WINDSOR — The noise in Robbi Fritz Portela’s workshop was dialed up to a low-grade din as a dozen people milled around the compact space.

Nine of them worked on pinch pots, shaping clay into small bowls by pinching it between their fingers.

“If you make it too big,” Portella cautioned, “the clay flops over.”

Six of them were children, and maybe one of them will be a future potter. The pottery bug, as Portela well knows, can bite that young, or younger.

She was 13 and living in New Hampshire when she went with her mother and her aunt to the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s annual Craftsmen’s Fair at the Mount Sunapee Resort in Newbury.

She watched a potter throwing a pot on a pottery wheel, and she was transfixed.

“You couldn’t tear me away,” Portela said Saturday morning as the first customers of the day were climbing the stairs to the Maple Lane Pottery gallery on her family’s farm at 36 Greeley Road, where she and other artists have their work on display.

The draw on Saturday, other than catching up with Portela and her daughter Alex, was the sixth annual Maine Pottery Tour, a two-day event sponsored by Portland Pottery, the Maine Crafts Association and Monkitree, an art and craft gallery in Gardiner. Held every year on the first weekend in May, the tour gives the public a chance to visit the studios and galleries of participating potters, see demonstrations and shop for pottery. And it doesn’t hurt that it falls the weekend before Mother’s Day.

That Sunapee fair was 40 years ago, and Portela remembers so clearly that she wasn’t interested in anything else at the fair. She has been hooked ever since. At high school in Londonderry, New Hampshire, she spent all the time she could manage in the art room.

“My art teacher was so awesome,” said Portela, 53. “I’d get a pass for study halls and go to the art room. Or I’d eat my lunch real fast and spend the rest of the time in the art room.”

Maple Lane Pottery began in 1988, when Portela and her husband, Bill, moved to Windsor. Portela’s studio and gallery, where she taught classes and displayed her work, was located in an ell of their home. When the gallery outgrew that space, it was moved to a barn a couple dozen yards away from the house.

Even as she worked on her pottery, Portela worked at Augusta’s Lithgow Public Library and then as a librarian at the local school. She gave that up a couple of years ago to work on her pottery full time.

“I couldn’t keep up with demand,” she said.

Her work is on display in Maine galleries, including the Maine Potters Market in Portland and the Center for Maine Craft in West Gardiner. She exhibits at shows and recently launched an online shop through Etsy.

Her work is exuberant, depicting wildlife such as foxes, crows, hedgehogs, lobsters and raccoons as well as farm animals such as sheep, chickens and cows in durable stoneware. It’s a reflection of who she is. As visitors wandered in and around her gallery, she chatted with them all, getting caught up on news. She was calmer than the mothers who urged their children to look at the mugs, lamps, serving trays, bowls and dishes with their eyes and not their hands.

In the studio, Donna Parker, of Windsor, kept an eye on her children toiling over their balls of clay while she shaped a pinch pot of her own. The Parkers are Pottery Tour regulars. They come every year so she can choose something for Mother’s Day.

“I’ve got a cupboard full at home,” she said.

Parker returns in the late fall for Portela’s holiday show, where she shops for gifts for her family.

Portela scheduled two pinch pot workshops for Saturday because her daughter was available to work in the gallery, where Alex’s own fanciful ceramic figurines are also on display.

Now 25, Alex Portela started her own relationship with pottery when she was 2.

“I was around in the studio,” she said. “I wasn’t doing anything revolutionary.”

Alex Portela never got hooked by the pottery wheel the way her mother did. Instead, her creations, influenced by the fantasy literature she read growing up, are hand-built creatures such as dragons and unicorns.

For Robbi Fritz Portela and many of her fellow potters, the tour continues from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

She’ll be in her gallery, catching up with friends and former students, fielding questions and explaining the process.

And, she said, “I’ll meet new people.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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