CLAY BUDDIES: JOHN'S FIVE THINGS

Meet John. John is one of the founding members of East Fork Pottery. He's very friendly, very tall, very good at spreadsheets and is a very talented potter. On top of being the nicest guy around and writing incredibly compelling organizational infrastructure literature, he is also always wearing the coolest Wrangler jeans. In all sincerity, he's a pillar of the East Fork family and we would be nowhere without him! We caught up with John to ask him about his five favorite objects and what they mean to him. 

 

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What do you do for East Fork?

I handle a few things at East Fork. Thomas and I take care of all the financial planning and analysis, the bookkeeping, the cost accounting, internal and external financial reporting etc. I'm pretty involved with the production as well--making a good amount of pottery and working with Corey and Amanda and Alex to organize the growing production team as effectively as possible. I'm also working on building out some of the unglamorous but very necessary organizational infrastructure to support our growing team--HR stuff mostly.

Cool!


 

JOHN'S FIVE OBJECTS

 

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Tell me about the objects you chose.

I chose 5 pots--I hate being so obvious, but we are potters after all. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Pottery (and all objects really) have this lovely capacity to accumulate meaning as they move through time. They can bear witness to important events (“these are the plates that your grandparents ate off of at their wedding”) or be part of emotional transactions (“this is the vase your father brought me flowers in when we were dating”). Those two examples are cute and love-y, but objects absorb all sorts of meaning from the circumstances they pass through, dark and light, and it’s potent stuff! With that in mind, these 5 pots are all witnesses to important relationships in my life. Forgive the long-winded self-indulgence, but here it goes. From left to right:

Number one: This large decorated vase is an artifact from the early days of East Fork. The year is 2012. I am still apprenticing with Daniel Johnston. Alex and Connie and I had been talking about the idea of the three of us working together in some capacity for awhile, but we were unsure of what form that collaboration might take. That winter, I went and stayed with them for a week and worked alongside Alex in the studio making pots. It was mostly an opportunity to spend time together in a work setting and try on the relationship. During that week I threw some of these vases and Alex decorated them. I really admired Alex's slip trailing at the time (and still do!) so it was particularly thrilling to see it on a pot I made. A few months later, after he fired the wood kiln, Alex gifted me this vase--one of the nicest ones from that run. At the time I thought it was just the coolest pot. Nowadays its a pleasant reminder of that original leap of faith, our collaborative intent, and the fruits it has borne. There were probably at least 6 more from that same run and I'd love to know where they ended up--any collectors out there have one?

Number 2: The second pot is one that I made toward the end of my apprenticeship with Daniel. It’s sort of a pottery nerd pot--its based off of an old Chinese form called meiping that the Koreans further refined and developed. They're way old though--we're talking like 600AD. Traditionally used to hold wine, and to display branches of plum blossoms, the form is a bit esoteric. But they are a technical challenge to execute and I think when done well, can be exceedingly beautiful. Daniel made really lovely ones and so naturally I tried to emulate them. This one I kept because it’s the closest I got to getting it right. Back then I thought it was the best thing I had ever made. I still think it’s a nice pot; it has this moody anthropomorphic vibe that’s kinda creepy and lovely. But more importantly it represents, to me, the state of mind I had at the time--the earnest striving, the loneliness, the frustration, and sometimes, the quiet little successes.

Number 3: This hourglass mug was given to me by Mark Hewitt himself very shortly after I moved to North Carolina. I showed up to one of his kiln openings right after my move to NC, and after introductions and some chit chat, he disappeared for a moment and came back with a mug and a bowl. "A gift, Happy Birthday!" he joked--but little did he know, it actually was my birthday. I took it to be An Important Sign. I belonged. These were my people. The mug is delightfully chipped and well-used now--it lives out in the kitchen at the pottery and sees regular use at our post-lunch tea time. I'm sure Mark would be pleased to hear.

Number 4: This is a sweet one. This tumbler was made by my teacher, Daniel Johnston, and given to me as something of a "graduation present" when I finished working with him. The story starts with the first afternoon that I met Daniel, when I visited for a working interview to see if the apprenticeship would be a good fit for both parties. I showed up at his home, he invited me inside and offered me a glass of water in this tumbler. 3 years later, remembering our first meeting as clearly as I did, he gave me this cup as a going away present. It's not a particularly technically accomplished or uniquely beautiful cup but rather (and here's my recurring theme) it physically bore witness to the arc of our mentorship--blessed its coming and going, so to speak--and thus has accrued some potent magic. It was a very thoughtful gift.

Number 5: And finally, this last lil mug. This mug was given to me a few years back on my birthday (Aug 31st FYI--all the good things you hear about Virgos are true) by our Production Manager Amanda Hollomon-Cook. Amanda showed up at East Fork close to 4 years ago now, back when Alex and Connie and I really had no idea we were going to be making a dinnerware factory in a few years. She had been studying pottery off and on for a good while at that point and was eager for an opportunity to deepen her training and work alongside other potters. I was super scared of bringing someone on board at the time--feeling very much inadequate to the challenge of any sort of mentorship/managerial role. She asked to work with us and Alex and I waffled and didn't get her an answer while we mulled it over. Nevertheless, she persisted--much to her credit and East Fork's good fortune. She quickly made herself invaluable and has only deepened her professionalism and further raised the bar at East Fork as time has passed.

Amanda coming on board, in retrospect, seems to be an event that got the ball rolling towards our present path. Assembling a team of capable, kind, and determined folks has been a joy in and of itself and a key motivator for me to continue our growth as a company.

But I digress-she gave me this mug early on in our relationship. She made it during her student days at Haywood Community College. It’s a scary thing to share your early work with others, let alone give it away for keeps. I can’t speak for Amanda, but I see the mug as a moving artifact of the mutual respect and trust that (if you're lucky) arises when people work alongside one another, earnestly and vulnerably, towards a common goal.

Thanks, John! You Rock!

 

 

 

ANCIENT GREEK POTTERY AT THE ACROPOLIS MUSEUM

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Since becoming part of the East Fork family, my appreciation for pottery has bloomed tenfold. My introduction to ceramics was my grandmother, who threw on the wheel as a hobby. I was very fond of accompanying her at the studio and playing with a wet chunk of clay as it spun on a wheel. But other than the tactile satisfaction of clay, I had no real knowledge of the craft, let alone it's historical significance/modern context. Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Athens, Greece and visit a few museums while I was there. Being in the presence of some of the oldest remains of ancient Greek pottery was as moving as it was educational. My understanding of ceramics exploded!

 

I visited the Acropolis museum, which was founded in 2008 and lies at the foot of the slopes of the Acropolis in Athens. In ancient times, this location was a road to the "Sacred Rock" where people would gather to worship gods. The museum was built around the archeological site (a contentious location), where many of the artifacts were found. It houses a sweeping range of objects dating from the Bronze Age up to Byzantine Greece including busts, statues, sculptures, texts and for our purposes, most importantly, incredible pottery. Before you enter the museum, you walk over a glass floor which shows the ruins of houses and streets. A beautiful architectural design and a helpful tool to imagine that these artifacts were made and enjoyed by actual folks and not just theory!

 

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For the ancient Greek people, pottery was for everyday use. Water, oil, wine and perfume, mostly. The most striking of the pots I encountered at the museum were from the era of vases known as black-figure and red-figure pottery originating in Corinth in the amphorae style. These are basically what you think of when you think of greek vases. Long, big body, narrow neck, wider mouth and handles. If you still don’t know what i mean, see below. Or there is an emoji in your phone for reference. This style dominated the pottery scene from about 600-800 BCE. I’m still reeling over the fact that these survived centuries are a still intact! 

 

Here is a little rundown of the basic technique they used: first they were thrown on the wheel using clay from the region, professional potters often traveled around, sharing styles. Then potash, soda and black ferrous oxide was the general glaze recipe applied before firing. The paint was done by a different artisan, not the potter, and the common fixative used was either vinegar or urine (yes, pee). They were fired multiple times at a high temp to get the right color (980 degrees celsius, still very low compared to China). 

 

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The decorative aspect of the pots was very important. Many of these pieces illustrated stories or seemed to be dedicated to myths or gods, with hand painted figures in repetition circling around the vase. Not only are these vases striking and ornate, but they have provided us with a vast understanding of ancient Greek mythology as well as the social and religious practices of the time. They function as information; they tell a story. Whether the intention was to tell to do this, honor a god, or simply express artistic vision, these vases have been fundamental in our understanding of the ancient culture. 

 

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Who knows, maybe one day in year 40,589 when robots are excavating ancient Asheville and find a soapstone charger they will put it in a holographic museum for all the other robots to consciously receive with their collective anntenae. Ok, i’m jet-lagged! Hope this brings some new meaning to your signature mug. :-)

 
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