decal mugs. One had a t-rex skeleton and the other had some Lord of the Rings imagery. It’s funny because I was planning to put a map of Middle Earth on some pots in the future because I love how my vase with the world map turned out. (Which reminds me, I have images of new pots I still haven’t put up here yet!)
After scoping out Todd’s stuff I made my way across the yard and talked to Troy Bungart for a while. We talked about selling pots, websites, Etsy, and some of his glazes and ribs. He throws mostly bowls and cups. He didn’t have a huge amount of pottery but I got the feeling that the process was more important than finishing a bunch of stuff to fill a booth. He’s more of a guy that throws 100 pots and keeps one. He’s also making pots mostly for himself. He has a full time job that pays the bills so he has the freedom to experiment, take his time, and make whatever he likes. An interesting thing to consider as I delve deeper into pottery as a source of income. He also explained some of the wood that he uses for his ribs. The bowl full of wooden pottery ribs covered almost the entire rainbow but he said that none of them were stained, they are all the natural wood color. He proceeded to rattle off names of all kinds of trees that I had never heard of. Amazing stuff.
Eric Strader also had a booth set up in the yard. I talked to him for a little bit about some of his pots. He had some nice looking logo mugs and cups. The logos were similar to the iron colored decals that I’ve been using but they were almost black. He explained that they were actually laser engraved into the piece when it was finished. It only works on his off-white glaze and it works out to a couple bucks per piece depending on the number of pieces he has with the same logo. I might have to explore this option in the future.
At some point I also met someone, I think related to Todd, that had seen me at the Middlebury Festival and said that I had done a good job.
Justin Rothshank, Keith Hershberger
After leaving Todd’s place I wound my way through the back roads to Justin Rothshank’s stop. Keith Hershberger was set up there again this year. I talked to Keith for a little bit about his pots. I liked the animal silhouettes that he had on some of his pieces. He said that he uses a black slip and cuts stencils from those plastic-y mailing envelopes (if I remember correctly). He also has some nice glazes.
I talked to Justin for a little while about some of his pots and his process. I was surprised when he said that he goes long stretches without throwing any pots. I think he said that it had been weeks since he was at his wheel. But if you consider how much time he spends applying decals and firing it makes sense. He said that a lot of his pots are fired 3 or 4 times when he adds layers of different kinds of decals. He showed me one mug that had been fired 6 or 7 times because he didn’t like it after the first decal firing so he re-glazed it and added more decals.
He also explained why he doesn’t mix glazes. He doesn’t have the space to store 50 lb. bags of powders and he HATES mixing glazes anyway. So he is happy using glazes from Standard or Amaco. He said that instead of getting cash for some mugs he made for Amaco, he got to try out some new colors that he wouldn’t normally buy. He had a couple mugs that were glazed with Saturation Gold which is pretty pricey but it looked pretty cool with some decals on it. I wish I could have stayed longer but my wife had to be somewhere and I wanted to stop in Goshen on the way back home.
Moey Hart, Zach Tate
I made a final stop at Studio 55 in Goshen. “Final” as in “last stop of the day” and unfortunately “last stop for the foreseeable future” because it would be closing after the weekend tour. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, Moey is looking for another job and couldn’t keep it open. I talked to him a little bit about it and his pots. He had a lot of wood fired pieces. He actually delivers wood to some of the wood fired kilns in the area so he has opened up some good connections that way. He also tried some different glazes in the wood fire and got some interesting results.
Moey introduced me to Zach Tate who is a professor at IUSB. He said that the art department rented space from the art museum but is currently working to move into buildings on campus. He does some sculptural work which was evident even in the bowls that I saw. He said he might also bring in a few more sculptures for Sunday. I guess I spaced out while I was there and didn’t take any photos…
All in all, it was a pretty good day. I feel pretty lucky to be in the middle of such a great community of clay artists. Moey said that the Michiana Pottery Tour is already one of the larger pottery tours in the country. I’m not exactly sure how they are measured but that is a pretty cool feat after only 2 years.
Maybe Next Time
I guess I spent too much time at the first three stops because I didn’t get to the Clay Artist’s Guild, Marvin Bartel’s, or Bill Kremer’s. I wasn’t really planning on making it to Bill Kremer’s only because it is the furthest away. I wanted to stop at the Guild because there is always a great variety of pottery and usually some potters that I know. Maybe next year I’ll try to hit them all! I ended up with a iron-red chalice cup from Mark, my two bowls and a free poster from Justin. Not bad, but I wish I could have bought something from everyone!
Day 2, Sunday
I received an email from Dick Lehman about 2 weeks before the tour asking if I’d be interested in helping out at he and Mark’s stop on the tour. Needless to say, I WAS!
Salesman in Training
I arrived a little before 11:00 and Dick walked me through the gameplan. He told me more about his pots and process. He wanted me to engage customers and tell them about the pots. I did my best but I still took a lot of mental notes from the master as I saw him interact with customers. I stayed in the tent most of the time which was awesome because I could inspect his work all day. I met Dick’s wife, Jo. She works at one of the Goshen elementary schools as a master teacher. I also met their nephew Jesse and his wife Bethany. I got to wear a Team Lehman uniform, a long sleeve red shirt with a picture of Dick on the front. It was fun meeting people and trying to explain the pots to them. I met a lot of creative people who worked with clay and a lot of pottery fans. It was a great event to be a part of.
Unloading the Rest
At about 1:00 everyone headed over to the kiln to unload the last stack. There was another good crowd and the guys pulled out some more amazing work. The back stack had mostly pots which were glazed before firing because not as much of the ash gets back to them. I think I liked these pots the best. There were still some awesome ash streaks and some really amazing work. I helped take the pots, show them to the crowd and carry them over to line up on the ground. Maybe next time I can get into a wood fire I’ll try some glaze.
Talking to Potters
Throughout the day I had some good conversations with the potters and other people. I talked to Royce for a while. He is working for Mark at the Old Bag Factory studio. He had some really cool face mugs in the wood fire that turned out great. He said that he is really lucky to be working with Mark. He gets to make some of his own stuff and it’s great having all the resources available to him. He works a standard 40 hour week and throws pots, mixes glazes and fires the gas kiln. He’s getting pretty efficient on the wheel but he says Mark is still way ahead of him in the pots per minute stats. Someday he hopes to make crazy huge things out of clay.
I overheard Mark explaining some of his techniques to some curious customers. Some of his large serving bowls have a textured area around the handles. He said he makes stamps out of all kinds of stuff, even sneakers with interesting patterns. He also told how he alters the rim on some of his bowls. He cuts three sections of the rim (in a triangle shape if you’re looking directly overhead). Then he moves the cup pieces down slightly and re-attaches them. I didn’t get a picture of one but it would make more sense if you could see the bowl.
As usual, I gained a lot of insight from Dick as well. I was most interested in his wall vases. He said that homes in Japan often have very little furniture to set things on. So they have vases that hang on the wall, sometimes on a post or in an alcove. He said he imported the little metal hooks from Japan because no one made them in the states. He had a variety of shapes, wheel thrown and extruded.
He also explained some about the wood fire process and which glazes were used. He used a chun glaze on some of his pots which is a white-ish glaze. The authentic Chun glazes involve rice somehow but I can’t remember exactly what he said. They also used a high iron glaze which turned a nice reddish brown and contrasted well with the ash drips. He also explained a little about the atmosphere in the kiln. Some parts are cooler and the front stack gets the most heat. There’s also a spot in the back that is high risk/reward because you never know what might happen. Pretty interesting stuff.
I spent most of Sunday at the Goertzen residence but there was a steady stream of people and the day moved pretty quickly. There were also some tasty treats and great conversation. I would have been content with that but I also got to pick out some of Dick’s pottery as well. I had been studying it all weekend but that didn’t make it much easier when it was actually time to grab something. There are just so many great pieces! I ended up picking out two bowls and two cups which covered a variety of glazes and forms.
So it was a pretty good weekend, especially for a pottery nerd like myself. I can’t wait until next year! Stay tuned for some more images from the wood fire process and some recent finished pots. Thanks for reading.