Potter

  • Contemporary artistCelebrating the American Landscape

A Visit to the Studio of Russell and Ann Jones, Eastern Shore Potters

August 14, 2015
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When you meet Ann and Russell Jones you are immediately drawn in by their enthusiasm, playful spirits, and love of artistic pursuits.  In this interview they discuss how they found their way to pottery, sharing studio space, and their upcoming exhibit.

Russel and Annie Jones in their ceramic studio.

Russel and Annie Jones in their ceramic studio.

Why did you choose ceramics and what is the most challenging (and best) part of working in your medium?

Russ: Throughout our marriage of 43 years we have admired and collected decorative pottery. Our exploration of various art forms has taken us throughout the U.S. and inevitably included at least one if not more trips to someone’s pottery studio.

Many years ago we thought we might be able to convert an old barn on our property to an art gallery and studio space. Although that venture didn’t come to fruition, during that time, we learned a great deal about the vast differences and variety of art mediums. I was interested in exploring pottery and Ann expanding into fiber arts, hand work and sewing which had been a hobby of hers for some time.

Ann: Discovering Seagrove, North Carolina over 20 years ago was perhaps a turning point for Russ. He’d taken other opportunities to watch pottery demonstrations but in Seagrove the potters had their studios and kilns adjacent to their homes. In 2006 after we retired Russ had the opportunity to take a class with Elizabeth Hunt, an amazing ceramic artist who lives in our town. The challenge was the frustration in the once-a-week scheduling of classes. It was difficult to keep the momentum going in the learning process with that schedule. At the time we were renovating our home in Onancock and decided to add a “project room” — now studio for each of us. My sewing machines have been safely tucked away after I also started working in clay almost two years ago. Once again, we find ourselves working together as we did for many years in business. Now, however, we simply walk out our back door and explore new and fun things about clay.

How does living on the Eastern Shore influence your art?

Ann: The Eastern Shore of Virginia has some wonderfully talented artists as well as several art organizations that promote their members. We have been supporting members of the Artisans Guild for some time. A number of years ago Russ’s work was juried into the Guild. The Eastern Shore Art League Gallery was the first to show and sell his pottery. Now both the Red Queen Gallery in Onancock and the Ellen Moore Gallery in Cape Charles carry both of our work.

This year the Artisans Center of Virginia helped to organize an Artisans Trail Network on the Eastern Shore. The kick off for the Trail will happen this year and will include the largest number of trail sites to date.  Since Russ is a juried member, our studio is a site on the Trail.

What does having a physical space to make art mean to your process?  Describe your studio space and how, if at all, it affects your work? How do you make your space work for you?

Russ: When we decided to change the plans for the renovation of our home to include our studio, it was more of a way to give us the luxury of having our own spaces rather than of necessity.  However, it has proven to be the best means by which we can explore pottery. The ease of having the space directly out our back door is invaluable. The wheel and kiln are in one room, a table for slab work in the next. It’s truly not an issue to work on something at anytime necessary. We have come to the point that we can “multi task” home chores while waiting long enough for something to dry so it can be trimmed out a slab to cut. Laundry and yard work certainly gets done in a more timely fashion!

 

Ceramics in the kiln.

Ceramics in the kiln.

Describe your working routine.

Ann: We find our work routine to be not as structured as it might be. However, this winter Russ organized a number of workshops with some other potters in Onancock. We explored surface treatments with slips and stains, spraying, and an especially fun barrel firing. This kept us a bit more structured. Now the summer demands have started and we find we are working more. Recently we’ve been in the studios each day. Russ usually works in the mornings and I head out to the studio in the afternoons.

What personal narratives are related to the work? What inspires you?

Russ: I named my studio Useful Pots and that says it all about my work. Functional bowls and dishes are the bulk of what is created on my wheel. For the most part, my pieces are named to denote their purpose. Munch Buckets and Pails are bowls with handles so that you can carry your snacks and drink outside with one hand. Batter Bowls have a handle to make pouring easy and Walk-Abouts are bowls with a handle that make hot foods easy to handle on the move.  Recently, I’ve expanded my repertoire to include pedestal pieces and free-form dishes.

Russ's works in process

Russ’s works in process

When Ann decided to try making pots she quickly transitioned from the wheel to slab work. Her background in sewing and crafts formed the basis for understanding some of the construction techniques. Her pieces have a function but are rarely plain. Texture and decoration of some kind are on incorporated into each piece. Boxes are a favorite-each one different and distinct. Because she enjoys flowers and baking, vases and casseroles regularly come off her work table.

Ann's works in process

Ann’s works in process

The two forms compliment each other. We now call the studio Useful Pots – by famous unknown potters. We enjoy trading ideas and encouraging each other to try new techniques and designs.

How do you navigate the art world?

Ann: Since the business we sold in 2005 was a technology based firm with no link to the art world at all, navigating the art world is a rather new experience for us. Certainly the aforementioned Artisans Guild and Art League have been more than helpful locally as have the galleries that carry our work. In addition, we have attended a number of classes at the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC. Taught by potters whose work we admire and often discovered in books and online, exposure to this level of craftsmanship is inspiring.

Is there something you are currently working on that you are excited about that you can tell us about?

Russ: We’ve been talking about collaborating on a few things. I’d like to make some bowls and have Ann “dress them up.” Recently Ann has been taking a class with Elizabeth Hunt in slab, coil and pinch pots. As a result, there are new ideas each week after class. Stay tuned!

What’s next? Are you involved in any upcoming shows, workshops? When and where?

Ann: We will be the featured artists at the Red Queen Gallery in Onancock for the Art Walk, 2nd Friday on August 14, 2015. In addition, each year the Artisans Guild sponsors a two day show on the weekend following Thanksgiving and this year our studios will be a featured site for that tour. Of course we are also very excited about the launch of the new Virginia’s Eastern Shore Artisans Trail. You can follow the progress of the launch at www.artisanscenterofvirginia.org.

What advice would you give other artists?

Russ: Just like Simon Leach says — “keep practicing!”

What are you currently reading, listening to or looking at which fuels your work?

Russ: We constantly refer to books we’ve accumulated. One Ann has recently gotten that has lots of great tips on slab building is From a Slab of Clay by Daryl E. Baird. Ceramic Arts Daily. Ceramic Arts Daily also is a great resource and has an endless stream of videos and books from which to choose.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Ann: Pottery is a relatively new part of our lives. We feel like it’s something we can do and continue to explore for many years. We love visitors and love to talk about the fun we are having in the studio. Please visit us at Useful Pots or come by to see us sometime in Onancock.

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Interview with Lee Wolfe Asheville Potter Extraordinaire

April 27, 2015
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As a painter I am drawn to Lee Wolfe’s colorful and delicious ceramics. She has been wildly successful in selling her pottery exclusively online. I am pleased that she has taken time from her busy schedule for this interview.

Lee Wolfe Asheville NC Potter

Lee Wolfe Asheville NC Potter

Lee has been a studio potter for 35 years. Her ceramic work emerges from the organic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains where she lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Lee’s work is vibrant, unusual and exploratory with voluptuous forms and woodland creatures. She creates beautiful, original functional stoneware pottery dinnerware, serving and home décor pieces. After all these years, her greatest joy is to enter her studio with a head full of new ideas.

Arabesque serving bowl by Lee Wolfe

Arabesque Serving Bowl by Lee Wolfe

Why did you choose ceramics?

Lee: I came to pottery making the way good friends come into your life; you begin a conversation that never seems to end. There is always something more you could say. As the years go by, the relationship deepens until it’s an integral part of who you are. But there was no moment when I chose to be a potter as a lifelong career. I just started and didn’t quit.

At first it was a hobby I pursued while teaching middle school in upstate NY. The school had a ceramic studio in which I made sculptural pottery in my spare time, storing pieces in the teacher’s lounge. Other teachers asked to buy pieces, and then their friends asked, and then one week I made more money not trying to sell my work than I’d made from my paycheck.

What is the most challenging (and best) part of working in your medium?

Lee: The best part of my work is that most of it happens in a state of flow (“Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) or optimal experience. I’ve had to reject 90% of the wisdom people offer about how to manage a profitable business because I’ve made keeping the experience of flow my number one priority, not to be sacrificed for profit or prestige. That’s really just a high minded way of saying what most potters say: “I just wanna make pots.”

The most challenging part is the high level of chemistry required to formulate and fire functional pottery and achieve the aesthetic appeal of your inner vision. My prototypes are in development for literally years, struggling to get the look I want along with something that functions as intended and is also food safe and durable.

Arabesque dinnerware place setting by Lee Wolfe

Arabesque Dinnerware Place Setting by Lee Wolfe

How does living in Asheville influence your art?

Lee: The sheer number of galleries was a vital support for me before I sold online. And the creative culture, pervasive throughout the city and surrounding area, is warm and welcoming. But most of all, the mountains and woodland creatures infuse my work with totemic symbolism.

What inspires you?

Lee: I’m driven by a discontent and rebellion against those soulless objects manufactured in oppressive working environments for corporate profit with which we are supposed to serve lovingly prepared food, create and celebrate meaningful family traditions, and gift to people we love. I love pushing the boundaries of my own skills and imagination as a designer and maker. Since the words “handmade” and “artisan” have been co-opted by industrial manufacturers, I enjoy the quirks in shape and glaze that could not be easily copied and reproduced in molds.

What are you working on in the studio right now?

Lee: My newest series is Arabesque, thrown vessels altered into a quatrafoil shape. I’m exploring the way nesting bowls of this shape radiate in arrows outward, and the way they create interesting negative shapes in side by side placement.

Neon Sea Nesting Bowl Set by Lee Wolfe

Neon Sea Nesting Bowl Set by Lee Wolfe

What advice would you give other artists?

Lee: I’d like to advise older artists and artisans to seriously investigate the new frontier of online art sales. I’ve found an unprecedented freedom in being able to design, make and list for sale what I want in the present without line sheets, gallery buyers, or someone else’s perception of  deserving.

I would advise young and emerging artists to use the freedom to market trough social media and e-commerce sites with wild abandon.

Thank you Lee!

Follow Lee on Instagram to view more of her work, read her poetic writings about life, her process and finished pottery, and to stay current on here restock dates.

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