POTTERY PEOPLE AND THE ALMIGHTY MUG – Jessie Stolzman – Guest Blogger
POTTERY PEOPLE AND THE ALMIGHTY MUG
My cupboards are filled with stories. I am reminded every morning of the people and places that fill my cupboards and hold my coffee. Yes, there is something to be said about matching dishware but in my life I have found that my mugs hold extra meaning for me when they are handmade, hand-thrown and hand-glazed by an independent artist. My cupboards contain a functional art collection, holding stories that bring a smile to my face.
One morning as I looked over my cupboard shelves, in search of that day’s mug, I realized that perhaps the mug I am drawn to is a hint to my mood each day. For instance, this week I find myself using and re-using my Clays in Calico Mug. It is a medium-sized, odd-shaped little slip mug created in Cardwell, Montana. Two years ago, I decided to go on an adventure with my then-four-year-old niece, Jessie. We decided to go for a drive from Butte to Bozeman via the back roads that take us along the Madison and Jefferson rivers. As we sang to the radio and were sight-seeing we slowed down for the little town of Cardwell.
“Hey Jess,” I said, “have you ever been to the Clays in Calico studio?”
“No,” she says, “should we go in?”
“Let’s do it.” The little A-frame studio is quiet with only a cat to greet us for the first minute or two as we check out the swirled pottery. Jessie was thrilled to have the house cat show us around. Soon the store owner appeared and started to fill us in on the history of Clays in Calico and how it is unique to Montana in that all the elements for the clays are naturally occurring right there in Cardwell. Being a “Mug” person I picked out a goblet for myself and Jessie picked out a few ornaments for herself and her brother who couldn’t make it since he was in school. Jessie said goodbye to the house cat with a hug and we headed to the river and on to Bozeman for lunch. Now, every time I use my handle-less Calico mug I think of a warm sunny afternoon in Montana with my four year old niece.
While living in Sandpoint, Idaho I had a close group of girlfriends. We would get together often to cook dinner, drink wine, and catch up on each other’s lives. I was the only non-mountain biker in the group and I would watch as the ladies took off for Moab, Utah, for one week every spring. For two years in a row, they would come back from the week in the sunshine and red rocks with stories of the biking, camping, and cute cafes. They would bring me a hand-thrown mug with the name of one of the cafes stamped onto it. Every time I drank out of one of these mugs I would think of my girlfriends and imagine the places they described. On the third year of this annual trip, Laura turned forty. Her wish for her fortieth birthday was for all of us to make the trip together. She said I would love the area for the scenery, hiking trails, photo opportunities, painting inspiration and, of course, camping with some of my favorite people in the world. And so we went to Moab and I loved every minute of it, even when my tent took flight and had to be tackled by neighboring campers. Now, when I drink out of my red rocks mugs, I have new memories to associate with them as well as thinking of the friends who brought them to me.
The majority of my pottery is by one artist who has a studio by the lake in Sandpoint, Idaho. I discovered Diane through my mother. Mom was visiting me in Sandpoint. We wandered through shops on First Avenue. Mom was drawn to a large serving bowl at the local Artists’ Co-op. Picking it up, she exclaimed how wonderfully it was crafted. How can a bowl this size be so light? This bowl became my mother’s favorite serving piece and when Christmas came around I went back to the Co-Op to find another. I was disappointed to discover Diane’s pottery was no longer there. After doing a little digging I discovered Diane had a studio on Sunnyside Road.
“May I come to your studio to buy pottery?” I asked the artist over the phone.
“Of course, come on out,” said the friendly voice on the other end of the line. A beautiful drive along Lake Pend Oreille led me to Sunnyside Studio where two dogs came out to greet me and lead the way to Diane’s studio. Diane and I learned we have a lot in common and became fast friends.
Not only do I collect Sunnyside Pottery, but I have given her pottery as gifts to almost everyone I know. With pottery that is so skillfully crafted and beautiful you can’t help but want to share it. Being a painter, not a potter, I truly appreciate the skill involved with hand-thrown pottery. Since moving to Minnesota, I have opened an art supply and gallery where I sell Diane’s work and love to introduce new people to her artwork. I can always tell another “pottery person” by the way they are drawn to her mugs.
Sometimes a mug finds its way to me through interesting routes. A former co-worker back in Sandpoint had recently gotten married and made the bold move to live off the grid, way up in the mountains. The previous owner of this house had tired of off-grid living and walked out, leaving the entire contents of his pantry. Mel, having a thoughtful heart, divided up the leftover belongings amongst us working in the photo studio. For me, she produced two small mugs with saucers. They were a subtle earth-tone green with sand-brown trim and a distinctly speckled clay. If there is anything I like better than a mug it is a mug that has a matching saucer. I don’t know if Mel really understood how happy she made me. Shortly after receiving my mugs I came across an article in Sunset Magazine about the revival of Heath Pottery. I know that signature, I thought, this is where my mugs came from. These were early Heath Mugs. I was happy to know about the Heath history and cut out a photo of potter Edith Heath as an representation of inspired living.
When a friend of mine was brought to Sausalito, California, for a job I told him about the Heath studios located there and urged him to visit them and tell me all about it. Not only did he tour Heath but that year, on my birthday, I received a beautiful package with two amazing mugs inside. They now live in my cupboard, beside the originals, to remind me that the world is small and filled with talent, passion, and great connections.
Every mug in my cupboards has a story and a person behind each piece. I could introduce you to my cupboard but it would take an afternoon and a lot of coffee. When I hear people say they don’t have room for any more mugs, I think, that’s like saying you don’t have room for more friends and adventures. Bring on the mugs, I’ll find the space!
405 Front St W
Walker, MN 56484-1116