Back in the flow: Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail returns for in-person visits

  • Steve Theberge makes pottery in his studio in Northampton. His house, which is off Rocky Hill Road, will be one of the stops on the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail tour June 12-13. Theberge will show his pottery along with Tiffany Hilton and Bill Jones. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Theberge makes pottery in his studio in Northampton. His house, which is off Rocky Hill Road, will be one of the stops on the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail tour June 12-13. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Theberge makes pottery in his studio in Northampton in preparation for the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail visits June 12-13. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Pottery by Steve Theberge. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Theberge makes pottery in his studio in Northampton. His house, which is off Rocky Hill Road, will be one of the stops on the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail scheduled for June 12-13. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve Theberge makes pottery in his studio in Northampton. His house, which is off Rocky Hill Road, will be one of the stops on the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail scheduled for June 12-13. Theberge will show his pottery along with Tiffany Hilton and Bill Jones. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Tiffany Hilton glazes bisque-fired work at her studio in Florence on Wednesday. Hilton is one of 10 Asparagus Valley Pottery Guild members, and 20 potters overall, featured in the 2021 Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail and will be exhibiting outside the home of guest potter Steve Theberge in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tiffany Hilton sponges excess glaze from a utensil holder at her studio in Florence on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tiffany Hilton glazes a utensil holder at her studio in Florence on Wednesday. Hilton is one of 10 Asparagus Valley Pottery Guild members, and 20 potters overall, featured in the 2021 Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail. She will be exhibiting outside the home of guest potter Steve Theberge in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tiffany Hilton is shown in the gallery space of her Florence studio on Wednesday, June 2. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tiffany Hilton is one of 20 potters taking part in the 2021 Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail the weekend of June 12-13. Hilton, a member of the Asparagus Valley Potters Guild, is shown in her studio on Wednesday, June 2, but for the Trail she will be exhibiting outside the home of guest potter Steve Theberge in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Tiffany Hilton holds a glazed, but not fired, utensil holder at her studio in Florence on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Hilton is one of 10 Asparagus Valley Pottery Guild members, and 20 potters overall, featured in the 2021 Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, scheduled for June 12-13, and will be exhibiting outside the home of guest potter Steve Theberge in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • These potters will be joined by other guests for the Aspargus Valley Pottery Trail June 12-13. The group is shown here in the Florence studio of Tiffany Hilton, in front kneeling with dog. Photo courtesy Tiffany Hilton

  • “Birds and Laundry plate,” 14 inches wide, by Francine Ozerko of Pelham. John Polak 

  • Frank Ozerko works on one of his animal-shaped teapots in his Pelham studio. Francine Ozerko

  • Molly Cantor of Shelburne Falls has been a longtime participant in the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail. Rachael Jaquay

Staff Writer
Published: 6/3/2021 1:07:08 PM

When the pandemic arrived last year, it hit artists just like everyone else, wiping out live performances in music, theater, dance and other mediums.

But at least in theory, artists who work alone, such as potters, painters, and writers, should have been less affected: COVID-19 wouldn’t prevent them from continuing to work on their craft.

But Florence potter Tiffany Hilton says the pandemic in fact took a big toll on her and others in her field. Not only was Hilton shut out of craft shows and other sales opportunities, she had to cancel her pottery classes; customer visits to her studio were limited to one person at a time and had to be arranged in advance.

And a longstanding tradition that Hilton has been part of, the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, was reduced to a remote event last spring.

But with COVID restrictions lifting, the 2021 Pottery Trail is back on schedule as an in-person event — and Hilton, for one, couldn’t be happier.

“Pottery is a really tactile thing,” she said in a recent phone call. “You want to see it, to feel it, to think about it. When you consider buying a cup to drink your coffee, you want to feel the weight of that cup in your hand.”

This year’s Pottery Trail, which takes place June 12-13, is, like past versions of the event, a self-guided tour that brings visitors to nine different studios in Hampshire and Franklin counties. Potters from the region, plus some guests from others states and locales, will be selling their goods outdoors at those sites. All told, the work of 20 different potters will be seen.

Hilton said the event, now in its 17th year, is also an enjoyable social occasion that brings both familiar and new customers to the area, with many traveling from other parts of New England as well as New York state and sometimes further afield.

For the artisans involved in the Pottery Trail, one of the toughest limitations imposed by the pandemic has been that loss of one-to-one contact with visitors, said Hilton.

“We’re ‘people’ people,” she said. “We’re community-minded. It’s such a treat to see customers, and we’ve missed them. We’re really wanted to have an in-person event this year.”

The nine sites in this year’s Pottery Trail, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, are in Pelham, Hadley, Florence, Greenfield, Northfield, and Shelburne Falls. Guest artists from Conway, Easthampton and Westhampton will be at some of these sites, as will guest potters from Boston, Maine, North Carolina and Vermont.

Other longtime participants in the event are Francine and Frank Ozereko of Pelham, Donna McGee of Hadley, Jamie Guggina of Florence, and Molly Cantor of Shelburne Falls.

The work to be displayed includes a wide assortment of ceramic and stonewear dishes, cups, pots, vases, serving platters and more, along with sculptural work and garden and wall art.

Hilton said she and the core group of potters who organize the event began planning this past winter, meeting on Zoom to discuss the possibility of holding some kind of in-person, outside event. Organizers decided to postpone the tour, typically staged in late April, until early June with the hope that COVID-19 restrictions would have eased by then.

“The uncertainty made the planning really challenging,” she noted. “We’re fortunate that the state has eased outdoor [pandemic] guidelines in time for this.”

Those guidelines, as well as those of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, recommend wearing a face mask outside if you’re not fully vaccinated but otherwise pose no outdoor restrictions.

Hilton said some of the participating potters will offer tours of their studios to small groups of customers at a time. Otherwise the event will be held underneath tents or other structures at the various sites. Hilton, whose studio is in the Arts & Industry building in Florence, will show her wares at the Florence studio of Steve Théberge, and the two will be joined by Bill Jones of Greensboro, North Carolina.

Online sales of pottery, beginning at noon on June 11, will also be offered through the event website (asparagusvalleypotterytrail.com) for people who can’t attend in person or don’t feel comfortable doing so. Maps and directions for the participating studios, and images of work for sale, can also be found at the website.

Hilton says this past year was a tough one for her and many other potters. “I’ve been able to tread water because I have some loyal customers who have continued to buy from me online or through individual appointments at my studio. But these’s no question sales have been down.”

Unable to continue offering pottery classes at her former studio, she opted to take a bigger space at the Arts & Industry building so that she could bring in more potters’ wheels and space them apart; she resumed classes there earlier this spring.

Hilton and other local potters say they’ve been buoyed by the support customers in the region have shown them, as well as by the sponsors for the Pottery Trail, including Northeast Solar, Greenfield Cooperative Bank, and The People’s Pint.

To show that appreciation, potters are urging customers to pick up a “Pottery Trail Passport” at their first stop. Anyone who gets a Trail Passport stamped at seven of the nine studios will be entered in a drawing to win a mug or cup, and people who collect all nine stamps will be entered to win a set of nine small plates.

“Make a weekend of it, stay overnight, and come on out and have fun,” said Hilton. “We want to see you.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.




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