Maria Dondero makes pots and teaches in Athens, Georgia where she lives with her husband and twin boys. She received her MFA from the University of Georgia in 2008 and has worked as a studio potter and professor ever since. In February 2016, Dondero started Southern Star Studio, a community ceramic center with space for artists to work and present their ceramics in the gallery. Her own work, marmalade pottery, focuses on kickwheel thrown functional pieces to be used everyday. Each piece is unique, with its own story to bring to your home. The pots are intended to be used daily, hopefully bringing a moment of lightness to one’s generally hectic life. The mid-range earthenware pots have an aesthetic that draws on the history of ceramics. While subtly referencing pottery traditions from around the world, Maria intuitively sketches images on her ceramic surfaces from her surroundings, grounding the pots in the Georgia soil. She is represented by galleries across the country, and exhibits her work nationally and internationally.
After graduating college in 1994, I moved to rural Bryson City, North Carolina, where my husband Mike worked for the Park Service, and I began to discover the rich regional history of ceramics and how that's been applied in a contemporary way. I came to Asheville for a residency at Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts, and started working and learning with some of the best potters in the country. I've been a working potter for 20 years and teacher for nearly 20 years, and even though we've left the special Western North Carolina area, my heart and commitment to fine craft and teaching remain.
Although I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, as a child I spent every possible moment in the country exploring the woods and playing in creeks. The earthy tones and minimalism of my functional pots reflect the nature that surrounded me as a child. I gravitate towards a pot that is casual, quiet, and appears to have grown right out of the spot it sits. My aesthetic falls into a minimalist category, less is more for me. I am drawn to and hope to create pots that have an organic and natural quality to them. These are the pots that pull me in. Their irregularities give these pots a personality not unlike our own physical presence. I juxtapose minimalism, simple clean lines, designs that are unadorned but have a strong presence with aspects that are loose, organic, and casual.
My stoneware ceramic work is treadle wheel thrown, and then modified with hand built components. Surface treatments are natural ash or soda, slips, and applied glaze. My work is fired in either a wood or soda kiln.
Though my parents were both South Carolinians, I was born in Rochester, MN in 1971. Before I was three, we had relocated to Wilmington, NC and then moved to Charleston, SC in 1980, where I stayed until graduating high school. I enjoyed painting and drawing as a child, but wasn’t properly introduced to clay until I was in college. After my first pottery class, I changed my major to Art and two years later graduated with honors from Earlham College in Richmond, IN. I wanted to continue developing my skills and learn how to make a living making pottery, so I arranged two consecutive apprenticeships. I worked for Todd Piker in Cornwall Bridge, CT from 1994 to 1997, and worked another six months for Mark Hewitt in 1997. In 1998 I built the pottery and kilns in Leicester’s Big Sandy Mush Valley, just outside Asheville in western North Carolina. I have worked here continuously since then, hosting two “Kiln Openings” each year. It has been my pleasure to work with eight apprentices of my own here over the years.
I have been a member of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild since 2000. I have exhibited at the Catawba Valley Pottery Festival for fifteen years and have been included in the Potters’ Market Invitational at the Mint Museum for eleven consecutive years. My work has been featured in magazines: Travel and Leisure; Ceramics Monthly; Garden and Gun and WNC Magazine as well as in books: Making a Living in Crafts, by Donald Clark; and North Carolina Pottery: The Collection of the Mint Museums, by Dr. Barbara Perry. My work has been featured in exhibitions at the North Carolina Pottery Center in Seagrove, NC, and Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville, NC. I also have several pots in the permanent collection at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC; in the Asheville Art Museum; and the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, NM. I have taught classes at Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts, and I have lectured for the Mint Museum’s Delhom Service League, for the Hendersonville Public Library, for the Asheville Buncombe County Geological Society, and for the North Carolina Pottery Collectors Guild in Raleigh.
In 2011 I began a blog critique of Garth Clark’s writings and presentations on my
website that received a lot of attention. As an extension of the dialogue I established with Clark, I collaborated with the Mint Museum to organize a symposium entitled “Back to the Future of Traditional Pottery.” This event featured Garth Clark, Charlotte Brown Wainwright, Mark Hewitt and me. I also arranged two other speaking engagements for Clark: a lecture at NC State and a panel discussion at UNC-Asheville. Furthermore, I had the pleasure of introducing Garth Clark to potters all over the state of North Carolina and opening his eyes to our region’s heritage and thriving market. I was invited to Santa Fe a couple years later to re-hash the conversation at the Museum of International Folk Art during their exhibition “Pottery of the US South: A Living Tradition.”
In 2013, I had a solo exhibition in the NC Arboretum’s 4000 square foot gallery in Asheville, featuring nearly 100 objects. I seized the opportunity to raise some money from customers and wrote and published a book as a companion piece, Endurance: Potting in the Twenty-first Century.
It can be difficult to make a living as a potter, but North Carolinians take the craft seriously, and I count myself fortunate to have an audience. It is a great privilege to live in an area where farmland meets woodland in the mountains of western North Carolina, and being a part of this landscape and its ecology is a source of inspiration to work each day.
Hona Leigh Knudsen
Hona Leigh Knudsen moved to Floyd Virginia In 2009 to begin a 3 year apprenticeship with renowned 16 Hands potters Richard Hensley and Donna Polseno. She now lives in Copper Hill, Virginia as a studio potter. She is currently a member of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild, the Blue Ridge Potters Guild, Round the Mountain, and 16 Hands. Hona’s work is wheel thrown porcelain pottery that is fired to cone 10 in a gas reduction kiln. Each piece is intended for use in the home and kitchen. Her influences are both traditional and contemporary, with a strong influence from Asian pottery in her forms as well as her glazes.
I make work that is utilitarian in nature. I am drawn to wood fired pots and the wood kilns ability to imprint the story of the firing process upon the pots themselves. The appearance of withstanding the test of time with dignity and grace are qualities I try to capture with my pots.
During my junior year of college, while getting a BFA in painting, I took a ceramics class. Needless to say, I fell in love with clay. When looking at a book on World Ceramics, I remember so clearly pointing to some pots and telling my professor that these were the type of pots that I wanted to make. Of course, these were Japanese pots. I was drawn to the quiet yet powerful surfaces, the subtle strong brush marks and the beautiful forms which let the beauty of the clay show through. What I know now, that I had no idea of at the time, is that those pots were inspired by the textures and the symmetry found in the natural world around them. I live and work in the beautiful mountains of western NC. My aim as a functional potter is to make pots that honor the rich traditions of the past, while hopefully adding to them. My pottery is wheel thrown, textured and altered directly on the wheel in an attempt to create strong, quiet, lively organic forms. The textures I use are drawn from natural objects and the landscape around me. I aspire to integrate those forms and textures found in nature with the unpredictability of the firing. I fire in an atmospheric kiln using salt and soda which allows me to influence the work during the firing which directly influences the final outcome.
I would definitely say that I am a fusion of many different influences, but there is no denying that my primary influence has been Japanese and Korean pottery. They are my “go to” pots. Their quiet, timeless qualities continue to inspire and challenge me just the way they did 30 years ago
My pots reflect the fascination I have for the process of throwing, altering, embellishing and using clay. I enjoy creating each piece with it’s own unique character and personality, whether I change a spout, foot, rim, glaze color or decorative element. My pieces are wheel thrown and altered in some way. The clay body that I primarily work with is porcelain because it adapts well to the richness of color that I achieve from my glazes and stains. Texture is also an important element in my work and for this I enjoy etching into the surface and attaching small sprigs to my pots. All these techniques are inspired from fabric patterns.
The utilitarian pieces I create each have an intended use as well as a visual pleasure for the surface it occupies The decorative elements, glaze colors and forms spring from my love of Art Nouvou, Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movements. The endless possibilities I discover each time I begin a new set of work keep clay new and interesting for me. I enjoy reinventing items I have made in the past and learn a great deal from using my own pottery every day.
I graduated with an MFA in ceramics from East Carolina in 1999. I have taught adults, college students and am currently teaching part time lower school art at my children’s school. I make my home in Gastonia North Carolina with my husband, son and twin daughters.
My work is a union of pattern, repetition, and tactile surface treatment that is stimulating to the touch. Texturing my pieces allows me to experiment with line quality, rhythm, and movement. My pots incorporate objects and imagery found in nature, which have personal value to me.
I am motivated by floral patterns I would find in my childhood homes. My family lived a very transient life; we would move to a new town every couple of years. With my environment con- stantly changing, it was easy for me to see the little consistencies, like the floral wallpaper bor- ders that ran along the ceilings around every new house we moved into. Whether it be wallpa- per, curtains, or dinning room linen napkins that my mother insisted we use every meal, the repetitive floral design on these items have made its way into the earliest memories of my life.
I believe that the social and communal aspects of functional pottery are significant. The shape, design, and function of a pot inform its surroundings; it is able to turn a social gathering into a ceremonial setting. My intention is to create pots that beg to be held and used in a setting that brings people together in conversation and fellowship. I want those who experience my work to touch, hold, explore, and most importantly, find a personal use for the work.
Ben Owen III
Ben Owen III (b. 1968) is an American studio potter working in Seagrove, North Carolina. Born into a traditional pottery family, he was first introduced to clay by his grandfather when he was eight years old. Ben’s natural talent and unusual level of interest led to an apprenticeship with his grandfather and father at age 13. Through high school, he carefully studied the shapes, glazes, and traditions of the Owen aesthetic and learned to appreciate the history and legacy of generations of craft.
During time at Pfeiffer University and East Carolina, Ben’s interest in form, design, and color piqued and he began to forge his own unique path in clay. Through technical exploration and academic influences, Ben’s clay vernacular began to evolve. Travels in the United States attending workshops and conferences along with a fellowship in Japan, extended his continued research. He has said, “My approach to working in clay is inspired by many influences. Tradition and vision merge to forge the future, as I honor the historic Owen aesthetic while creating a new, unique body of work. Culture, blended with influences in nature, inspires my work. With studies in China, Japan, Australia and Europe, as well as in the university setting, I have continued to create a unique identity from culture and nature.”
Ben’s recent passions have included glaze creation and experimentation. “For some pots, I use a four-chambered wood kiln with a firing process of up to four days. The prolonged exposure to ash and heat develops a wide range of color and texture on the clay. Other glaze techniques have evolved in a gas or electric kiln with a precision in temperature control to manipulate the finish. Some pieces are re-fired to develop layers and depth on the finish.”
Works created by Owen are included in numerous museum collections including the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, The International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, The Schein-Joseph International Museum of Art in Alfred, New York, and The Mint Museum of Craft and Design in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Over the past two decades, Ben has worked with designers and collectors to create custom pottery to be installed in a series of premier hotels and public spaces including the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, North Carolina; the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts, and Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah. Many of these vessels are large in scale and carefully designed to enhance the magnificent and unique interior of each location.
Owen has received many awards and honors, including recognition as a North Carolina Living Treasure in 2004 and induction into the North Caroliniana Society. He has been a member of the American Craft Council since 1993.
I experience an elemental satisfaction when working with my hands; manipulating and mastering a material and technique through repetition and problem-solving. I work with clay, which is at once durable and fragile, to reinforce the nature of memory and give it form.
My constant quest for beauty involves both formal and existential inquires. The labor and meditation I experience in the making process is intended to impact the interpretation of my work. A seasonal change, a fleeting encounter with wildlife, or a particular man-made structure on the landscape cause me pause; a brief and spiritual moment that reminds me of my humanness, my senses and surroundings.
Emily Reason grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She received her MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and her BFA from West Virginia University. She has been making pots in western North Carolina for twelve years and she is the author of Ceramics for Beginners: Wheel Throwing. Emily now teaches Ceramics in the Professional Crafts Program at Haywood Community College. She lives in Canton, NC with her husband and young daughter.
Matt’s exposure to art, design and ceramics started early, learning from his father about making pots. Matt earned his BFA in Ceramics from Penn State and then went on to receive his MFA from Indiana University in 2003. He has worked for Santa Fe Clay as the studio director and taught ceramics at Indiana University and the University of New Mexico. He was a resident at Pocosin Arts in 2015 and is currently a long term resident at the Penland School of Crafts.
Michael and Ruth Rutkowsky
Husband and wife potters, we share the studio Michael built. Together, we utilize the same materials for making reduction fired stoneware pottery. Michael, a studio potter for 40 years and Ruth for nearly 30, we have enjoyed ‘sharing our creative space’ since 2011 in Burnsville, NC.
I make a wide array of pottery forms that are both functional and decorative. My pots are an expression of my love for the process and medium of clay, slips, and glazes; all of which I have formulated and continue to make from the raw materials. Firing to cone 10 reduction, the outcome is never 100% predictable, which I find very exciting and rewarding. Mine is a non self-conscious approach to art using simple tools and materials; spontaneously allowing the ongoing process of the work to suggest its own variations, and encouraging a more intuitive approach to creativity.
I am a potter and sculptor (both), and my work often combines the two. My functional pottery forms serve to ‘round out’ the rather large inventory of pottery Michael makes perhaps brining a playful touch to the collective body as a whole. I use slip trailing, sgraffito carving, and wax resist often emulating folk-art patterns of my European ancestors. I also enjoy making commemorative pieces and invite custom orders. Sculpture, for me, provides a doorway to my creative expression; an indulgence I allow myself in search of my voice as an artist. My forms are both animal and human. Sometimes they are polymorphic, sometimes mythical. My sculpture can be used on the table top or wall, in the home or garden.
The physical and creative nature of working with clay satisfies my desire to play, construct, experiment, and to get dirty. Patterns in textiles, architecture, nature and quilting inspire me to create works that invite touch and evoke a sense of nostalgic comfort. Early in the construction process, clay is soft and pliable; I enjoy building pieces that reflect these properties even after the clay has become hard from firing. I often make pieces with the intention of showing them in a grouping. Much like people, each piece interacts with another, creating a rhythmic conversation by leaning or even touching.
Takuro and Hitomi Shibata
Studio Touya is a handmade pottery studio located in Seagrove NC where Hitomi and Takuro Shibata set up their studio and built a Japanese style wood kiln. Our focus is to make simple and functional pottery by using local wild clay and wood firing techniques. We named our pottery as "Touya" when we started our small pottery studio in Shigaraki, Japan, and it literary means "pottery house" in Japanese which we really like.