Robbie Merrick, Pottery Collector

 –  by Suzanne Adams, Clay Elements

Collecting is a process of selecting items which tell a story. Robbie Merrick, is fascinated by the beauty and functionality of ceramic art made at the turn of the 20th century and beyond. When asked: What motivates you more; the object or the search, he pauses to think and replies: “The search; it’s like peeling an onion. You learn about a potter’s life and culture which leads to the potters that influenced him or her. You learn people’s stories, their histories and their connections.”

Robbie kindly invited Alex Adams and me to see his ceramics collection where he lives with his wife Margaret on Kenwood Hill.

Robby-and-Wife
Robbie Merrick and Margaret Merrick, August, 2018

Robbie’s interest in ceramics began when he took a ceramics class in college. What followed was a career in education, along with a 40 year passion for motorcycles. At Margaret’s suggestion to “find a new hobby”, he began collecting turn of the century pottery and eventually relearning the art of ‘throwing’ a pot at AA Clay.

As our tour of the collection began, Robbie enthusiastically presented the book which began his collecting career; Clear as Mud, Early 20th Century Kentucky Art Pottery edited by Warren Payne.

Time spent with Kentucky pottery led Robbie to an interest in the Arts and Crafts movement in England and the U.S. (1880 – 1920). If you are a ceramic artist today, your roots are in the Arts and Crafts movement which espoused the artful, handmade creation of crafts as a needed cultural reaction to industrial production.

Arts-and-Craft
Arts and Crafts, Pottery and Ceramics, by Joanna Wissinger

Using the many reference books which give detailed histories of potters, pottery factories and the developing art pottery market of the turn of the century, he began collecting pieces of Clewel, Weller, Roseville, Paul Revere, Fulper, Marblehead, TECO, Clifton, Owen, Hampshire and many others. He made his finds at auctions, on ebay, and antique stores throughout his and Margaret’s travels.

Robbie had realized early on that women were influential in ceramic artistic development throughout the turn of the 20th century. Some women established or managed pottery businesses, while many others were employed as producers of greenware, glaze painters, and designers. For example, the four Overbeck sisters began Overbeck Pottery in 1911 in Cambridge City, IN. They were known for imaginative figurines, matte glazes, and painted plants and animals. Their pottery business operated until 1955 when the last of the sisters passed away.

Other female potters of note in Robbie’s collection are Clarice Cliff, Charlotte Rhead, Beatrice Wood, the founders of Rookwood, Mary Chase Stratton of Pewabic Pottery, the women trained at Newcomb Pottery and Polia Pillin.

NC
North Carolina pottery

As a finale to our visit, Robbie led us to his North Carolina collection of traditional folk potters who focused on practical shapes and function. His finds include Jugtown, BB Craig, Pisgah Forrest, pottery of the Owens and Coles and a pot turned by Oscar Louis Bachelder at his Omar Khayyam Pottery in the early 1900’s.

Charles-Counts
Charles Counts  (1952 – 2000)   Rising Fawn, Georgia

And then our conversation turned to a pot by Charles Counts at Berea College. Charles Counts was one of those names only ‘mentioned’ in the Clear as Mud book. His books Common Clay and Pottery Workshop  became constant reminders of what it meant to become a ‘craftsman.’  We had come ‘full circle.’

Robbie’s philosophy of collecting: “I try to collect one piece from each artist who fascinates me”. For example, work made at the Grueby Pottery (1897-1920 Boston, MA) is difficult to afford; however, I was happy to buy a small piece of tile that represents everything wonderful about Grueby Pottery.

More-Collection
Grueby Faience / Grueby Pottery  1897-1920  Boston, MA

To sum up, the best thing about Robbie Merrick is that he spends many working hours in the studio at AA Clay throwing pots on the wheel and applying glazes.

Robby-at-wheel
Robbie Merrick at AA Clay Studio

Why does Robbie devote time to learning the craft? He wisely states that he studies pottery so that: “I can engage in knowledgeable conversations with collectors and potters who know more than I do”. This is a devoted collector.

 

Amy Elswick; The Independent Artist

A Profile, by Suzanne Adams, Clay Elements

What is the life of an artist and what does it take to be successful?
Amy Elswick has the answers.

I met with Amy at her renovated, spacious studio/home on East Chestnut in Louisville, KY.

Amy’s Appalachian heritage includes parents, aunts, and uncles who took the opportunity to explore and learn at Berea College. She used her years at Berea to work in the ceramics studio as a production potter where she could experiment with numerous clays, glazes and techniques. Amy began as a Spanish major who subsequently found that clay “fit her hand like a glove”.

In addition to pottery making, Amy learned pottery selling at Berea. The Craft Marketing Program taught students to use craft as a career. She sold her student work through the college gallery and learned basic marketing techniques.

Imagine a young potter who also had the dream of promoting exchanges of the arts throughout the Americas (remember her studies of Spanish cultures). Amy traveled to the American southwest to test her role in the local environment. She returned to her hometown Louisville ready to make pottery that connected her traditional Appalachian background with the clay works of Pre-columbian pottery and architecture.
Take a look at Amy’s website clayhousepots.com and you will recognize that her imagination takes hold when she uses clays, glazes, brushes, and carving tools. She consistently produces dinnerware, gondolas, platters, drinkware, bowls, and vases.

Amy’s work includes sensitively carved vases, fluid spiral patterns painted on inviting bowls, gondolas with surface treatments that are as intriguing as the food within. Notice the earthy, restful glazes that are reminiscent of colors in the Kentucky mountains.

In short, Amy Elswick makes pottery for lovers of the expressive range that only clay and glaze can create.


Amy’s work has evolved into large hand built vessels made to hold such items as magazines and fireplaces accessories. Her architectural mirrors are particularly strong in ceramic form and pattern.

Asked what she plans to do in the future, Amy presented a large (approx. 6 ft. by 2.5 ft.), nicely carved ceramic relief of Louisville’s downtown profile, mounted on a lighted glass background suitable for fronting a counter or bar in one of Louisville’s commercial establishments. I like the way she thinks.

We shouldn’t leave this profile without mentioning Amy’s marketing skills. As a young potter, Amy worked for two artists who sold pottery and art nationally, at high prices. Three years with Dana Major and Serge Isupov provided her with the knowledge that pottery is a business that requires organization, confidence, and a practical, energetic work ethic. It even requires that the potter become artful at packaging ceramic works.

Amy’s business is one in which she makes gallery connections at national wholesale markets, such as the American Craft Council show. She reliably fills orders by first determining how much money she needs to make at a show or gallery, then outlining production methods and outcomes that succeed in fulfilling her plans on time.


We see in Amy Elswick a potter who knows the business front and back; a potter who is a model for anyone with the passion to combine creativity with ceramic technique to produce forms that exemplify a sincere personal philosophy. We in Louisville are fortunate to recognize her as a successful, Independent Artist. Thank you, Amy.