The Old Church Pottery Sale

Now, when was the last time you were part of a sizeable crowd and kept outside a church hall (in the cold I might add) until the exact time to open the doors is reached? At 6pm the doors are opened and people surge in to view and buy the pottery inside. The stuff dreams are made of? A recall of the mid-1970s? Not a bit. The Art School at Old Church does this annually and has all beautifully organised from the folk who take the entry fee at the door to the methods employed to keep folk moving and pots being bought – for example, once picked up and decided upon, a piece rapidly leaves your hands (making room for the next piece) and has your name attached and is taken to a ‘holding pen’ to where – once ready to depart – you head, identify these are indeed your choices, pay the cost (any way you like can be catered), and meanwhile your purchases are being securely wrapped, by another small team, in thin sheets of donated sponge sheet and lavish 2724packing tape. This method allows the potters, who man their stands, free to talk with one and all, and the buying public to circulate unencumbered. There is donated champagne or fruit juice to drink, Toll-house cookies and small pottles of fruit, nuts and seeds to eat. It all works fabulously well.

The Old Church, in Demarest, New Jersey (about ½ to ¾ hour drive from Manhattan depending on time of day) is now an art school and this was their 39th annual fund-raiser. They appoint a curator who chooses the exhibitors from applications by professional potters based in the North-East USA states from Maine to Pennsylvania to North Carolina and between. This year the curator was Karen Karnes and she chose 27 exhibitors with Chris Gustin and herself as chief exhibitors – and they shared a stand at centre of one of the rooms.

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Karen Karnes sitting by her work. Smaller works recent (she looked very frail) while the large covered jar that was more typical, was apparently an older piece.

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Chris Gustin’s work foregrounded… large scale, fluid impressive and expensive.

There were 26 exhibitors, all makers of ‘domestic ware’ in our terms, all ‘potters’ in North American terms (as opposed to ‘ceramists’ or ‘ceramic artists’). Apart from Karnes and Gustin there were other names that might be known like Scott Goldberg who has twice been to New Zealand and Jack Troy who was in NZ back in the 70s. Also there was Bruce Dehnert, who taught in Otago for several years back in the early 90s and who returned last year as guest and Artist in Residence for Waikato Potters.

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Scott Goldberg talking with me.

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Scott’s stand.

But no matter whether known to us or not, all there were of a high standard. Much work was stoneware, some wood-fired, but there was also porcelain and a couple of stands of decorated terra-cotta, and one used a formula for a clay body that could work directly over flame or element as well as it functioned in an oven..  While individual styles were very different, (these are mature artists who have clearly been at it for a long time) what was consistent was that American trope of altering the thrown piece evidenced by the articulation and enhanced functionality. Thrown and altered work was everywhere and made the walking through the exhibits engaging while contemplating quite how extensive were some of the amendments. Americans do this pretty much as a matter of course and it’s this that makes their tableware distinctive. Did I buy any? Well, yes. There were some bowls and some mugs (always need more in my house) that simply should not be left behind despite the cost of FedXing them home!

General view

General view

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General view

The whole event was set up very well so that makers could interact with clients with the least possible interruption, work could be viewed, discussed, bought and processed for getting home with greatest efficiency and least pain and inconvenience. But there was no hard sell – emphasis was on giving the crowds of regulars and newbies like us an enjoyable evening. It all worked and was to be repeated over the next two days once exhibitors filled all those spaces on their shelves from the boxes of reserves they brought.

Other artists involved, who you may like to look up via their websites are as follows (Most have websites as selling from these sites is an important part of their economy) Richard Aerni, Charity Davis-Woodart, Ryan Greenheck, Steven Hill, Naomi Dalglish and Michael Hunt, Nick Joerling, Jody Johnstone, Simon Levin, Suze Lindsay, Robbie Lobell, Michael McCarthy, Jenny Mendes, Matthew Metz, Alison Palmer, Aysha Peltz, Mark Shapiro, Rob Sieminski, Stacy Snyder, Sam Taylor, Tara Wilson and Sheryl Zacharia. Not to mention Scott Goldberg, Bruce Dehnert, Jack Troy, Chris Gustin and Karen Karnes.

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