FarmMade aims to preserve and celebrate traditional craft skills and family farm traditions by sharing farm stories and featuring handmade crafts that date back hundreds if not thousands of years.
Farm Craft – Pottery
How long have you been preserving the traditional craft of pottery?
I’ve been involved with clay for over 50 years starting at 15 and retiring from teaching as a ceramic art teacher 5 years ago.
Where is your studio located?
Our studio is located in southeast Michigan. We repurposed an old garage into our current studio space that overlooks the orchard.
Who inspired you to learn this skill?
I began by working with a small neighborhood business mixing clay when I was 15 and took my first pottery class in college which led to an apprenticeship in North Carolina with a family-owned pottery that made traditional ware.
Nick Branz was the first person to introduce me to clay, Warren Mackenzie was my teacher and Zedith Teague was who introduced me to the functional style of pottery that I make today.
How would you describe the pottery you make?
I like to focus on the function of the piece that I make, how will it work in my own kitchen, how will it look on my table. The simple lines of the pieces and minimal decoration allows the beauty of the glaze and the elemental influence of the fire to enhance the pieces.
The only local material I use currently is black iron-rich sand we collect from the west shore of Lake Michigan. The sand is suspended in the glaze and creates a surprising pallet that differs every time it is fired.
We found that some sand we collected on the California shore produced a similar effect and have used that as well as some ash collected after the eruption of Mt. St Helens.
What materials do you like to use in your glazes?
Since I fire my kiln at very high temperatures I am limited to materials that can handle temperatures as high as 2400 degrees. These include feldspar, quartz, limestone and chalk. Some of the minerals like lead are not suitable for this kind of firing process.
What do you enjoy most in the process of crafting pottery?
The most enjoyable part of creating pottery for me is the time spent at my wheel. Unfortunately, that is only about 20% of the time used to create a piece. It is, however, the part of the process that takes the most skill and practice.
Do you have a favorite piece of pottery that you make?
Of all the pots I like to make, I am most fond of making pie pans. This may be because I love to bake and eat pies as well. They are the most forgiving of the pieces I make, don’t have to be made to a precise size and are as unique as the pies that are baked in them. Although not one of my favorites to make, the popover pans are my favorite to show and use.
Do you have any recipes you may want to share?
Rhubarb Peach Pie
I make my pie crust using 1 cup of flour for each crust needed and 1/3 cup of fat (Crisco or Lard also butter can be substituted for part of the fat). Add just enough water to get the fat to hold together.
Because I have many pie pans and always bake more than one pie I place fresh rhubarb into the pans and then measure the rhubarb for every 4 cups of fruit add 1 cup sugar. For thickener I use 1/3 c flour
1 cup of peaches added to the mix. (try adding any jam or preserves to the rhubarb)
Bake at 400-425 60 min until the center is bubbling.
Beat eggs and milk together then add flour and salt bake at 400 for 45-50 min
What is the proper care for your pieces of pottery?
My pottery is very robust, dishwasher and microwave safe. There are only a few precautions; it cannot be used on the stove top or under the broiler. We have a popover pan in our kitchen that is over 30 years old, one of my first made in 1986. Its been used over and over as you can plainly see.
Where can people find your pottery at the present time?
Do you offer demonstrations?
I have done demos at the art market and at a local farm museum. The next being the second weekend in October at the Waterloo Farm Museum in Michigan.
What resources would you offer to people interested in learning the craft?
It varies across the country, I taught at a community Ed school in the Midwest, but art center and guilds will also offer classes for those interested. It is a craft that takes patience and will as opposed to skill to learn but a skill once learned that lasts a lifetime.
Farm Living – Home of Swallowtail Pottery
We moved to our farm in 2013. The farm was originally settled in 1862 when the original house was built. It was added onto two more times as the family grew and the farm prospered. The land was divided into two parcels ten years before we moved in and 75 acres behind the house was put back into meadow and planted with native oak. We felt an affinity for the place the first time we saw it and moved in and began a restoration. The original farmhouse is constructed of bricks from clay dug locally, as many of the original farmsteads in the area were constructed. And the floors were plank hickory and oak which we refinished.
Our home is built on the crest of the hill at the end of our drive, with a wetland that covers the lower 12 acres. It is a home to nesting Sandhill cranes and other birds common to the area. We still have another 17 acres that we have built a garden on that provides us with a variety of vegetables and fruits that we can and preserve for personal use. We also have small orchard that has a variety of apple, peach, pear and cherry trees. The fruit is canned, frozen and made into cider.
The original barn is still standing and in good shape and we have tried our hand at raising hogs for personal consumption and sale to a few friends. We have a dozen layers that rule the orchard and provide eggs for us and our daughter’s family of five with occasional gifts to neighbors. We have also raised meat chickens in the past, again for personal consumption.
We have a varying number of beehives on the property that are mostly managed by a friend that works at the University doing research on hive health.
A big thanks from the FarmMade community to Barry for preserving the ceramics craft and sharing a glimpse into life on his family’s farmstead in Michigan.