Raku potter Gary Clontz, of Clyde, watches from his booth on the hill as smiling children stream out of Asheville’s Folk Art Center. They are carrying cardboard squares bearing pieces of wet, freshly made pots or pieces they have sculpted to be fired in the kiln. “Their smiles,” he says, “tell everything about their experience.”
Clay Fest—an annual Southern Highland Craft Guild (SHCG) tradition that celebrates the varied craft processes and techniques used with clay—will return Saturday, June 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., to the hill behind the Folk Art Center. This year, Guild makers have invited guest potters— Justin Allman, Alysha Baier, Susan Coe, Rusty Owens and Rob Withrow—from across the country and added some enhancements to the 20-plus-year-old free festival.
Along with Clontz, raku potters Lynn Jenkins, John Turner, Tina Curry and Steven Forbes-deSoule will be assisting attendees who want to make their own raku pot. This ceramic firing process uses flames and smoke to create unique patterns and designs. Pots will be available for purchase for $10 and participants can glaze and then watch the firing process.
“I love hearing the reactions of visitors as a red hot raku kiln opens with molten glazes glistening,” says Clontz. “They are amazed they can feel heat waves 10 to 20 feet away. It is also gratifying to see fellow potters so naturally interacting with the public and sharing of themselves and their myriad skills and approaches to clay.”
In addition to shopping at exhibitor booths on the hill, attendees can throw their own pot on the wheels with assistance from makers of the Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts. In the first annual Clay Olympics, contestants will be given a five-pound wedge of clay and five minutes to throw the tallest vessel or the widest bowl. Prizes for the winners will include gift certificates for merchandise from Southern Highland Craft Guild artisans.
These guild vendors will showcase a range of styles and techniques: Larry Allen, Brant Barnes, Zan Barnes, Travis Berning, Paveen “Beer” Chunhaswasdikul, Amy Goldstein- Rice, Bill Lee, Marti Mocahbee, Joe Frank McKee, Sarah Wells Rolland, Jim Whalen, Steve Loucks and Lynnette Hesser, Fred and Rose Pinkul, and Freeman and Maggie Jones.
“Having made a living with clay in the mountains of North Carolina since 1980, I have seen how the Guild has helped to promote the craft industry and teach the history that is so important for the area,” says Maggie Jones of Old Fort. “I believe ceramics is the broadest of all the mediums. Festivals like this that allow visitors to see and experience the process always educate, inform and inspire.”
The Folk Art Center is located at Milepost 382 of the Blue Ridge Parkway, just north of the Highway 70 entrance in east Asheville, NC. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day. Learn more at craftguild.org.