Durham’s reputation as a cool place to be an artist and also bathe oneself in the arts is about to grow.
Cynthia Aldrich, a full-time potter, has lived in Durham for 27 years and watched Orange and Chatham counties develop open studio tours.
“But there has never been one in Durham,” Aldrich said. “I realized that if I wanted this to happen, I would have to do it myself.” She decided to create a pottery tour. “That is where my heart is,” she said.
For the past year, Aldrich and two other Durham potters Jo Lovvorn and Lois Sharpe, have been planning for the inaugural Durham County Pottery Tour, which takes place this Saturday, November 8, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and this Sunday, noon-5 p.m. ( durhamcountypotterytour.com). Eighteen potters spread throughout the county will welcome attendees into their homes and studios.
“In addition to being an event to promote and sell local pottery, we are stressing the educational aspect,” said Aldrich, who lives at 28 Churchwell Court. “Unless people have taken a pottery class, they usually don’t know how pottery is made, and every studio is different. I think people will really enjoy seeing how so much work can come out of such small spaces and comparing the different locations.”
In 1972, Aldrich took her first pottery class. “It was mostly hand building, and I found clay was such a malleable, easy, juicy substance,” Aldrich said. “It was very relaxing and provided a respite from the world and daily life.” Eventually, Aldrich was selling everything she was making including her functional pieces with a blue and crème glaze with blue flowers on them that she still creates. Her work that captures the female form will also be at her studio as well are her work inspired by still-life paintings.
Aldrich’s studio is in her basement but Liz Paley’s is on her screened-in porch.
“I can only use it three seasons of the year,” Paley said. “It is a bit toasty when it is 100 degrees but even with the electric kiln on in the winter, it is not warm enough.”
“I took my first class in 2002 at the Durham Arts Council, and it changed my life,” said Paley, who was then in an academic job she didn’t like. “It made me realize that there lots of things that people could do in the world. So, I am no longer an academic but a potter. I went on to take classes at Claymakers and now teach there and am on the board.”
Paley recently received a DAC grant, enabling her to create proper storage for the raw chemicals used to make glazes.
“It is very affirming,” said Paley, who set as a goal to try and make a sphere shape on a wheel. “It is a very challenging shape to throw.” She is also addicted to putting holes in things. “I was throwing spheres then started cutting holes in them. Then I wondered if I could get a sphere inside a sphere.” She has succeeded in this incredible feat and the results, which Paley calls “nested spheroids,” are mesmerizing. “I took a bunch of them to a math and arts conference and was pulling them out of the box to install at an art exhibit there, and the mathematicians wanted to know how I made them.” Paley, who lives at 112 W. Lynch St., also throws clay chickens on the wheel.
Tim Garvin uses a three thousand year old technique called millifiore, in which loaves or logs created using over 500 different colors of clay are sliced into sections, then crafted into whatever the artist is making, glazed, and fired. Self-taught, Garvin uses this method to produce his line of porcelain jewelry that includes cufflinks and earrings. “I won’t live long enough to finish all the ideas I have using this technique,” said Garvin, who lives at 5408 Craig Road.
Millifiore in Italian means “thousand flowers,” and to start his own business years ago using this technique that he so believed in, Garvin maxed out his two credit cards. “So I had $5,000 total. I slowly was successful,” Garvin said.
“There is nobody that teaches this, and it is a jealously guarded proprietary secret as to how colored clay works. There are only a few of us in this country and the world that do it,” Garvin said. “There are a lot of mysteries to it.” Garvin explained that the colored clays used in making the log do not have the same rates of shrinkage so it is a challenge not to have it crack when fired.
Garvin’s entire line of jewelry will be out at his home and in the studio, he will have a log so that visitors can see what it looks like before it is cut.
Nothing about Garvin’s work says “Alaska” but it was time he spent there in his youth that spurs him into using vibrant, rich colors in his work. “We lived on a cliff overlooking an inlet of the ocean,” Garvin said. “My father would say we had whales in the front yard and bears in the back yard. The colors of Alaska were intense and vivid.”
Deborah Meyer writes about the visual arts each month. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org