Just the Facts
our own mix of stoneware using Cedar Heights Redart, ball clay, fine grog, and fire clays
Primary Forming Method
wheel throwing and some handbuilding
Primary Firing Temperature
cone 9 electric
Favorite Surface Treatment
carving textures and patterns enhanced by oxide stains under matte glazes, some figurative decorations with terra sigilatta and oxides
ribs for shaping, paring knife or X-Acto knife for lines or cutouts, wire loop tools
a set up for photographing work
Pioneer Pottery is situated on the banks of the East Rosebud River in the foothills of the majestic Beartooth mountains, near the tiny community of Roscoe in south central Montana. Our 15×25-foot workshop area was a horse stable with attached buggy garage for a ranch homestead in this valley. We remodeled and insulated the stable area for a work space. The buggy garage on the south end was restructured as a gallery space. A 10×18-foot kiln room addition was built onto the north end.
The main work space is quite small for two people but is efficiently laid out. On the south end are two kick wheels that are modified designs from those at Marguerite Wildenhain’s Pond Farm Pottery in California. They are sit-down wheels with a central fly wheel with foot rests on either side. Our modifications include key-locks for wooden bats. Small pots are simply cut from the wheel head and placed on the two planks sitting in front of the wheel. Wide pots are left on the bats and also moved to the planks. When the two planks are filled with pots, they are carried across the room to racks. We have found that carrying ware on four-foot planks is the most efficient way to move our pots through all stages of the work flow. Key-locked bats of two different heights can be used for decorating. We also have one electric wheel for throwing the largest pieces. A door between the racks and wheels leads to the gallery.
The north half of the room is lined with large plastic buckets of our main glazes that are stored on benches along the east wall. Lesser used accent glazes are stored on shelves beneath. We set the planks of bisque-fired pots on a large table in the middle of the room, within easy reach of the glazes. The table doubles as a packing area with bags, paper, and other materials stored underneath. At the end of the table is a narrow cabinet with drawers containing shipping labels, tape, and other smaller supplies for packing. The cabinet top holds our sales-record book, calculator, pens, and extra brochures to be included with each purchase.
A huge antique Hobart dough mixer is used to wet-mix our clay body. Mixed clay is bagged and stored next to the mixer along the west wall. Also on that wall is a drawing table with a light box and more storage underneath.
On the north end of the room, a stairway leads to the hay loft area where glazes are dry mixed. The space under the stairs is utilized for storage of small items and includes an old rocking chair and a small library of reference books and magazines. The door to the kiln room is at the foot of the stairs. Additional space in the adjoining barn is used for dry mixing clay and storage. We draw our water from the river and heat only the main workspace to conserve energy.
Our shop is open to the public May 1 through November 30, Wednesday through Saturday from 10–5. Our winter hours are flexible, with public access by appointment. Winter months are when we work on personal projects, special orders, and build up inventory for the gallery.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
Janet: I have a BA degree from Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota) in Art History with a studio art minor, and a MA degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato in studio art/ceramics. I spent one summer working on tea ceremony vessels in Kyoto, Japan, while writing a paper on Japanese aesthetics for Carleton. I spent five summers at Marguerite Wildenhain’s Pond Farm Pottery in California. Her wheel-throwing techniques became the foundation of my craft. In addition, I attended various workshops run by Rudy Autio, Julia Galloway, Warren MacKenzie, Peter Voulkos, and others. While I think it is helpful to see how other people work, there is no substitute for the discipline of work itself.
Julie: I have a BA from Carleton College in Studio Art, and an MAT in art education from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I studied for four summers at Pond Farm Pottery: three summers wheel throwing and one handbuilding. Wildenhain, a student of the German Bauhaus, taught in the rigorous apprenticeship tradition she experienced there. I taught art for a total of eight years at the elementary, junior/senior high school, and college levels.
Inspiration and Getting Recharged
Janet: We live and work in the right place for me. The natural world inspires me, especially plants, animals, and the forms of the landscape. I like to do nature photography. It sharpens my ability to see shapes, patterns, textures, and the relationship between positive and negative spaces. These become the basis of my decorating. My glazes are influenced by the subtlety of Japanese aesthetics while my forms are more influenced by Greek and Minoan pottery and by Wildenhain’s work.
Julie: I am fascinated by patterns I observe in the natural environment: linear, geometric, tonal, and textural. Seed pods, grasses, feathers, flowing water, trees, and leaves all inspire me. I feel a resonance with Celtic interwoven linear images and the abstracted yet characteristic images and designs in Native American art. I get invigorated by doing physical work (weed control!) on the grassland acres. Gathering and cutting the wood I use to heat my home is meditative for me. I love the solitude and quiet here and I have the best neighbors: plants, birds, and animals.
Marketing was definitely tough in the beginning. Our rural location (we’re 15 miles from the nearest small town) was a challenge to overcome. We began by wholesaling around the state to stores and galleries. We gradually built a retail business while compiling a mailing list. Every August we had an indoor/outdoor open house and attendance grew annually. We increased visibility through art auctions, craft fairs, state fairs, and shows: invitational, juried, and individual. A picture of Julie’s hands throwing a pot was used on the cover of a children’s book, Spin. We welcomed people writing articles about us in local, state, and national publications, including an ad for Paragon kilns. These provided the best advertising possible and were free!
Our first years in this isolated location made financial survival difficult. However, this setting is now a major advantage. People love to come here for the beauty of our area. Red Lodge (20 miles away) is a tourist town. In the summer it is the gateway to the Beartooth highway, which is highly praised as the most beautiful highway in the nation. The highway leads over the top of the Beartooth Mountains into Wyoming to the northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The lovely drive along the base of the mountains from Red Lodge to Roscoe draws visitors, both international and from throughout the US. We have been in this location for 44 years and plan to continue for many more.
Subscriber Extras: Archive Article
Click here to read Pioneer Pottery by Lyn Kidder from the June/July/August 1998 issue of Ceramics Monthly.