Would local foods taste and look better if they were served on plates and bowls crafted of local clay?
Find out by sampling some of Malley Weber’s earthenware and ceramics created from clay she digs from the alluvial plain of the Androscoggin River and brings to her Hallowell studio.
In Farmingdale, Neal Loken decorates each of his ceramic bowls and vases and lamp bases and mugs with a silver maple leaf taken from a tall tree in his backyard. Wife Barb Loken creates whimsical pieces of art and pottery, including the “Drink Smart,” pig-handled Albert Swine Stein.
“He does the straight and beautiful stuff while I do the comic relief,” she said.
Their friend from Tibet, Pasang Tsering, crafts tiles of hopeful messages in Tibetan script.
In Augusta, Lori Keenan Watts of Fine Mess Pottery adds baking soda, soda ash and woodchips to a free-standing, mortarless, brick kiln heated to about 2,400 degrees. The combination creates a unique glaze on each of her pottery pieces. “I like to introduce a little bit of randomness,” she said.
These artists and more opened their studios this weekend for the third annual Maine Pottery Tour, which continues from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Nine studios in central Maine welcomed guests along with studios in southern and coastal Maine. A list of participating potters is offered on mainepotterytourblog.blogspot.com.
Once in the spring and once in August Weber shovels clay into 25-pound bags to haul up an embankment so she can use them in her wares at Hallowell Clay Works. There’s no mistaking the reddish tint of the local clay.
On Saturday she had a potter’s wheel outside ready for a demonstration. A trio of other wheels was lined up inside her studio in the area where she teaches classes.
Weber takes her teaching on the road as well, integrating ceramics into the curriculum at the Maine Academy of Natural Sciences in Hinckley. “Ceramics is really a great blend of arts and sciences,” she said on Saturday. Currently she’s working with a chemistry class. Last time it was an earth science class where she discussed Maine geology and the glacial marine clay that she mines.
“We have all this clay in Maine,” Weber said. “It doesn’t make any sense to ship it in.”
But it comes at a price. “When you dig your own, you have to clean it,” she said. “It’s a ton of extra work.”
Weber has been a potter for 27 years and has begun working with hospice and bereavement groups, using clay to promote healing and occasionally working with families who want to make cremation urns for their loved ones.
She and other potters are hoping the studio tours increase awareness of local artists. “We’re trying to build it so every year we get more and more potters, kind of like Maine Maple Sunday,” Weber said.
For the open studio weekend, the owners of Loken Pottery converted the front section into a display area and cleared off the desk and other areas. “It’s the cleanest it’s ever been in the life of the studio,” Barb Loken said, as she waved a hand around.
The Lokens, potters for 45 years, normally don’t sell their wares from the studio. They have a number of outlets, including Maine Potters Market in Portland’s Old Port.
However, Sarah Shed, of Hallowell, took advantage of Saturday’s open studio to purchase some of the Lokens’ pottery and Tsering’s calligraphy tiles. Most were to be gifts. “I may get something special for myself,” she added, eying some silver maple leaf bowls.
Barb Loken said the leaves “come from one lone silver maple out back that’s always screaming” when Neal Loken sets up a ladder to select the most perfect leaves.
The appliqued leaves burn off in the first firing, adding color to the clay.
In the bright sunshine Saturday afternoon, Watts turned her potter’s wheel to shape a small bowl before setting it to dry briefly. Her ceramics were displayed outside on the side lawn of her 131 Cony St. home.
One of her regular customers stopped by to make some purchases, building a small collection of items on the outside deck.
Watts said her items are functional and food safe.
“Everybody likes beautiful things,” Watts said. “You want your tools to work for you; you don’t want to have to work for them.”
For those who’d like to see for themselves, here is a list of central Maine pottery studios open for touring 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday:
â€¢ Augusta: Fine Mess Pottery, 131 Cony St.;
â€¢ Farmingdale: Loken Pottery, 26 Bowman St.;
â€¢ Hallowell: Hallowell Clay Works/Malley Weber, 6 Orchard Lane;
â€¢ Litchfield: The Potter’s House, 82 Stevenstown Road;
â€¢ Philips: Rob Sieminski: 63 Bog Pond Road;
â€¢ Wayne: A Lakeside Studio Pottery, 12 Cedar Point Road;
â€¢ Whitefield: Whitefield Pottery, 442 Howe Road;
â€¢ Windsor, Maple Lane Pottery, 36 Greeley Road; and
â€¢ Winthrop: Mudgirl Pottery, 846 Memorial Drive.