Amy J. Butler  

 

 

OurSummerhouse Pottery, outdoor enthusiast, lover of texture,  patterns, and art history

 

Living in the mountains of western North Caroline feels like I’ve come home. I love sharing this area with family and friends, and introducing them to all the outdoors has to offer. There are talented artists in every town, and the beautiful landscape is a constant source of inspiration.

As a potter, I love molding and shaping the locally sourced clay into pottery that is not only functional, but beautiful in its colors, shapes, and delicate patterns that beckon you to touch and pick it up for a closer look. I want my art to make a connection between the buyer and the area long after it has journeyed to its new home.

 

 

“Be home in time for dinner” or “Be home when the porch light is on”.Those were the rules for all the kids on my street who played together regardless of age, and we were always outside. We were not entertained by our parents, and our imaginations had free reign of our activities. Kickball games were held in my backyard with maple trees for the bases. When we weren’t outside, we were in our summerhouse  which was also in the backyard. The summerhouse was one large room with windows on all sides, amazing wormy chestnut paneling, and oak floors. It was the home for craft projects, playing school, and continued to be the gathering place for family and friends. 

 The summerhouse has always remained central in warm childhood memories, but is also tied to the different types of art that I experimented with then, and now in my own studio.

 

On outings with our parents, we would drive all the ridges of forests that rose above the southern shores of Lake Erie. Hiking would find us on trails throughout the county most with a history of early settlers and Indian lore. Other hikes would be along Lake Erie beaches, climbing the rocky break wall  of the lighthouse in Fairport Harbor, and wondering “just how far away is Canada?” The enthusiasm of our parents for all things in the nature kindled a lifelong love of the outdoors for me and my siblings.

 

My parents were great art appreciators. Our collections consisted of framed prints of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, Picasso’s “Girl with a Dove”, and Albrecht Durer’s “Rabbit”.  My Dad’s work was that of an architectural draftsman, long before the age of CAD and the internet. He had a drawing board, T square, triangle, and a slide rule. By the time I was eight, Dad had taught me to draw in perspective which to this day I still think is fun! Mom had a wonderful sense of color whether it was in her gardening or her sense of style. I often think she was probably a frustrated clothing designer at heart. Before she would go shopping for a new dress, she would describe in exacting detail what she wanted this dress to look like. It goes without  saying that she never came home with the dress she had visually designed, but one that was a pretty good substitute.

 

My Art education came full circle. As a three-year-old my parents enrolled me in the newly opened Fine Arts School in the next town. I can still remember that very large black drawing pencils and newsprint. Art was my constant elective in high school, and afterwards I chose a small college without an Art program. It took less than one semester for me to have that “aha” moment that there was a vast emptiness in my life without Art. A mid-year transfer led me to Bowling Green State University in Toledo, Ohio where I earned a BFA with a minor in Art History, and a BSEd in Art K-12. I continued to take workshops through the community college and the same Fine Arts School in classes such as basketweaving and calligraphy. I  later became an instructor at the same Fine Arts School I attended as a young child. 

 

Art influences and inspirations came from varied times and places. My love of Art History is reflected in the simplicity of the profiles of Greek pottery. Classic, simple, balanced. The lines of the piece complement the patterns that I like to add as surface decoration. Those patterns can be seen in early design and  decorating patterns compiled by Owen Jones in the 1850’s in England.

 

As far as inspiring individuals, first  of all, my Dad and our early drawing times together. I’m still attracted to the lines of architectural drawings, the sense of order and space. Secondly, I have always liked English designer William Morris who co-founded The Firm in the late 1800’s. He began his schooling as an architecture student, but left to focus on craftsmanship and design. Morris is known for his beautifully patterned wallpaper and textiles, both with rich subtle colors.  Morris also educated the others on the importance of good design, and believed “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. That same statement resonates today.

 

In researching Morris’s work, I came to upon a reference to Owen Jones, another designer at that time who published the book The Grammar of Ornament and was published in 1856. This one book has become my go to source for design. (Kudos to Barnes and Noble for taking on the challenge, and succeeding, of finding this book for me!). It is a large book full of color plates detailing ornamentation in the mid-1800’s that originated from China, Persia, Egypt, India, Celtic traditions, and Medieval times. The patterns that are carved into my pottery all extend from ones found in this reference-style book of design. 

 

 

 

 

My technique began as a doodle. One of my young students became intrigued with the Art of Zentangle, which is nothing more than an elaborate form of doodling where repetitive lines can create very intricate patterns and movement. Many of those patterns can also be found in the aforementioned book by Owen Jones. After playing with these step-by-step additions of lines, I began to think what would it be like it I added those to the surface of my clay. I took a lot of practice, and just as much patience. The clay needs to be in the “leatherhard” stage in order to carve into the surface without damaging the thrown shape, and dry enough so that a clean line is left without burrs. From there, more experimentation with colors and glazes and in particular, glazes known as Celadons that are semi-transparent and tend to pool in the recessed areas. Perfect for showing off the carved/stamped details! Layers of glazes are also used to create yet another depth of color.

 

Currently I am an artist member of the Haywood County Arts Council where I exhibit, but I am also an instructor. I enjoy working with the community and some of the many visitors to the area and helping them find success in their clay adventures. 

 

When opening my first studio in Waynesville, I was fortunate to have The Mountaineer write a feature article about me, a fellow potter, and our relationship to the storied building that housed our studio/gallery. The previous owners were two beloved local potters. In researching the building, I discovered that one of potters had lived just a few miles from my childhood home in Ohio. It felt like it was meant to be!

 

When working in the studio, I feel I sometimes get too close to my work so I appreciate feedback. While participating in an art festival, it was interesting to get some unsolicited feedback from festival goers about my work. I would stand back from my booth and just listen: “ahhhh”, “such beautiful colors”, “the carving is so intricate”, “so different from anything else we’ve seen”, and more. Those that have become collectors have also said, “XXXXXXXXXXXX”. All comments have been greatly appreciated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although pottery is my first love, I like creating and spending time in my garden. I choose mostly flowers, and incorporate those into my herb and vegetable garden. Lots of color, with a few pieces of garden pottery woven in. On other days, I enjoy spending time hiking the trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway and in the Smokies. It is always wonderful to be outside experiencing the ever changing views of the mountains. I also like taking “the road less traveled” while visiting one of the many small towns in the area and discovering what makes each of them unique.  

The most often comment I hear about working with clay is “I haven’t touched clay since the third grade” only to find out they still have that piece! It always brings a smile, and a wonderful memory. So whether that comment comes from one of my students, or from a patron, I would love for my art to bring a smile, a fond remembrance from a past experience, and the joy of not only owning a beautiful piece of pottery, but one that can be used and enjoyed in many ways. It all resonates back to the previous quote of William Morris. I would hope that my client friends can feel the sense of order in the design, the repetitive pattern that is calming, and the enriching colors that draw you in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wanted to name my business Summerhouse Pottery because I felt like life had come full circle from those earlier days of crafting/painting/sewing in my summerhouse. However, in registering the name, I found it had already been taken. In telling this to my sister, she said she felt that the summerhouse had really belonged to all of us. It was “ours”. It absolutely did, and by adding “Our” I wanted the name to reflect that all are welcome whether you are a collector, visitor, student, or fellow potter who just wants to talk “shop”. The growth of my art and my abilities have grown from all of the people that have touched my life, whether in my past or present. I’m excited to see what other inspiring individuals I have yet to meet!

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