Earth and fire: SWV’s handmade potteryFebruary 23, 2018
Made from earth and crafted by hand, pottery has undeniable appeal. It’s a popular art form in West Virginia, too. Visit our region and see where those clay wheels are turning!
It used to be a general store. Now the clapboard building is a studio: Gauley River Pottery. Created by potters Mary Bethune and JohnAckison, it’s a one-stop shop for ceramics that are not only appealing, but also functional.
Deciding which piece to take home isn’t easy. The husband-and-wife team make virtually everything your kitchen needs! There are bowls for batter, cereal, and berries; plates for meals and appetizers; and handy chip n’ dip canisters— just to name a few examples. You can even get garlic roasters and honey pots.
What’s more, Bethune and Ackison are whitewater aficionados. They’re also captivated by local rivers and scenery— themes that appear throughout the studio. Case in point: the “Class III” and “Class VI” bowls. Both refer to types of rapids; the higher the number, the more challenging they are to ride. At any rate, there’s no denying that their swirling, uneven rims suggest powerful currents. Take one home, and you have a fantastic souvenir of the Gauley River!
Bethune and Ackison name glazes after local surroundings, too. “Gauley Green,” their signature paint, swirls with turquoise and olive green. A darker version with deep brown is available as well. Other symbolic paint combinations include “New River Nights” and “Cranberry Mountain Sunset.”
These ceramics aren’t just pretty lookers, either. Unlike your grandma’s china, they can handle reasonable abuse in the kitchen. Go ahead and stick ‘em in the oven and dishwasher. They’re tough enough for the microwave, too.
West Virginians are creative and resourceful. Just take a look at award-winning artist Jeff Diehl; with the help of his wife and neighbors, he turned a neglected schoolhouse into a studio. That was in 1980. Lockbridge Pottery now has kilns, studio spaces, and bright, well-lit living areas.
What’s more, Diehl is a rare type of artist. Cultured and well travelled, he pulls from a variety of influences: ancient China, nature, even music. In fact, his “acoustic pottery” is unlike anything else. Using crystalline glazes, he gets unique patterns that form in response to music. Sometimes you can buy plates inspired by the vibrations of Mozart or Michael Jackson!
Diehl’s delicate touch doesn’t stop there. He’s one of the few artists in America who practices the rare art of German salt firing. It’s a technique that yields distinctive “orange peel” patterns; Diehl learned the skill after apprenticing in Germany. He’s also studied and taught in many foreign countries.
All that work has paid off. Pieces from Lockbridge Pottery have appeared in the Smithsonian as well as Charleston’s Cultural Center. Diehl has also earned multiple prizes, including the 2016 West Virginia Governor’s Award for the Arts.
Intrigued? Lockbridge Pottery is a welcoming (and fascinating) place to visit. Diehl has shows throughout the year. You can also call and make an appointment. It’s hard to leave without one of his lovely pitchers, vases, dinnerware, teapots, or bird houses.
One-stop shopping is rarely this good. Tamarack, a large art center, showcases West Virginia creativity in all its forms. Everything is curated, so quality is high. The ceramics section is especially tempting. There are shelves of bowls, mugs, butter dishes, and kitchenware, all made by the state’s best potters. Most pieces are hardy enough for daily use, too— including runs through the dishwasher, oven, and microwave.
The Pottery Place
The next best thing to collecting ceramics is painting your own. Feeling the creative itch? The Pottery Place has more than 300 bisque pieces you can paint. Sit down with a friend and color the afternoon away! You won’t be charged per hour, either. Just pay for the pottery and get started. Staff can help you with paint, stencils, and equipment.
When you’re finished, The Pottery Place will fire your creation in the kiln. It’s a process that takes about a week to complete. Don’t live in the area? No problem! They can ship your piece home.
Where do you like to get local pottery?