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VOL. 125 | NO. 226 | Friday, November 19, 2010

Potters’ Tradition

30th holiday show builds on art form’s local flavor

STACEY WIEDOWER | Special to The Daily News

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In the late 1970s, a small group of local artists who’d joined forces to form a potters’ guild planned a holiday show and sale to present their work to the public.

Agnes Stark of Agnes Stark Pottery works in her studio to prepare for a Memphis Potters’ Guild Show this weekend at the Memphis Botanic Garden. (Photos: Lance Murphey)

Little did they know, back then, that they were starting a tradition that would be going and growing three decades later.

For many of its members, the Memphis Potters’ Guild’s Annual Holiday Show & Sale is a time not simply to expose others to their work, but to build relationships.

“I’ve established deep friendships from the guild, and it’s more than just our mutual interest in clay – although that’s a really nice foundation,” said artist and guild member Mary Lou Eggers. “We put on a show that helps us sell our wares, but it’s really a lot more than that. We enjoy the time that we spend together doing the show.”

The guild gathers this week for its 30th annual holiday event. The Memphis Potters’ Guild 2010 Annual Holiday Show & Sale runs Friday through Sunday at Memphis Botanic Garden.

The event, which is free and open to the public, kicks off with an opening reception Friday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The show features a wide range of works in porcelain, stoneware and earthenware. Among the items available for sale are sculptural vessels, jewelry, utilitarian pottery and home accessories.

Agnes Stark, who served Memphis Potters’ Guild as president for 18 years, said the event also serves to educate the public about the diversity of handmade pottery.

“It took a long time to make people understand that you could actually use this pottery,” Stark said. “I still have people who ask me the question, ‘Can I drink out of this?’ We’re all so used to going out and buying factory-made stuff.”

Through the show – which over the years has grown into a biannual event, one show in the spring and another in the fall – guild members have developed regular clientele who have become avid collectors of their work.

“We now have people who are really excited when they come to the show – who are familiar with the work,” Stark said. “People really enjoy using handmade things, and it’s very special.”

Eggers said the exposure the event brings to members’ work is priceless.

Work such as this bowl taking shape at Agnes Stark Pottery will be sold this weekend at the Memphis Potters’ Guild 2010 Annual Holiday Show & Sale at Memphis Botanic Garden.

“The guild gives exposure to all of us, and it gives the public an opportunity to see a lot of different kinds of work, both functional as well as sculptural, whimsical,” she said. “People have different tastes, and even among the functional work, anybody who loves pottery could find something they like at the show.”

The show is entirely organized and run by Memphis Potters’ Guild members.

“We work in shifts,” Eggers said. “We’re a group that cooperates really well with each other, and we’re always really excited about having new people.”

Stark said she hopes to see the local potters’ community continue to grow.

“I’ve always hoped that eventually Bartlett or Cordova or Collierville would form a potters’ guild so everybody could have a chance to show in their areas,” she said.

However, she added, the places available to study pottery in the Mid-South area are limited.

Eggers, who began working full-time as a potter at around age 40, agreed she would love to see more local artists fall in love with the medium the way she has.

“I just really love working with clay,” she said. “I love everything about it. I love the way it smells, I love the way the glazes smell as they hit the pot, and even as they’re drying, they have this earthy smell that’s really wonderful.

“It just makes my heart sing working with clay and making pottery and having someone come up to me and say, ‘Mary Lou, I drink my coffee out of your cup every day, and it makes me happy.’ I feel like I’m contributing something to people’s lives.”

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