I think most studio potters have at least a tiny bit of voyeuristic tendencies when it comes to the work spaces of other potters. But don’t be ashamed! It is not as creepy as it sounds! It is practical to see how other ceramic artists have set up their studios because it can help you make your own more efficient.
In today’s post, an excerpt from the June/July/August issue of Ceramics Monthly, we get a look into a dreamy and spacious pottery studio. Samantha Henneke and Bruce Gholson open the doors to Bulldog Pottery in Seagrove, North Carolina, and tell us how they got there. - Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
P.S. To find out more about Samantha and Bruce, what drives their work, and how they keep the doors of Bulldog Pottery open, check out the full article in the June/July/August 2016 issue of Ceramics Monthly.
A Look Inside Bulldog Pottery Studio
by Bruce Gholson and Samantha Henneke
We are full-time studio potters in Seagrove, North Carolina, a place where pottery culture is a thread that is intertwined throughout the fabric of life, where pottery shops are open to the public throughout the year. Working in Seagrove, famous for its traditional pottery, immediately begs the question: Are we traditional potters? When we step back and look at what we do, we find ourselves thinking that maybe we are indie potters, because we feel free to make whatever we like, following no one tradition, and like most potters, we haven’t signed with a major label. We make nouveau psychedelic pottery shaped by eclectic influences such as Art Nouveau’s sinuous lines and an abiding interest in the interactive alchemic possibilities of clay and glaze chemistry to produce rich colors and textures.
Our new pottery studio is a 60x60-foot double-insulated, white metal building that stands at the center of our 15-acre property alongside our woods and ponds. We began work on our new studio and home in 2007 with Samantha’s parents after they retired from Virginia Tech, and we moved in by 2010. The building took two years to design and over two years to build. It took another six to eight months to transition into our new studio from the old one on our property, which is now our gallery space and sales shop. We painted our walls and ceilings white and the cement floor light gray, which helps illuminate the studio. We like the light gray floor because of the brighter feeling it gives our workspace, but unfortunately the paint has proven itself to be fragile and chips easily. We installed a geothermal HVAC system and a solar hot water heater for both our house and studio. Since our sink is connected to the septic system, we have wash-water buckets set up beside our wheels for the first clay rinse off.
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We designed a few separate rooms in to our studio space: a glaze lab, plaster room, wood shop, and restroom. Overall we kept the space open and easily adjustable. All of our large tables are built on locking caster wheels, and our wheel stations are moveable, to allow ourselves the ability to rearrange the space to fit what we are working on at any given time. This flexibility allows us to adjust to our ever-evolving concept of efficient flow. We also included a lift that has a 1000-pound capacity to help us move clay, glaze materials, and other studio related items up to the second floor for storage.
We love the studio’s natural light from the windows and our view looking into the trees. Stepping outside our studio’s door we can see both of our ponds.
We are enthusiastic about our future plans for the studio, including designing a new gas kiln with Eddy Bernard and Wet Dog Glass, a glass furnace company working down the road in Star. This kiln will be slightly larger than our Skutt electric kiln and half the size of our existing gas kiln. This will allow us more versatility in scheduling firings and glaze testing. We are also planning a dedicated outdoor area for the grinding equipment we use during the final clean up of our pottery, especially for pieces where we are creating effects using flowing glazes.
The Seagrove Pottery Community
Our rural community is filled with pottery traditions, history, and legend. The Seagrove pottery community encompasses areas of Randolph, Moore, and Montgomery counties in central North Carolina, with the name being derived from the fact that a large percentage of us have the mailing address of Seagrove, North Carolina. We once had a chicken farmer remark to us, “Potters are thicker than fleas on a dog’s back in Seagrove.” The Seagrove Area Potters Association (SAPA), a volunteer group, puts together a driving map and guide, maintains a website, and annually sponsors a Spring Kiln Opening Pottery Tour in April, and in November the Celebration of Seagrove Potters, a marketplace under one roof. Eighty different potteries are listed on the current SAPA map, with works ranging from what is known as traditional Seagrove pottery, to contemporary pottery, vessels, and sculpture. The abundance of potters in this small geographic area, combined with its historic recognition and cultural support, creates a critical mass as a destination for everyone interested in collecting pottery. Our area is rich in ceramic activities, such as the annual North Carolina Potters Conference, now in its 29th year. The Randolph Arts Guild in Asheboro hosts the NC Potters Conference on the first full weekend in March. In downtown Seagrove, the North Carolina Pottery Center houses a permanent pottery collection and focuses on three exhibitions a year as well as a monthly presentation. In the town of Star, an arts organization called STARworks has clay and glass residencies and visiting artist programs, and a unique pottery supply business specializing in the formulation of clay bodies from raw local clays.
The majority of our work is sold in our home-based pottery shop next to our cottage garden. Our official hours are Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm, though we are here most of the time anyway. We are usually open on Sunday and Monday as well.
With the recession in 2008 and the resulting reduction of visitors driving to Seagrove, it became evident that we needed to be proactive with our own promotional efforts for Bulldog Pottery. We stepped up in creating an online presence through social media, initially by blogging and Facebook activity, then Twitter and Flickr. We found the Flickr account to be a very valuable asset. Once, we were even able to connect a gallery to our Flickr site as a source of high-resolution images of our work for their publicity while we were on the road driving to another event. Later, as they became available, we created Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram accounts. It is hard to fully keep these sites current all the time, but we find that the efforts we make on these platforms have ongoing visibility benefits that help people to discover us. We support our ceramics community by membership in organizations such as the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum, American Art Pottery Association, Contemporary Art Pottery Collectors Association, Delhom Service League, The Mint Museum, the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, North Carolina Pottery Center, Piedmont Craftsman, Potters Council, Randolph Arts Guild , and Studio Potter.