Artisan Spotlight: Gauley River PotteryFebruary 11, 2016
If you want to take home a little piece of Southern WV, it’s captured perfectly in the stoneware at Gauley River Pottery.
“I find inspiration all over the place,” said Mary Bethune, partner and potter at the shop and studio. “I’m doing more nature-inspired pieces. Rock cliffs, and the gradients in their colors and formations. Some stuff is from water over rocks. West Virginia wildflowers, trees.”
Both of the studio’s signatures are inspired by the notorious Gauley River: uniquely layered Gauley Green glaze, and swirling whitewater wave bowls.
These colorful, creative works aren’t just unique and lovely, they’re durable. They’re designed for everyday use, so you can pop them in the microwave, dishwasher or oven.
Stop into the studio and, you will probably catch the craftsmanship in the making. At the back of the shop, there’s a studio, where Mary or her husband, John Ackison, are constantly creating. You can watch every step as they spin a hunk of clay into a functional, beautiful piece.
“If people come in with young kids, we give them clay to pinch around on,” Mary said. “It’s really hands-on for youngsters.”
Mary’s love of pottery and whitewater grew side-by-side, so it’s no wonder those two passions flow together so smoothly in her work. She discovered pottery at Marshall University, while exploring her interest in kayaking.
“It kind of snowballed when I was doing whitewater in the summer and pottery in winter,” she said. “Clay seems to have a natural spiral to it, like waves. They work well together. It’s just that tendency and fluency of clay to act like water.”
There are 2 designs for the bowls: the class III and the class VI. They each reflect a very different type of whitewater rapid. The Class III has 3 winding waves that loop around the edge, and splash down into the bowl with a winding spiral.
And the Class VI? Well, in whitewater world, a VI isn’t even commercially runnable, it’s so wild. So that design has more motion and curl to it, with 6 twisting waves that encircle the center.
Gauley Green Glaze
"Clay seems to have a natural spiral to it, like waves."
The Gauley also set the tones and movement of Gauley River Pottery’s signature glaze, which you’ll see on works of all sorts.
“It’s flowy, with greens and blues that flow down into white,” Mary said. “When I got started on my own, I made my own glazes. To get them to have more activity, I would layer them on top of each other. It’s beautiful, with lots of light to it.”
When she started selling Gauley Green at shows, it was always the first to go. She developed 4 shades, each one using the same glaze on different colors of clay.
Form + function
The wave inspiration goes beyond the signature styles. You can spot little twists and spins all over the shop. They draw from different characteristics of the rapids, too: some are dainty curls, some playful loops, some elegant spirals, some roaring ripples. The styles are dynamic.
And so are the pieces! You can find anything in ceramic at Gauley River Pottery: baking dishes, serveware, sugar holders, garlic roasters, quirky quark-nosed piggy banks, candle holders, figurines and more.
Something unique? Their chip ‘n’ dip canister has the dip bowl at the top, with an opening underneath to store all your chips.
A lot of the works still keep that natural touch: wrap-around wave vases, ripple-rimmed platters, vases that seem to blossom open. Some are shaped like gape-mouthed fish or crumpled leaves.
Take home your own little bit of the Gauley River’s beauty, and add a decorative (and useful) touch of what makes this place to memorable to your everyday.