Mud shows Perry freedom, future for Tryon Arts and Crafts

Published 11:51 pm Sunday, October 13, 2013

Jerry Perry with the newly installed sign for Tryon Arts and Crafts School. (photo submitted)

Jerry Perry with the newly installed sign for Tryon Arts and Crafts School. (photo submitted)

Jerry Perry dug his shovel deep into the dirt in front of the Tryon Arts and Crafts building, as he helped two friends create a place for the building’s new sign.

He wiped the sweat from his brow and grinned when asked what he liked best about being an artist.

“I strive for imperfection, and so far, I’ve been 100 percent successful,” Perry said with a wry grin. “I don’t think of myself as an artist. I just like playing in the mud.”

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Perry might have been digging that day, but most of the time when he plays in the mud, he’s making pottery. He makes unique, whimsical pieces, and often combines clay with wood.

“I never have a clue what I’m going to make when I start something. Clay has a mind of its own. I start with a clean slab, cut a piece and soon, there’s something,” Perry said. “I love wall hangings and vases, like one I made by conjoining two vases into one. I like the unusual, the abstract.”

The oldest known pottery appeared before the advent of agriculture, and this ancient art often has a utilitarian aspect, with the production of bowls, plates, teapots and the like.

“Pottery doesn’t have to have a nice, practical purpose,” Perry said. “I want to do it for the fun of doing it. I’m not a production potter. I have fun.”

Part of the fun comes from feeling free to create whatever comes to mind or heart in the hand-building process, he said.

“I love the freedom of it,” he said. “I like most everything I make. If someone else finds some aesthetic beauty or interest, that’s a bonus. I’m not interested in marketing. I’m interested in creating.”

He’s done plenty of marketing, as vice president of sales for PSP Marketing Inc., North American distributor for a dozen European textile interests. He has been in the National Guard, and he began his career in textiles working for a thread manufacturer. His experience spanned research and development, the mechanical side and service technology.

“Eighty-five percent of textiles are produced in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama,” Perry said. “All my relatives worked in textiles all their lives. My mother milled till she married my father, and he was in textile mercantile.”

As a youngster in Mount Holly, N.C., Perry started setting goals for his life and work. He soon applied what he calls the “3P Principle” to his work, and continues to apply it to his life: patience, persistence and politeness.

“You can accomplish anything you want to do and achieve anything with patience, persistence and politeness,” he said. “I used this approach in sales. One customer took me 11 years to close an order with him, but we became fast friends from then on.”

In his career, Perry had ample opportunity to apply the 3Ps as he represented companies from Germany, Spain, France, England, Switzerland and more.

“I traveled a great deal. My wife and I used to joke that we got along so well since I was gone all the time; it was hard for us to get on each other’s nerves when we’re not around,” he said.

Many times, his wife, Becky, would accompany him on his travels. Sometimes they’d rent a car and drive through the countryside, and other times they’d get a Eurail pass and go from city to city. Perry has many great memories from those days.

“I remember riding a train, one of those old coal steam engines, and the best caboose ride I ever had was on the Interlochen Switzerland in the Alps,” Perry said. “The Swiss conductor pointed to a little house in the snow, and said, that was Heidi’s house. It was such a manicured country, perfect in every aspect.”

Perry and his wife made many good friends along the way, including a concert composer with the largest collection of Catalan folk music in the world. He and his wife have been friends their entire adult lives. They have three children and three grandchildren.

“My wife and I met in church. She was visiting Mount Holly, and we started dating in high school. People say that when you meet young it might not last, but we have outlasted all the naysayers,” he said.

Although Perry really enjoyed work and his frequent travels to Europe, he rarely travels far now.

“When we have a community with such an eclectic population, I don’t think I could go somewhere else and find anything much better,” Perry says. “I used to visit friends, and now they can come here to visit us.”

Perry and his wife not only traveled together, but also shared creative inspiration. Becky has been a potter for many years. In fact, she sparked his earliest interest in pottery, when he came into her studio and made a little pinch-pot.

“She’s the real potter in the family,” Perry says. “She got me interested. I’d not give away any piece of my wife’s pottery. I love everything she ever did. Sometimes she tries to toss a piece out, but I won’t let it go. She has a wheel in her studio, but I like the free-spirited aspect of hand-building. It’s very fulfilling.”

Perry signed up for a class by Nancy Hines at the Tryon Arts and Crafts School. She encouraged

his creativity and his penchant for independent thinking.

“I liked to go off on my own and do my own thing, not be one to follow others but do it on my own,” he said. “Tryon Arts and Crafts is a great facility. You can take classes, and there’s an open studio every Monday afternoon, where we do what we want to do. It’s a lot of fun. I stay busier now than when I was working.”

Perry has become a member of Tryon Painters and Sculptors, and co-president of Tryon Arts and Crafts, with Gail Muir.

“I consider Tryon Arts and Crafts to be a jewel of the community,” he said. “A town this size with a facility like that is so fortunate. We have a forge, silver-smithing, woodworking and so many amazing and talented instructors who teach for reasonable fees. I would like to expand, so that it becomes a mini- John C. Campbell in the future, an arts-based school here.”

He has a vision for the future of Tryon Arts and Crafts. His wife attended Penland School of Arts and Crafts, and her experience strengthened Perry’s idea of what could happen here, given his 3P principle: patience, persistence and politeness.

“If we can continue to build classes and increase exposure, we can invite more nationally known guest artists to do intensive five day workshops,” Perry said. “I’d love to work it out. The local bed and breakfast could put together a package that would allow students to have a room at the bed and breakfast and attend classes, maybe for a two- or three-week intensive. We appeal to local people now, and we can build a statewide and national identity.”

Tryon Arts and Crafts began in 1960, and moved to part of the Tryon Middle School building at 373 Harmon Field in 2006. The second school building, owned by the city, may be up for sale, but Tryon Arts and Crafts would not be able to buy it quite yet, he noted.

“It would be ideal to have local classes there, undisturbed, but we can’t put the cart before the horse,” he said. “We’ll have to be at capacity before we expand.”

Perry sees the expansion of Tryon Arts and Crafts as part of an even larger goal for the community. From the 1890s through World War II, Tryon was renowned for its artists’ colony, considered the foremost center for visual arts in the state.

“The town of Tryon’s trying to rebuild, to get an identity, and we could be bringing people from other areas who would eat here and shop here, as we built on our reputation for arts and crafts,” he said. “I would love to see us be able to do that.”

First Tryon Arts and Crafts School will treat the community to a feast of its instructors’ and students’ creations during this weekend’s sixth annual Fall Festival.

The festival runs Saturday, Oct. 12, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 13 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.