5 Featured Pottery Studios in Western MA
Hear Me Roar: Pottery Studios in Western Massachusetts
Getting Your Hands Dirty
By Cheryl Allan Carlyle
Pottery, one of the oldest forms of art, has been in existence since before the Neolithic period, dating back to 29,000 BC! These ancient artifacts have been discovered by archaeologists across the world, most notably in Japan, China, Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. The origins of pottery are purely utilitarian in that they were made to serve a specific, useful purpose – cups, plates, and bowls are among the most common items found. Because clay is inexpensive, abundant, and adaptable, it was an ideal medium for creating these necessary items. Beyond its practical use, clay was also used in early cultures to create figurines and vases as a form of artistic expression. Today, pottery remains a timeless and valuable art form. (Read more in the post Discovering History Through Pottery-Based Learning.)
Not only is the process of making pottery fun, but it also has documented therapeutic benefits! In a study published in Art Therapy (2016), researchers measured the cortisol levels of study participants before and after 45-minutes of self-directed artistic activities, namely modeling clay. The results reveal that cortisol levels decreased significantly in 75% of participants after engaging in this artistic production. According to study lead author Girija Kaimal, the reduction in cortisol levels may be explained by the way art helps us externalize and process internal events. “It helps us express things that we don’t often have words for but are deeply felt and experienced. Second, it helps us communicate to others this inner state, and when you communicate, you can build relationships. You are communicating, ‘This is who I am and where I am.'”
I have personally collected second-hand pottery for years. A random bowl from the flea market, a cup from the thrift store, a vase from the tag sale down the street – these unique, handmade treasures offer a simple joy that’s difficult for me to describe. I believe the feeling I get from these pieces is derived from the connection they invite. Each work of art represents the personal expression of the artist who created it: their vision, time, effort, and energy. All of this has been molded into the work, giving each piece its personality.
I also appreciate pottery that has a history to it. I recently purchased a mug from the local thrift store. It was hand thrown, painted, and had the artists name carved at the bottom. It was a little lopsided, a bit too thick, and not deep enough to hold the amount of coffee I require in the morning. But it was perfect in its imperfection. It had a history. The person who created this piece had a vision, a purpose, a passion for creating something from nothing. As I held the mug in my hand, I imagined who “Tammy” was and why they created this mug to begin with…and more importantly, why they gave it away. Were they told it was too thick, too shallow, too lopsided to be given as a gift? Had they used it for many years and decided it was time for a new piece? Perhaps the mug had been placed into the donation box at the sale of their estate, ready to be loved by the next person who could appreciate it.
Whatever the reason, and no matter the journey, I cherish this mug for the joy it brings me each time I catch a glimpse of it on the kitchen shelf. Pottery holds a certain nostalgia. There’s a simplicity to it, a connection, that can get lost in a fast-paced world, dominated by machines and production lines.
This month, I encourage you to try your hand – literally – at creating your own special piece of pottery, whether you plan to keep it for yourself or to give it as a gift to someone you love. Below are a few local studios you can visit to begin connecting with potters who are passionate about sharing their skills and knowledge with other aspiring artists.
Potterville Pottery in West Springfield, MA.
My daughters and I recently visited this studio, where the girls used the potter’s wheel for the first time to create cereal bowls for themselves. After learning techniques and making the piece, it was sent to the kiln to be fired. Once fired, they got to use paint to create whichever pattern they wanted prior to the pieces being glazed and fired once more. When they went back to pick up their completed masterpieces, they were in awe of themselves. What started as a lump of wet clay had been transformed into one-of-a-kind pieces that they’ll treasure for years to come. They have since returned to create handmade gifts for their grandparents – a vase for their Mauna and an ice cream bowl for Papa.
Northampton Pottery in Northampton, MA.
Northampton Pottery is run by potter in residence, Kris O’Neill who states: “My goal at Northampton Pottery is not only to encourage a rewarding experience in clay for people of all ages and abilities, but to cultivate an atmosphere of relaxation and creativity. I actively work to make Northampton Pottery a place where people can come to decompress and spend a little time in Lala Land with other friendly people doing the same thing.” Kris offers classes for adults and children (aged 10 and older). Teen classes are largely self-directed with Kris there to instruct, suggest, facilitate, and encourage.
Kaleidoscope Pottery in Easthampton, MA.
Kaleidoscope Pottery, located in Easthampton is owned and operated by Evelyn Snyder. As stated on their website, they “strive to make pottery that is inspired by the natural world.” The studio runs workshops and also offers their custom pieces for sale.
Cycle Pottery in Northampton, MA.
Run by Kathryn Kothe, an avid cyclist, dedicated mother, and entrepreneur. According to her website, the name CyclePottery represents her two passions, but “Cycle” in CyclePottery can refer to many other cycles. Each person who works with Kathryn can find their own personal meaning in “CyclePottery” and reasons to connect with working in clay. Kathryn created CyclePottery in 2012, a business that not only allows her to balance art, cycling, and motherhood but also to share her passion with others. Kathryn’s hand-thrown stoneware pottery is simple yet beautiful in the attention to the colors and subtle curves of each piece. Cycle Pottery offers classes, workshops, camps, and open studio hours.
Maya Machin in Ashfield, MA.
Maya is a local potter who strives “to make pottery that feels comforting in hand, functions well, and pleases the eye.” In addition to finding her work in various galleries across Western Massachusetts, Maya also allows customers to create online gift registries for weddings and other special events.
(Photo credits: (cc) Marcel Kessler; (c) Cheryl Allan Carlyle)
About the Author
Cheryl Allan Carlyle ♦ Cheryl is a native of Western Massachusetts who was introduced to theater at a young age, and whose love of performing arts has only grown throughout the years. Cheryl is an accomplished playwright whose feature-length play, The Weight of Silence, made its world premiere in Cape Cod. Her work has also been showcased at local theaters and festivals throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut. Whether it’s local stages or the bright lights of Broadway, Cheryl has a deep appreciation for theater arts and the amount of work and dedication that goes into each performance. Cheryl is also Hilltown Families’ Theater Bulletin Board Manager, where she provides our readers with a bridge that connects our local community with the magic and wonderment of live theater.