So, something I’ve been meaning to do pretty much since I started this blog was to have a Featured Potter (of the week or month, though at this juncture it will probably be of the every-six-months-or-possibly-only-when-I-get-to-it variety). After all, nothing and no one exists in a vacuum (unless, you know, you count space, which kind of is a vacuum, which means that we all exist in a vacuum… but… anyway), and there are potters out there who produce truly amazing work that I either really, really love (and covet covet covet) or have been deeply influenced by. Today’s potter is a little bit of both.
Scott VanGaasbeck is a potter in upstate New York. His pottery, Frog Hill Pottery, is located on a 65 acre plot of land up there in the frosty north, and his work is, put ever so simply, tremendous. Not only does his pottery evoke an earthy, hand-made feel (something I really love about clay, and not every potter is into that “look”), but you can really sense the deep connection he has to his work just by looking at it – and then realizing that, from start to finish, it has been produced entirely without electricity.
Backing up a few years: I met Scott at the artists’ market in Ithaca, NY many years ago. My best friend went to Cornell, and then remained in Ithaca for a few years before moving away, and I visited occasionally (when I had the money and a means of getting up there, since I don’t drive and Ithaca is far, far away). We always did a lot of fun stuff, but the artists’ market was one of the more memorable things I ever did with her there. And a large part of what made it so memorable was Scott’s pottery.
He had a table at the market, selling all sorts of things from mugs to large serving platters. My eye was instantly drawn to the rich, runny glazes that he used and the sturdy, hand-made look to all of his work (note: I’ve always had a thing for hand-thrown pottery, and have many times had to restrain myself from buying all the things because if it were up to me, all of my kitchen ware would be hand-thrown pottery. … moving on.). I deliberated over buying a mug from him and finally decided to purchase it (I think it cost me $20? Anyway, this was five or six years ago or more, and the mug continues to be one of my favorites and it has held up beautifully to wear and tear). This was after having a lengthy conversation with him, that is – I always want to talk to potters about their work (and especially then because I didn’t have the first clue about clay and all of the amazing things that you can do with it), and I was amazed and surprised to find that Scott digs his own clay from a stream on his property, throws on a kick-wheel, and fires everything in a wood kiln because there is no electricity on his property. He also mixes and designs his own glazes.
Earlier this year when I started throwing at La Mano, I went through all of my pottery and started looking their creators up. My mug from Frog Hill was one of the only pieces that had a stamp on it telling me where it came from, so I looked Scott up on Google and found his website, which is surprisingly threadbare – though completely in keeping with his ethics and aesthetic, which is, I think, a return to the truly traditional nature of hand crafts. That is to say, it seems to me as though Scott creates community with his work. On his website he says that he will only make sales in person unless you already own some of his work, and I think this is because there is something deeply personal and connective about supporting artists who choose to work with their hands to produce these incredibly labor-intensive pieces for you to enjoy in your home.
I am so inspired by Scott’s method, and his commitment to his craft and the earth we share. His connection to the earth – literally and figuratively – is evident in his work, and I think this connection is passed on to those who choose to support him in his art and his lifestyle. I personally yearn for the uncomplicated lifestyle that he lives, and am happy to own a piece that came from that lifestyle. Looking at this beautiful mug (I must include a picture of it…! Will take one and add it when I get home this evening), I feel like that is possible.
One day I would be so happy to sit down and talk with Scott again, this time to ask him pointed questions about the work that he does since I have a slightly better understanding of it. Until then, enjoying a hot mug of tea will have to suffice.
Hope that you’re all staying warm on this chilly day…!
Yours in mud,