WINTHROP —  Diane Harwood didn’t have long to wait Saturday to make the first sale of the day with the second customer through the door of D. Harwood Pottery, her studio and shop.

That honor went to Susan Simpson, who had her Maine Pottery Tour mapped out with the stops she planned to make at pottery and ceramics studios Saturday, and she came prepared with the measurement of the location where she wanted to place a piece of pottery on her deck in Monmouth.

Simpson doesn’t hit the tour every year, but she resolved to get out this year and go until her budget was gone. She made a dent in her spending plan with two plates and the bowl she was carrying out, carefully wrapped in paper.

Nick Shelton demonstrates how to throw a bowl on a pottery wheel Saturday during a Maine Pottery Tour stop at The Art Walk Shop and Studio in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“It’s just absolutely beautiful,” she said, unwrapping the green and white bowl to show it off before heading off on her quest to visit more studios and acquire some pottery for her daughter.

Across central Maine, more than a dozen studios from Windsor and Whitefield to Litchfield and Bowdoin, were ready to open their doors to the public Saturday as part of the Maine Pottery Tour.

Now in its 10th year, the tour helps launch the season for art fairs, craft shows, farm tours in Maine, inviting both locals and tourists alike to see how things are made and the craftsmen and -women and small business owners who make them.

Advertisement

Although it’s art, it’s also commerce. In Maine, the broader arts and culture sector represented about 2.3% of the state’s 2020 gross domestic product, or the total value of goods and services produced. That translates to nearly 14,900 jobs and total compensation of $902 million.

“For many people, the arts are ideal work, the kind of work that many people dreamed about when they were young,” David Greenham, Maine Arts Commission executive director, said. “As we get older, we tend to lose some of that idealism, and it moves into practicality. The artists among us continue to hold on to the idea that a workday should involve creative exploration, engage your imagination and create something beautiful, thought-provoking or challenging for the viewer.”

The sign at D. Harwood Pottery in Winthrop says it is open for business. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

While society tends to admire celebrities of arts — stars of movies and television, artists and architects — it also tends to take for granted that creative, inspired individuals are toiling away in local communities, Greenham said. Even as they are pursuing their creative work, that work gives them a living doing jobs they love.

Clay is a tactile pleasure for many, and it grabbed Harwood early on. Her childhood home in Newbury, Massachusetts, had a mud hole in the front yard full of clay that she scooped out with her hands.

“I used to make stuff in my sandbox,” she said. “I was crazy for it.”

And it stuck.

Advertisement

While she eventually started throwing clay on a wheel, she has been working now on pressing patterns into sheets of clay with the help of Jamie Ault to make mugs, bowls and platters.

“I love all pottery, but we wanted to do crazy colors. I even bought pink,” she said, pointing at a tall mug on a display. “And believe it or not, it sells.”

As part of the Maine Pottery Tour, some potters showcased different parts of their processes in addition to the studio tours.

Just down Main Street from Harwood’s studio and shop, Nick Shelton was set up on the lower level of the Art Walk Shop and Studio, shaping a vessel on a pottery wheel, coaxing out its final shape using pressure from his hands and fingers, dipping his hand in water every so often to keep the clay workable.

Shelton has been making pottery for about 12 years. He started on a plastic pottery wheel and graduating to his first “real” wheel two years later.

Diane Harwood talks about her work Saturday during a Maine Pottery Tour stop at D. Harwood Pottery in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

In this, his first Maine Pottery Tour, he had set up four wheels and was making up clay balls for visitors to throw and try their hand at shaping clay.

Advertisement

“I think it’s just so relaxing,” he said.

Lori Keenan Watts refers to the first outing of the Maine Pottery Tour that she organized as the proto-tour, during which she and a handful of her fellow potters decided to hold open studio days on the same day. Studio sales can be profitable in a number of ways, from building relationships with potential customers to making sales without having to incur travel or other expenses.

Keenan Watts, who owns and operates Fine Mess Pottery in Augusta, scheduled that first tour for Mother’s Day weekend. She figured she’d put up some shelves, visit with family and fire up the grill, and help people as they wandered in.

“I thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal,” she said. “It was a big deal.”

Because many of the potters were mothers, or had mothers or were partners of mothers, she decided to move it a week earlier to preserve the family holiday.

Based on the success of that first tour, she expanded it the next year and it has continued to grow. This year, 54 potters are taking part. She expects more to join next year as the tour grows, thanks to fellow potters who help with all the tasks that need to be done like building a new website and publicity.

Keenan Watts said she hopes to expand the footprint of the tour, noting that she has only two in western Maine — not enough for a geographic group of their own yet on the website — and none in northern Maine.

The pottery tour continues from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

“It’s deeply satisfying to make things that people will use, that will make their lives better in some tiny, little way, that will make their morning coffee a more enjoyable experience,” Keenan Watts said. “And maybe because of that, they’ll have a more enjoyable day overall.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.