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Lots of baby boomers have been collecting pottery for over 40 years now. We love it! In fact, we have loved it so much that some of our talented contemporaries were able to have very good careers making it for us.

Though we grew up surrounded by mass produced melamine, Pyrex casseroles, Japanese stoneware, and aluminum trays, by the 1970s, we were captivated by the handmade cup, bowl, or vase. We were lured into purchasing by arts and crafts festivals, the galleries, the gift shops. And we have some beautiful pieces that we’ve packed and moved numerous times over the years. The dilemma is what to buy now that our mantles and shelves are full because we pottery collectors just can’t stop – we can’t resist the beautiful glaze, the unique shape, even ­ or especially ­ the feel.

Jerry Chappelle at work.

Perspectives, the annual Georgia Pottery Invitational organized by the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation (OCAF), is bigger and better than ever with 7,500 pieces to choose from – what’s an addict to do? I sought advice from several of the local potters whose work will be in the sale.

Making A Living With Pottery

Jerry and Kathy Chappelle (ages 77, 73) have been throwing pots and launching apprentice careers for more than 40 years in the Athens area. Jerry originally came to Athens in 1970 to teach ceramics at UGA but by 1975 decided he wanted to make his living as a potter. He and Kathy bought an abandoned chicken farm in Oconee county and transformed it into Happy Valley Pottery.

Kathy had a business and accounting background, but she was also talented with clay. “Pottery has been good to us,” says Jerry. Once employing 16 people, the Chappelles were in 200 galleries around the country. They were among the first 300 potters chosen to be in the prestigious American Craft Council’s inaugural wholesale show in 1977.

A microwaveable bacon cooker by the Chappelles. It is their best selling piece.

Instrumental in founding OCAF in 1994, the Chappelles will have 175 pieces in this year’s Perspectives sale, a lot of it functional.

“Our bestseller is the microwavable bacon cooker,” says Kathy. “We borrowed the idea from a folk potter. Other practical pieces include chicken cookers for microwave or oven, stacking bowl condiment servers, salt and pepper sets, trays and bowls.

DeWitt Smith, 62, was a business major in 1973 at Valdosta State College but after taking an art class discovered he had a talent and a passion for it. After graduating with a bachelor of fine arts, he entered graduate school at UGA with the idea of teaching ceramics afterward.

DeWitt Smith making it happen.

DeWitt Smith making it happen.

Instead, he decided he would try to make it as a potter.

“I went to weekend art fairs and hated it,” he recalls. “Universities teach you the craft but they don’t teach you how to make a living.”

By the early 1980s, he was ready for a change, and his sister suggested he try the interior design industry. Beginning in 1984, he made huge pots for the design trade. “It was mercurial – interior designers constantly want something new.”

By 2008, the recession brought that stage of his career to a close. Now he has DeWitt Pottery in Watkinsville. He still makes pots, some as large as three feet and weighing a hundred pounds when wet, requiring him to wear a back brace to lift them off the wheel. The current pottery market, however, is more functional; art oriented only in big cities, he says.

DeWitt’s Perspectives collection will include square and rectangular trays, 20 oz. footed multi-purpose bowls for everything from soup to ice cream, some lidded casseroles and coffee cups.

Swapping Pets For Pots

Swapping pets for pots, Nancy Green, 60, traded her veterinarian career for that of a potter when she was 45. Always a collector, she began taking classes and found a calling.

“I wanted to make a living with pottery,” she explains, her two careers overlapping for a while. She sold her work locally for about eight years, then felt confident enough to apply and be accepted at nationally known and juried art festivals. In addition, she holds two big sales in June and December at her studio.

A completed sugar bowl and creamer by Nancy Green.

Her functional pottery includes stackable canisters, garlic keepers, salt cellars with spoons, even ceramic lamps. Her advice for older collectors: gift what you’re tired of and replace. Instagram: nancygreenceramics

Sheila Chrzan, a retired attorney and now potter, is lead organizer for the pottery sale. She says preparation takes all summer; potters deliver their wares by mid August, leaving two weeks for set­up.

For her own use, she is getting rid of her commercially made dinnerware and replacing it with handmade items.

“It’s fun to serve food in something different,” she says.

So now I have a plan. I want to see the Chappelle’s red glaze in person, one of DeWitt’s new glazes that he’s introducing at Perspectives, and Nancy’s soda ash surface treatments on her quiet, minimalist pieces. And, I’ll have my debit card handy because I’m pretty sure I need a bacon cooker, a tray or two, and for sure, a garlic keeper. I will not buy a vase, I will not!

Caring For Pottery

Kitchen care for handmade pottery

Dewitt Smith has some tips for using pottery in the kitchen. He says we’re so accustomed to using industrial ceramics, plastics and metal that we forget handmade items won’t take temperature shock or rapid temperature changes. Coffee mugs are the exception but pitchers, casseroles, and sometimes plates will crack when subjected to rapid or sudden temperature change. So, here are techniques that will help your functional pottery last for centuries!

Unfired pottery by Smith

When pouring boiling water into a pitcher, first fill it with hot tap water and let it sit until your water has boiled.

When preparing a casserole, again run hot water in the dish before pouring in stove­top prepared food. Always put a casserole into a cold oven, then turn on the heat.

DeWitt says, “beauty is the reason we make these vessels and that far outweighs any inconvenience.”

14th Annual Perspectives: Georgia Pottery Invitational

  • Overview: Aug. 27 – Sept. 14, 10 a.m. ­ 5 p.m.
  • Three Exhibitions & Gigantic Pottery Sale (7,500+ pieces) FREE
  • Opening Gala & Preview Sale: Aug. 26, 6 – 9 p.m., $20
  • Main Gallery: “Participating Potters: 2016”
  • (Two works from each of the 50 potters)
  • Members Gallery: “American Ceramic Masters,” curated by Rick Berman
  • Hall Gallery: “Atomic Clay”
  • Gallery Talks: Sundays, Sept. 3 & Sept. 10, 1 p.m. FREE
  • Pottery Demonstrations: Every Saturday, 1 – 4 p.m. FREE


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