10th Berkshire Pottery Tour will open studios

Have you ever thrown clay on a wheel? The earth is smooth in your hands, cool to the touch. Thump it onto the wedging board, press down with the heels of your hands and turn it, shaping it like a cone, a nautilus shell.

As an art and a craft, working with clay is innately hands-on, before the fire and the glazes (mysteries in themselves). If you want a closer look, you can see ceramics artists in action this weekend, as the 10th annual Berkshire Pottery Tour opens studios across Stockbridge, Great Barrington, new Marlborough and Monterey.

They come from different directions. I’ve seen Paula Shalan open a kiln to lift out wood-fired vessels, not glazed but coated in slip clay to form a smooth, burnished surface like Colorado sandstone patterned with smoke. Ellen Grenadier’s leaf-green platters show the curve of sensitive fern.

Daniel Bellow’s individual cups hold earth tones and patinas from ochre to jade. Lorimer Burns has turned from modern dance to ceramics, woodfired stoneware shimmering and earth-toned. Linda Skipper works in contrasts of light and dark, and Ben Evans leans toward sleek, geometric, abstract color …

Ceramics artist Ellen Grenadier imprints a plate with fern fronds in her studio in Monterey. Press photo courtesy of the artist
Ellen Grenadier

Ceramics artist Ellen Grenadier imprints a plate with fern fronds in her studio in Monterey. Press photo courtesy of the artist

Meeting the makers

Paula Shalan Ceramics in Stockbridge — guest artist Rie McCarthy

Berkshire Art Center in Stockbridge — Ben Evans and guest artists Mariana Vasquez-Crede and Hunter Cody

Lorimer Burns Ceramics in Housatonic — guest artist Sarah Hazelke

Dan Bellow Pottery in Great Barrington — guest artists Mark Rowntree, Ingrid Raab and Sidney Schatzky

Grenadier Pottery in Monterey — Ellen Grenadier and guest artists Connie Talbot and Michael McCarthy

Linda Skipper Pottery in New Marlborough

Imagine the feel of the clay under your palms. You’re kneading out any possible air holes and inconsistencies, so the finished vessel will fire. But now, when the spiral feels firm, you plonk it plumb down on the center of the wheel, and you scoop some water over.

You’ll keep slicking down the surface as you go. The texture can vary. Dry clay will rasp and stutter against your hands, but add too much water and it softens like butter. So you’ll keep adjusting gently and end up spattered and coated in slip to the elbows.

Start the wheel turning and let your hands rest against the clay. It has to sit balanced now, or the spin of the wheel will knock it off kilter. So you have to press gently, letting the clay rise between your hands and fall and rise until it’s centered.

When you feel it riding even between your cupped hands, then you can shape it. And this is the nuance, the dance — slight shifts in pressure now can change the shape widely. Press the center down and the dome inverts. Draw up the edges into a cup, draw them outward into a bowl or upward into a vessel — but keep even, keep centered, keep in touch.

Linda Skipper’s black and white patterns, Paula Shalan’s wood-fired vessels and Ben Evans’ bright cups will appear in the 10th annual Berkshire Pottery Tour. Press images courtesy of the artists.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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