Half a century of local pottery
- Published: April 21, 2023
The March 31 issue of the News featured an article about Yellow Springs Pottery’s 50-year anniversary as a cooperatively owned business. The article focused on the evolution of the store over the years — anchored by a cooperative business model since the collective was founded in 1973.
This follow-up article spotlights five local members of the co-op. The co-op membership currently stands at nine.
Jane Hockensmith-Reich took her first pottery class in Dayton at River Bend Art Center in the early 1970s.
“That class really got me interested. Plus, I had friends in my life that were potters,” she told the News recently.
Hockensmith-Reich took the craft more seriously after marrying a potter in the early 1980s.
“I was living on a farm [in Indiana], and there was a building that we made into a pottery studio. I just became a potter because it was the easy thing to do there. I did that for four years, mostly selling at a little business that we had in that area,” she said.
Toward the later part of the 1980s, Hockensmith-Reich sold her pottery at art fairs, and her craftsmanship caught the attention of former co-op member Jerry Davis, who suggested she apply to be a member.
But living in Indiana at the time, Hockensmith-Reich was reluctant to apply at first.
“I wasn’t really looking to come here. I had been in the store and loved it. I used to come to Yellow Springs in the 1970s, but never thought that I’d ever be a [co-op] member,” she said.
Hockensmith-Reich did eventually apply and was accepted as a member of Yellow Springs Pottery, commuting from Indiana for a year before moving to Yellow Springs in 1990, renting studio space for a brief time from John Bryan Community Pottery, which has been a landing spot for a number of co-op members throughout the years.
According to Hockensmith-Reich, one of her favorite things to do as a potter is to throw on a pottery wheel.
“My most favorite thing to throw are bowls,” she said. “I like to do things with them after I throw them, like alter them and do different designs on them. I also like to make functional things that people can display if they’re not using them so they can have it in their life the whole time. I mean, even a coffee mug can be really beautiful.”
Brad Husk, one of the co-op’s newer members, has been a part of the group for three years. Originally from Springfield, Husk became interested in ceramics in 2006, and like Hockensmith-Reich, took art courses at River Bend Art Center. But his focus at the time was on jewelry making.
It was during his studies in fine arts at Sinclair Community College that Husk found his interest in pottery through classes in handbuilding and wheel-throwing techniques
“I heard about John Bryan Community Pottery [while] at Sinclair, which is kind of hilarious, because I lived in [Yellow Springs] already. I had no idea John Bryan even existed,” he said.
According to Husk, one of the studio techs at John Bryan Community Pottery took him under his wing and showed him the ropes.
“I was there as much as I could [be] — I didn’t have kids yet,” Husk said. “Anytime [the studio tech] was doing something, I was there. Eventually, he kind of took me on as an apprentice there. That also helped me pay for my rental space there.”
Husk said while he was working as a tech at John Bryan, he’d visit Yellow Springs Pottery, which he said was “amazing.” Members of the co-op always staffed the front desk, he said, which brought him into friendly contact with them. He was later approached about joining the co-op by members at a couple of Street Fairs at which he vended, and was encouraged to apply as a visiting artist, a program that came online to provide opportunities to artists about eight years ago.
“The first time I did, I didn’t get it.” A second attempt to join the visiting artist program, however, was successful, Husk said.
“It was exciting to see some of my pots selling,” he said.
According to Husk, at the suggestion of the co-op, he applied for membership and was accepted.
“When I got accepted, I was really, really happy,” he said.
Aside from working in the co-op, Husk has built a little wood kiln in his backyard and built an art studio at his Yellow Springs home.
“I’ve got a lot to do still, but it’s a working studio,” he said.
For several years Husk has been managing John Bryan Community Pottery and currently manages the kilns.
“John Bryan has been an excellent resource for me as well. I would not be here without John Bryan,” Husk said.
Janet Murie grew up in Yellow Springs and attended the Antioch School from nursery school through sixth grade. She said she was drawn to clay at an early age.
“We always had clay. I don’t know when it started. I don’t remember clay in nursery school, but certainly the younger group, we were playing with clay, and the woman who managed the [school’s] studio fired the kilns for us,” Murie said.
According to Murie, the glazes the students used were “undoubtedly poisonous, lead-based glazes.”
“But they were beautiful,” she added “I’ve still got an ashtray, a little hand-built thing. I don’t know which one of us kids made it, but wow. Turquoise and oranges and yellows and reds and greens.”
At a young age, Murie became “fascinated” by the process of throwing pots on a wheel — a fascination that was galvanized by film strips she viewed at the Antioch School that demonstrated throwing pots
“That was sort of the seed, I would guess,” she said.
Murie’s interest in making pottery continued through young adulthood, and she eventually purchased a pottery wheel from a friend and enrolled in classes at John Bryan Community Pottery, where she also rented space.
“Cuz it’s not inexpensive to set up a studio,” Murie said.
At the time, Murie also sold her pottery at art fairs, but eventually set her sights on becoming a member of Yellow Springs Pottery.
“I thought in about five years, I’d like to apply. Maybe I’ll be a good enough potter to apply to Yellow Springs Pottery, and the friend I was going to art fairs with, said we should apply,” she said.
According to Murie, she was “blown away” when she was accepted as a member.
“I mean, I was making dog dishes, I really was a baby potter. This group, which was fairly small then, around six or seven, took a chance on me,” she said. “It’s been fabulous.”
Dave Hergesheimer said his ceramics career began at Antioch in the 1960s when he was persuaded to take a pottery class by poet Robert Paschell.
“Robert Paschell was my roommate. And he took the ceramics class, a beginning ceramics class, and he said, ‘Hey, you gotta check this out,’” Hergesheimer said. “Robert was the guy who dragged me into clay, and once I had my hands on it … you know.”
After graduating from Antioch, Hergesheimer traveled, eventually moving to Japan in the 1970s, where he began an apprenticeship in a pottery community there. He also established a home with his wife, Keiko, and their two kids.
“I was in a workshop with 10 other people, and I really loved the feeling of community, of working together with a group of people who were all dedicated to clay,” Hergesheimer said.
Although his life in Japan was going well and he was able to make a living as a potter in Japan, Hergesheimer said personal developments were pulling his family back to the United States. He was concerned about his ability to make a living in the United States should they have to return. During this time of transition, co-op members, including Evelyn La Mers, a fellow Antiochian he knew from his student days, came to visit him while on a ceramics tour in Japan.
“[She] made a very strong case for the pottery store, what a great venue it was,” Hergesheimer said.“When I graduated from college, there really wasn’t much of an art fair scene, it didn’t seem like ceramics was a viable way to make a living. But in Japan, there were potters who’d been making ceramics for generations. I mean, it was very viable.”
It took some convincing from La Mers before Hargesheimer decided to return to the United States.
“I thought, maybe, I’ll just spend the rest of my life in Japan, but then, they came along and said, ‘Well, things have changed. You know, there are now art fairs, the pottery store is up and running, la, la, la. So, in ’81 we came back, and a few years later we got into the store,” Hergesheimer said. “Potters in this country tend to be a very solitary bunch, you work by and large in your studio, alone. You don’t see many people most of the time. Having the pottery store provided that sense of community that had been lacking since leaving Japan.”
Evelyn La Mers
Evelyn La Mers said she took ceramics classes at Antioch at the suggestion of her mother.
“I was a business major, but my mother was doing competitive flower arranging as a hobby in Connecticut. And she had an iban — a very stylized — design aesthetic, and she needed very plain, low, wide containers to put her very vertical arrangements in.”
When La Mers’ mother couldn’t find any containers for her arrangements, she took a ceramics class and made her own.
“She wrote to me and said, ‘I think you would enjoy ceramics. If you have room in your class schedule, why don’t you take a class?’” La Mers said. “For whatever reason — I didn’t usually follow her suggestions — I did. And I just loved it, and I was good at it.”
La Mers said she didn’t initially see an “economic future” in ceramics work. Reasoning that, though Antioch College had an art department, it wasn’t an art school, she continued to pursue a major in business. However, she did continue taking ceramics classes.
“We sold our work at the end of each quarter, because what were we going to do with it?” she said. “My work was always conventional, so it sold well. I was making kitchenware and whatnot.”
According to La Mers, her interest in running a business was piqued by her college co-op experience as manager for Antioch’s bookstore.
“I was the head of five employees, I was the boss, and I kind of liked that. I had met my husband Tom’s parents, who had their own business. And I’d never met anyone who had their own business,” La Mers said.
La Mers had the notion that she could successfully sell her work and made the decision to run a business selling her pottery and it paid off for her.
“I just decided I would try it, and I’d just gotten married,” La Mers said. “My husband was an engineer, so he could help me build displays, or build a kiln or build a studio, whatever needed to be built. I said, ‘I’ll try it for a year, and if I can make $5,000.’ or whatever it was I thought I needed to live on, ‘then I’ll stay with it. If I can’t, then I’ll go get a job.’ And I never went and got a job.”
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