Kiln opens at Little Mountain PotteryPublished 10:28pm Thursday, October 10, 2013
39th festival offers music, crafts – community
Claude Graves built his own kiln brick by brick. He and his wife, sculptor Elaine Graves, had their first kiln-opening party on the second week of October, 39 years ago. They had such a blast, they decided to create an annual festival.
Invite everyone in town to spend a day with the artists and musicians who have been their lifelong friends.
“It’s exciting to open the kiln,” Graves said. “I’ve worked on the pieces for six weeks or a month, step by step, and then put them at the kiln at 2300 degrees F, and of course I can’t look in there. It’d be like looking into the sun. The pottery goes through that trial by fire, and opening up the kiln feels like a leap of faith.”
The free Kiln Opening Festival lasts from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, at Little Mountain Pottery, 6372 Peniel Road, on land that’s been in the Graves family since 1957.
Musicians will play all day. The festival also features craftspeople from across the region, such as Don Rausch and his handmade furniture; Richard Beard, the luthier; and many others.
“We never know for sure who will show up, but everything’s free and open,” he said. “The music’s multi-generational. People in their 60s and 70s will be making music with teens, having fun, talking for hours. It’s generous and welcoming.”
Graves has been designated a Traditional Artist of the Blue Ridge Mountain Heritage, along with Phil and Gayle Johnson, Russ Jordan and Ronnie Mosseller. Folklorists from Chapel Hill scoured the region for artists and musicians whose unique work exemplified the best in crafts and music, and the festival will celebrate that heritage.
Graves’s unique pottery includes his Carolina redware glaze, created through many years of trial and error. He thought about it, tinkered with it, and finally got it the way he wanted, with the look and feel of a glaze used by many potters in this area years ago.
“I had been trying to find a glaze that looked like the old Timey lead glaze but that didn’t have lead in it,” Graves said. “One summer, I fired up 100 small test kilns over three months. I started with 10 glazes and one was reliable, so I tweaked it. Getting that glaze set me in a whole new direction.”
Graves brings the elements of all seasons of life in North Carolina into his pottery. His bowls, plates, and mugs offer images of autumn leaves, dogwood flowers and grapevines. One piece has the look of a timeless quilt, and another depicts a bird on a starry night. He often uses a reliable glaze that he first developed 40 years ago on his stoneware.
“I’ve been doing variations of the same glaze for 40 years,” he said. “It’s like having a great pancake recipe. You can add blueberries or pecans and it might look different, but you know with that good base that it always will come out.”
Graves attributes his success to his wife, Elaine, whose sculptures will be side by side with his pottery at the festival.
“Elaine went into teaching, and she sacrificed her art career for those years so we could have insurance for our two little boys,” Graves said. “She had been invited to exhibit everywhere, but our family needed that insurance, and now there’s a pension. It was a tough sacrifice she made for all of us, but we’re a team.”
The two of them create together and play tunes together, too, with their guitar and fiddle music filling the air.
“I can wake up at breakfast, start playing tunes, and we play till lunchtime,” he said with a grin. “I like the contrast between playing music and making pottery. It’s hard to stay spontaneous on a process that takes six weeks, and pottery may last a hundred years, a lifetime. Music is totally spontaneous and ephemeral, full of good feeling.”
The Kiln Opening Festival brings together the Graves’s three great loves: family, Old Time music and folk art. He said he felt blessed to have been able to pursue his craft all his life.
“It’s a fascinating craft, and the longer I do it, the more I realize its complexity,” Graves said. “It’s science, engineering, art, craft and business, especially if you need to make a living. It looks idyllic, but it’s work to be a self-employed businessman.”
He works hard so he can play hard, and the festival will be a celebration of both.
For more information or directions, the telephone number is 864-457-6555.