Clay shapers: Studios along the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail open for 10th annual event

Last modified: Wednesday, June 11, 2014
The earthy smell of fresh clay. The warm glow emanating from a kiln. Doors to working studios thrown open to the public. It’s that time of year again.

The Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, a self-guided driving tour of clay studios, is back for its 10th year on April 26 and 27, in Florence, Hadley, Pelham, Shelburne Falls, Greenfield and Northfield. During the event, local potters will invite the public into their studios where they will explain their creative processes, and sell their wares. Nine member studios will participate, along with 11 guest potters.

Tableware, garden sculpture, decorative pieces, and architectural tile, in a range of styles and prices, will be on display in the studios that are not normally open to the public. Several will feature demonstrations during the weekend.

Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail was started a decade ago by Francine T. Ozereko, Donna McGee, Lucy Fagella, Andy Quient and Angela Fina. Each was a member of the Pioneer Valley Pottery Guild where, Ozereko says, she heard members talk about pottery trails out West, where artists were successfully drawing the public into their studios. Ozereko says the idea sounded like a good fit for the Valley.

“Part of it is to let people know we all exist,” Ozereko said in a recent phone interview. “When we first started doing it, we had no idea if anyone was going to show up.”

Ozereko is one of four participating potters who work in Hampshire County. The others are Tiffany Hilton, James Guggina and another of the trail’s founders, McGee.

“A lot of people have never been to a pottery studio,” Ozereko said. “These are nine different studios you can hit all in one day. It’s a learning experience for a lot of people.”

Ozereko received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from the Massachusetts College of Arts in Boston, and a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She specializes in functional dinnerware, mostly in black-and-white. She often utilizes porcelain in her work, and sketches on many of her pieces.

“A lot of it, even if it doesn’t look it, is autobiographical,” she said.

Ozereko’s guest potter will be Evelyn Snyder of Kaleidoscope Pottery in Easthampton.

McGee, whose studio is in Hadley, creates tiles and dinnerware as a vehicle for her drawing. Her pottery encompasses a narrative form, she says, that tells stories through her sketches.

“As Manet said, ‘I am a realist. I paint what I see,’ ” McGee said, referring to the 19th-century painter Édouard Manet.

Her style combines painting and drawing with pottery. “I’m excited to make the art,” she said. “I enjoy the art of creation.”

As one of the pottery trail’s founders, McGee has seen a lot of changes since its beginnings. From the first to second years, the number of participating potters increased from five to nine, she says, and has continued to grow ever since. Counting this year’s 11 guest potters, she added, this is the pottery trail’s biggest year yet.

Guggina, of Florence, who is participating for the third time, creates dinnerware with recurring themes of black-and-white etchings, commonly on the edges of his work, enshrouded by bright and vibrant colors.

“The nice thing about pottery is you can do a million different things with it,” said Guggina, who received a bachelor’s degree in painting and ceramics in 1994 from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston.

The pottery trail, he says, offers an opportunity for exposure, and he’s looking forward to opening his doors to customers and guests.

“It generates interest in what we’re all doing,” he said. “It’s important for them to see the environment I’m in when I’m making my pots.”

Beyond talking to guests, Guggina says, he’s anxious to sell his wares. “There’s also just eating and paying rent,” he said.

Hilton, whose studio is in Florence, creates functional pottery. “It’s meant to be everyday dinnerware,” she explained.

Hilton describes her artistic motives on her website: “It is my intention to create pots that are shared among friends, that are welcome at your table and invited to take part in your daily conversations.”

Hilton says she’s looking forward to getting feedback on her work from the public.

“Believe in what you do,” she said. “If you love your work, other people will, too.”

Hilton says she’s especially excited to host Kit Cornell of Exeter, N.H., as her guest potter; Hilton apprenticed under Cornell, now in her 70s.

Other potters on the trail include: Stephen Earp, Molly Cantor and Mary Barringer, all of Shelburne Falls; Tom White of Northfield; and Lucy Fagella of Greenfield. Additional guest potters are Megan Hart at McGee’s studio; Todd Wahlstrom at Barringer’s studio; Nicole Aquillano at Molly Cantor Pottery; Victoria Crowell at Lucia Pottery; Gabrielle Schaffner and Ellen Grenadier at James Guggina Ceramics; and Holly Walker, Martina Lantin and Sam Taylor; at Tom White Pottery.

The 10th Annual Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail is on April 26 and 27 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is free. For information, including a map and directions to the participating studios, visit www.asparagusvalleypotterytrail.com.