An old notion - that potters can't make a living by their craft - is being dispelled by "Making It In Clay," a program now in its sixth month at Montgomery College.
The program presents visiting potters, who have "made it" economically, demonstrating how they make their wares. They give slide lectures and show their techniques of throwing and handbuilding, of glazing and firing.
The program, which spans three days once a month, was initiated by Lee Eagle, whose Rockville and Cleveland stores stock and sell ceramics supplies to schools. Eagle was formerly a production potter who became frustrated over the scarcity of supplies in the area. She began stocking them for herself and friends, which led to the founding of Eagle Cermaics.
"I wanted more contact with potters and with what they were doing," Eagle said. Unable to go to the potters, she figured out a way to bring them to the Washington area. With Ken Deavers of The American Hand, a Georgetown gallery, and Richard Mower of Montgomery College, she put together "a wish list" of favorite potters. They came up with "Making It In Clay," offering a package deal: a Friday night slide lecture, a Saturday workshop and a Sunday one-man show at The American Hand from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
When The American Hand, one of the leading ceramics showcases in the area, exhibited Ralph Bacerra's pottery in November, the gallery was jammed. All 31 pieces, with prices ranging from $100 to $600, were sold within 20 minutes. Bacerra, a Californian, works in porcelain in a style derived from Imari ware.
The collaboration between Mower, Eagle and Deavers is, as Mower put it, "just unreal. I've never had three things pull together as beautifully as this has for a long time." Mower takes care of organizing the Friday and Saturday programs at the college; Deavers is the liaison to the potters, and Eagle makes sure needed supplies are ready the day before a workshop and that guest artists get paid.
In the three-way collaboration, Eagle Ceramics takes the major financial risks. So far, it is breaking even, according to Lee Eagle. Students who attend the lectures and workshops are charged "just enough to pay costs," Eagle said. "We wanted an educational activity, for people to enjoy and learn."
The workshops, which are limited to 25 people and cost $140 for the series of eight, were immediately sold out. The Friday night lectures are $4 each, and open to the public, though it's advised that tickets be purchased ahead of time.
This is Richard Mower's second go-round with a visiting artists program since he started Montgomery College's ceramics department 11 years ago. Five years ago, the Kiln Club approached him with a proposal to present guests bi-weekly. He recalls how he recently asked former students what the single, strongest influence in their college training had been.
"What they said was, "The workshops. Seeing noted people from the outside producing work in front of you, where you could have a one-to-one relationship with them.' That answer," says Mower, "was gratifying, because all of those students have done graduate work in clay, are teaching or are potters in their own right.
"We're presenting to the public, especially the young craftsman, how things are done by the professionals. Those people can erase a lot of the myth, can tell you how they do their taxes, how they set up their studios. I know a lot of craftsmen who are unprepared to be in the market. Thye have no knowledge of dealing with people."
Mower said the schools are partly to blame. "Almost all colleges and universities provide the ultimate in equipment and instruction," he said. "Everything is so ideal; it doesn't have the complications real-life existence has. We don't teach courses in how to do accounting or a contract, or packaging and display, and that's where the educational system - and I must say I'm as guilty as everyone is - does not provide the realistic approach to the craft. I think a community should get involved in these things. Craftsmen need to get involved in professionalism. There is a way to do things properly."
Mower's students are admitted free to the lectures and workshops on a rotation basis, a trade-off for the college's involvement. Not all of them are interested. "Some are just trying clay. Part of my job at the college is educating tomorrow's market so that when they walk into a shop, they'll have some knowledge and hopefully they won't buy plastic," he says.
It is too early to evaluate the program's impact, Eagle said, but the pottery community has heard of it and they already have volunteers for next year. "They (the artists) see benefits for them. The program has developed a certain prestige." The three collaborators are making "a new wish list" for the future, "probably with more West Coast people."
Tom Turner from Liberty, S.C., was here last weekend. The weekend of April 14-16, Ty and Julie Larson from Penland, N.C., will discuss "Urban-Rural Crafts Lifestyles" and give a workshop on slab construction.
Information and tickets for remaining lectures may be obtained from Eagle Ceramics, 12266 Wilkins Ave., Rockville, Md. 20852. The telephone number is 881-2253.