Just the Facts
Primary forming method
Primary firing temperature
Favorite surface treatment
faceting, layering slip, terra sigillata
a treadle wheel and an old steel knife
I listen to music, podcasts, audiobooks, and Red Sox games. Recent favorite audiobooks include Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.
For about seven years, my studio was in my in-law’s basement. They have an old house with a fieldstone foundation, brick floors, and the occasional snake. There was a beautiful arched brick space where I installed a wood stove for the winters. I didn’t have a kiln so I bisque fired my pots at a local community studio in Bowdoinham, Maine. I then brought my work to Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts to fire in one of their salt kilns. In 2016 my wife and I bought a house with a little bit of land and a 20×30-foot gambrel-roofed barn located in Litchfield, Maine. I slowly renovated part of the barn into my current studio, where I’ve been working since 2020. Originally, my studio space was used as a couple of horse stalls with a wall separating the space, and later as a chicken coop. It required a lot of power washing.
The thing about horses is that, while they are large, their stalls usually aren’t. That means my studio isn’t very large, measuring approximately 10×20 feet. Before moving in, I had to renovate the space. I removed the middle wall, framed out and insulated the floor, wired in outlets and lights, installed four windows, and insulated the walls and ceiling. There wasn’t sufficient power, so I ran a new electrical feed and a three-season water line to the barn. When you enter my studio, the first thing you see is my treadle wheel. It sits in front of one of three east-facing windows, which overlook the orchard and patches of asparagus and rhubarb. On one side of my studio there is a wedging table and an electric Shimpo wheel, which rests on cinder blocks so I can stand while throwing. On the long wall next to that, I have two sets of peg shelving for wareboards. The other side of the studio I use while glazing, processing reclaim, packing pots, or shooting images. There are three narrow tables that I built with shelves where buckets of slip and glaze are stored as well as clean studio laundry, and a variety of other things. One table holds a small Bluebird pugmill and next to that I have plaster boards for processing reclaim. I don’t have space for a sink, so I use buckets of water, which works out just fine. A separate room in the barn, which was originally the tack room, houses my kiln. I also use that space to store dry materials and some finished work. When I have studio sales, I typically set up a couple of tents outside and make use of all of the shelving in my studio. I store packing materials, my booth for shows, and a lot of miscellaneous building materials in the loft of the barn.
This fall I’m working with a timber-frame builder to put up a 20×36-foot kiln shed. I’ll be able to offset some of the cost as well as learn a lot by being involved. Once that is up, I plan to build a bourry-box wood kiln. Studio work can be a solitary endeavor so finding ways to collaborate and build community is important. There are a few local potters who are eager to be involved and it’ll be great having their help and energy. In addition to some wood from my land, there’s a sawmill a few miles down the road where I’ll get bundles of slab wood. My goal is to stay at earthenware temperatures in the new kiln. The firings should be very efficient, using far less wood than firing to higher temperatures. During the writing of this article, I have been running an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help offset some of the cost of this project. I’m running it much like a farm CSA where you give the farmer some cash in the off-season, and you’re rewarded with fresh vegetables during the growing season. My donors receive pottery instead.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 2008 with a BFA in ceramics. I then went on to live and work at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts for a year where I played a lot of badminton and explored low-fire soda firings. Later, I moved to western Massachusetts where I did a three-year apprenticeship at Stonepool Pottery.
Aside from my studio work, I have a small landscape gardening business. It’s work I enjoy, and I get to spend time outside in some beautiful spots on the coast of Maine. I generally take 3–4 months off from landscaping and gardening during the winter, which is when I really hunker down and spend a lot of time making pots. Thankfully, as a small business owner, I have some flexibility with my schedule. When I need to get studio work done during the gardening season I often take a day or two off a week and/or go out and work in the studio for 3 or 4 hours in the morning before heading off to work. During these mid-season making cycles, I generally work through the weekends as well.
I sell most of my work directly to customers and collectors, either at shows or open studio events. Pottery tours seem to be a great model for selling work as the people who show up are generally there because they’re passionate about pottery. I also sell work through a few galleries in New England as well as through my website. As for social media, I have found that Instagram is well suited to marketing work. Being image based, you can theoretically get your work in front of a pretty broad spectrum of people. Building a following is, of course, key to that exposure.
When taking a break and recharging, I’m often venturing out with our two dogs for a walk in the woods, foraging for mushrooms, tending our bees, kayaking, spending time with friends and family, traveling, etc.
Outside of some sculptural work in college, my focus and interest have always been on making functional work. I realized that making useful objects resonated with me more than other artistic pursuits. Due to the pandemic and Watershed’s state-of-the-art studio building project, I lost access to the salt kilns that I had been firing. So, out of necessity, I made the switch from salt-glazed stoneware to electric-fired earthenware almost three years ago. That shift forced me to reevaluate my work, which ultimately led to some changes—what are the most important parts of the process to me? What do I want the work to say about me as a maker and craftsperson?
Initially, when I thought of electric-fired pots, my mind naively went to shiny glazed pots. So, I found a clear glaze that was dependable and started dipping my decorated pots in it. I was not impressed. I had never made shiny pots before and I wasn’t sure I would be satisfied settling for that big of an aesthetic change. I continued to do more testing in pursuit of something that looked and felt right. In switching firing techniques, I had lost a lot of the depth to my surfaces as well as surface spontaneity that I was accustomed to. One thing I started doing was faceting a lot more of my vessels. Then I began layering slip and pigmented terra sigillata on top. I found that some of these layers would break on the edges of the facets, pulling the red earthenware through. The next step was developing a glaze that wouldn’t be so dependably shiny. With those elements combined, I began to find surfaces that I was excited about.
Through all of this, the biggest change was realizing I was ready to take a break from decorating my pots with imagery. For a while, it was imagery of farmers, tractors, that kind of thing. Then I began my “silhouette” era, which consisted of a menagerie of different creatures. For a long time, I had considered moving away from the imagery and I finally decided that time was now. I no longer felt that was what I wanted the focus of my work to be. Rather, I wanted the forms themselves to be the primary voice for my work.
Most Important Lesson
Keep exploring and learning. Whether it’s working with different materials, collaborating with other artists, or simply allowing your own work to evolve, giving yourself the space to grow and learn is critical to staying inspired.