Kiln time on spring pottery tour
For the fifth straight year, the Clay Collective, a group of nine potters based in south-central Wisconsin, will host its Spring Pottery Tour.
The driving tour, held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 30 and May 1, gives art lovers a chance to see local artisans at work in their own studios, all located within eastern Dane and western Jefferson counties and centered around Cambridge.
What began as a way for the Collectives’ members to showcase their work locally has transformed gradually into a weekend event with 18 additional guest potters, spread across seven locations.
A piece by Mary Pratt of Pratt Clay Studio.
“The driving tour sprung from the Earth Wood and Fire Artist Tour in which all of the Clay Collective participate,” says Mark Skudlarek of Cambridge Wood-fired Pottery, and a Clay Collective member. “In its 16th year, the tour has been tremendously successful in bringing consumers to artist studios, allowing them to watch demonstrations and to shop for locally made art.”
“Driving tours have become a popular way over the last 20 years for artists and craftspeople to market their work in a setting that is an alternative to galleries or art fairs,” adds Rick Hintze, another Clay Collective member and owner of Johnson Creek Clay Studio. “The public gets to see the work in the context of the artists’ studios and speak with the people who made the work.
“As opposed to either a gallery or an art show, a visitor can get a more complete view of the creative process because of getting to see the physical context — tools, kilns, work in progress, and most of all, much more work than they would see at other venues,” Hintze continues. “It is possible for visitors to see and pick up literally thousands of pots on a tour like this.”
The Clay Collective is rounded out by members Ed and Laura Klein of Bur Oak Pottery, Bruce Johnson of Bruce Johnson Clay Studio, Mary Pratt of Pratt Clay Studio, Glen Cutcher of Glen Cutcher Studio, Ric Lamore of Broadwing Clay Studio, and Michael Schael of Rock Eagle Pottery.
A piece by Rick Hintze of Johnson Creek Clay Studio.
Together, the Collective’s nine members boast more than 250 years of experience and a wide variety of traditions ranging from arts and crafts to rustic wood-fired pottery, notes Skudlarek.
All of that experience centered in and around tiny Cambridge, Wis., isn’t just happenstance.
“Cambridge has long been recognized as a destination for those interested in the ceramic arts,” Skudlarek explains. “This was due largely with the establishment of two production potteries, Rowe Pottery Works and Rockdale Union Stoneware. Both were founded in the 1980s and quickly grew, making reproductions of early American salt-glazed pottery that was in popular demand at the time. At their height, the two companies employed nearly 20 potters and nearly 150 support staff who shipped pots nationwide.”
Firing up profits
While Skudlarek says an event like the Spring Pottery Tour is largely about the visceral experience of going to an artist’s studio that cannot be replicated digitally, the weekend does generate considerable cash flow for Clay Collective members. “Although we have not documented totals [previously], we plan to do so this year.”
A piece by Glen Cutcher of Glen Cutcher Studio.
Hintze notes the market for handcrafted pottery was good in the 1970s and ’80s but it took a big hit around 2005–06, right before the rest of the national economy tanked. However, he believes it is once again growing slowly.
While many of the Collective’s potters sell their wares at art fairs, indoor art shows, and online via sites like Etsy, where the artists are seeking out buyers, Hintze says the draw for an event like the Spring Pottery Tour is it brings the public directly to the artist. And for art lovers and casual observers alike, the tour’s design makes connecting with the artists extremely simple.
“Self-driving says it all,” notes Hintze. “They can go to one location or all of them during the two-day event, completely at their own choice.”
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