Studio or Dungeon?
Mike and Connie always avoided the word “studio”. It seemed a little too pretentious to be calling the basement a studio. It wasn’t until after the year 2000 that it became referred to by many as “our studio space”. It’s still a basement (or dungeon) with it’s own advantages. Never needing drying cupboards (which is used to slow the drying process of pottery) keeps the process more natural. “It’s got that nice, damp and cool feeling”. The walls of the basement have never been strapped or insulated which leads to some rather cold winter mornings. Connie and Ivy have agreed that Mike may be his own worst enemy.
Kiln’s are like Alarm Clocks
At any given time, there are 2-3 working, refurbished electric kilns. The only computerized kiln was purchased over 10 years ago. The original kiln which Mike and Connie bought in 1979, is still running and in fact does a great job on the bisque. Mike, a self confessed luddite has become the bandage electrician, wire for wire, click for click. It is only with many years of experience does a potter get out of bed at three in the morning because he “heard the kiln”. In fact, much of what goes on at Leishman Pottery can be explained through Mike’s reluctance to receive industrial change. Mike also purchased a slab roller from a local potter and then avoided using it for 5 years. Luddite?
“When we started using images on our clay, we came up with a coaster design and needed a template. The quote from a dye cutter was $300. I went to the grocery store and bought a can of Folgers for $7.95. We had to drink the coffee, but still to this day we are using that template.”
While these scenarios may be viewed as “cheap”, it’s this thinking that has lead Mike and Connie to their green initiatives. It may be a fairly new concept to many but for most potters reusing materials is the only way. Because there is so much space in the basement and the conditions are just right, reclaiming the clay is a huge part of the daily routine. To gradually reclaim used clay, all scraps are placed in small buckets, which then get transferred into larger ‘garbage bins’. As the clay and water mixture changes in consistency, the clay is then slapped on a large plaster table, which draws the moisture out of the clay. At this point, the clay is re-wedged and bagged for use. To Mike and Connie, this is a ‘zen’ approach to acknowledging the value of their clay, not throwing it away and it is in fact a lifestyle; it fits them.
The back room of the studio space is Connie & Ivy’s. During the winter months it’s the warmest spot in the house. Connie, who was conscripted to be a part of the family business, took over the glazing and has since passed it onto Ivy. All glaze formulas are Connie and Mike’s, tested in Cobalt. The idea behind choosing electric kilns was really due to its consistent nature, allowing Connie just the right amount of confidence in her glazes.
“Choosing to go the electric route may have taken us out of the ‘artsy fartsy’ crowd, but it makes us people who are concerned with value and cost. We are not concerned with others interpretations of what we should be. Most of our learning is trial and error, and stupidity. “To this day I sit on the other side of the potters wheel, where the tools are supposed to go. We had no real contact with other potters. Our pottery supply guy once told me that I was the only potter he knew that had ground the wheel down so much, rendering it completely useless. You can’t take away years of proof”. This is the definition of ‘Master Potter’.
The studio space that customers visit is adorned with polished oak and solid stable wood. Mike and Connie hope that it is a place people would recognize as their own. “We have many customers that do not come in to buy pottery, they come to talk and experience a conversation, maybe even find some inner peace”. What is Leishman Pottery’s main goal? It is not to think of the customers as people who will buy our product, they are people we want to know, and welcome in. A visit to the studio should add to your day and to ours.