It’s been three months since my first visit to our Pottery Shop to learn about our potters’ studio pottery challenge. Since then the team has been hard at work not only finishing their pieces but getting back into the day-to-day routine that comes with the village being open to guests. Recently I paid my last visit to the group to see the final results and learn more about what each team member took away from the project.
For Alex Pratt, he was very surprised by how his pieces turned out. Some results were very unexpected, but that made for good results. He’s very excited by the promise of some new slip colors he was working with.
“I’m really pleased where this let me go,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to take away mentally; it was a really energizing project.”
Melinda Mercer was also very pleased with how her pieces looked after being fired, specifically the colors that were achieved. Our new salt kiln has been fired just four times so far, so it’s still very exciting to see how the pieces are developing. Melinda’s custom-stamped piecing required a lot of time-consuming glazing, but in the end it was totally worth it. The contrast between the glazed and unglazed portions are some of her favorite results.
“It was a very valuable experience to try things we don’t normally do,” she said.
For John Ahearn, the sculptural bowl he created was his favorite piece. He was very excited to see that his cake plate made it through the firing process. After all, “lots of funky things can happen in firing,” he said. As I took photos and admired the team’s hard work, John said how cool it was to see the group’s pieces finished and on display, especially thinking back to the first day he was given the creative assignment. He then summed up his feelings with a smile and this statement that I think we can all be appreciative of.
“I’m just really glad to be a potter.”
Keep an eye on the Pottery Shop and our Liberty Craftworks store in Greenfield Village in the coming weeks; not only may you be able to see the team’s hard work up close, but purchase one of these one-of-a-kind items, too!
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
By telegraph and letter, by railroad and newspaper, word of Virginia's deadly spring of 1864 reverberated across America.
This weekend, amidst the 150th Anniversary of the 1864 Overland Campaign, National Park Service battle sites in Virginia and communities North and South are remembering those who fell at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.
The loss of men in Virginia constituted deep wounds to communities across Michigan. Places like Dearborn, Williamston, Pontiac and dozens more reckoned with the loss of men who would never come home—most of them buried today as unknowns on Virginia's fields.
This weekend, at The Henry Ford, in the village that reminds us so much that America’s heart is built around home and community, we join with the staff of The Henry Ford to remember.
We remember families like the Churches of Williamston, whose son Charles went to fight with the Third Michigan Infantry. War interrupted his quest to become a pig farmer, but he found both purpose and improvement in his service. “I am ten times better a man than I ever was before this war,” he told his homefolk in 1863. “It is the best school I ever attended and…people need not be troubled about my well fare.”
But then, in May 1864, came word from the Wilderness in Virginia, scene of the first clash between Grant and Lee, a horrific place of fire and death. That spring of sadness, letters like this flew across America like daggers.
Camp of the 3rd Michigan Infantry
May 20, 1864
Dear Sir it becomes my painful duty to inform you that your son Charles H. Church is [presumed] to be killed. Our regiment went on a charge May 6th and after going until the rebles shot fell thick and fast all around. We fell back and to our surprise he did not fall back with us… Some of our regiment saw him and they say he was wounded in the bowels and fell back a short ways but was compelled to give up. The johnnys soon held the ground that we had gained and all that he had with him fell into the enemys hands. Our regiment with you mourn his loss for he was a good soldier and a brave man. ….. We have lost two thirds of our regiment since we left on this campaign. Many brave officers and men have been killed. We mourn their loss.
Edgar W. Clark, Co. G, 3rd Mich Inf Washington, D. C.
Julia Wheelock, a teacher in Ionia, Michigan, traveled to Virginia to care for the wounded in 1864.
The Civil War touched every corner of or nation and drew into it not just soldiers and sailors, but sisters and loved ones. In 1862, Julia Wheelock, a teacher in Ionia, Michigan learned that her brother Orville had been wounded at the Battle of Chantilly. She rushed to Washington to find and care for him, but got there too late. Julia sought no refuge from her grief. Instead, she stayed and helped in the hospitals around Washington and would quietly forge a career of courage and accomplishment as a caregiver. Her published letters are among the best from a woman serving at the front.
In 1864, Julia (now an agent of the Michigan Soldiers’ Relief Association) traveled to Fredericksburg to care for the wounded from Wilderness and Spotsylvania. In her letters, she recorded heart-wrenching dilemmas, scorching moments. She wrote on May 15:
“Among the hospitals I have visited today is the old Theatre…I took a quantity of pillows, chicken soup, and crackers. The moment I entered the hospital, oh, what a begging for pillows came from all parts of the room! `Please give me a pillow, I’m wounded in the head and my knapsack is so hard,’ said one. Another wants one for the stump of his arm or leg. `I don’t think it would be so painful if only I had a pillow, or cushion, or something to keep it from the hard floor; there, that small one will do for me; please lady, let me have that….” For a few moments I stood with the pillows in my arms, unable to decide what do. I could not supply all, and to whom should I give?”
In that same theater, Julia came across a wounded captain facing death. Julia fed the Captain broth, then asked if there were anything she could do for him before she headed off to her next patient
“If you will, please write a few lines to mother,” he said.
Remembered Julia: “Taking her address, I inquired whether there was anything in particular he wished me to write. I shall never forget the expression…as he looked up and said, “Oh! Give her some encouragement, but tell her I’m trusting in God.” He hesitated a few moments, and then added: “It will be so hard for my mother, for she is a widow, and I am her only son.” I tried to speak a few words of comfort, telling him that if his trust was in God all would be well….In a moment the thought of the anguish that would soon pierce that lone widowed mother’s heart, rushed upon my mind, and poor, weak human nature was overcome, and I could only bow my head and weep. The poor fellow seemed fully conscious of the fact that he must die; and while he would have his mother know the worst, he wished the sad intelligence to be gently broken. The language of his heart seemed to be, ‘Who will care for my mother now?’”
The story of war invariably revolves around home. Some fought to defend homes. Others aspired only to reach home once more. Deaths in Virginia halted those journeys home and sent shockwaves through homes across Michigan and America, challenging the will of families, communities, states, and nations to continue.
Continue they did, crippled by hardship, awash in heartbreak, civilian and soldier alike. It is a sad, difficult story to be sure. But the hardship endured is also a measure of the commitment and determination of those who toiled and sacrificed on our behalf 150 years ago.
Those who gave so much asked only one thing of those who followed: that we remember. And this weekend, we do. We remind ourselves that the fruits of their toil and sacrifice constitute the foundation of our nation still: a still-improving place of freedom and justice and unprecedented prosperity.
John Hennessy is Chief Historian, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, with the National Park Service. The Henry Ford is pleased to partner with the National Park Service in delivering special presentations and outreach programming through the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield relating to the 150th Anniversary of General Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864 during Civil War Remembrance.
One of the core features of the Civil War Remembrance program are the nearly 450 living history re-enactors that come in and literally camp in Greenfield Village. What many guests don’t know, and is often a question that is asked of these participants is, “Where do you get your clothing and equipment?”
A rather robust industry of proprietors, merchants and cottage business people have emerged over the past several decades to make and provide reproduction clothing, equipment, accouterments and just about every other imaginable article from the Civil War (and other) time periods. These merchants have created their own living history impressions known as sutlers. Sutlers were mobile stores and merchants that followed the armies and set up shop, usually under large canvas tents and temporary structures, to provide articles and goods that the army did not issue or supply to the troops. Today, re-created sutlers follow re-enactors to events across the country, including Civil War Remembrance, to sell reproduced living history items.
Many of the re-enactors purchase most, if not everything, from these sutlers and proprietors, but a small group of living history people make their own items. This group of living historians, both men and women, examine originals articles in museum collections, draft patterns and notes, conduct primary research and then go about re-creating said article to the exact detail. Often times this requires searching far and wide for the correct and appropriate fabric, notions and materials to create an absolutely faithful recreation that they will then wear and use. Often is the case that many of these items, including the specific fabrics, have to be made from scratch as they cannot be found at your local fabric shop. For some, this “obsession” with the period details, may seem like too much work, but for those who have embraced such aspects of the material culture from the time period their work has added immeasurably to understanding the time period and the details of everyday life for both soldier and civilian through one of the most universal and common aspects of our ancestors of the past and with us today – clothing! Everyone has done in the past, does today, and will probably for the foreseeable future, wear clothing!
Those of us who have researched, examined originals, and then set out to recreate accurate period clothing and attire from a particular time period have found that it goes well beyond generic fabric choice, color, etc. It is a must to have not only the correct weight, content, and properly (authentically) dyed fabric, but it is also cut, construction technique, thread use and more. An example of this may be a re-created Federal Fatigue Blouse commonly called a four-button sack coat. The army issued nearly 3 million of these and it was the most basic article of clothing for every Federal soldier (and even many Confederates that captured supplies from wagon trains, battlefield pick-ups, etc.). Although there were some variations in the fabric and construction techniques due to the various contractors making them, the regulations called for the fabric to be made of flannel (a lighter weight/utilitarian type wool with a distinct diagonal wale/twill) that was indigo dyed, cut in a specific manner/style, and constructed with #30 logwood-dyed linen thread. Although many were machine sewn, especially by contractors, many fatigue blouses were completely hand sewn, including the button holes. Government clothing depots issued kits to civilians to sew for contract pay – to make it equitable to all since not all had machines, they insisted they were completely hand sewn. So depending on the style of fatigue blouse you are re-creating it needs to be entirely hand sewn or a combination of machine/hand sewn.
Does all of this make a difference in building an authentic and accurate impression? Yes, it does. The jacket hangs differently off the body, the stitching is noticeably different, and looks nearly indistinguishable to the originals sans age. These differences, in conjunction with all the other aspects of putting an accurate impression together, really do create the, “that person looks like they just stepped out of a Civil War photograph,” comment.
Women and civilian impressions are equally wrought with attention to details down to the exact style of stitch to create a specific look on the bodice of a dress or a knife-pleat on waist seam. Creating the ever important then, and equally important now, proper silhouette starts with the appropriate and accurately constructed foundational undergarments for both men and women. Constructed appropriately and with the correct fabric, an exact look can be created from the time period. Whether it is the fine detail of tiny stitch revealed 5" from a skirt bottom, where the false hem was sewn in by hand, on the inside or the reinforced top stitching along the outer edge of the side back seam on a woman’s bodice, these are all the important details that many of the living history pursue to create a most accurate window to the past.
It's all in the details and the outcome of such can be profound. A photograph taken using a 1860s wet-plate process of a colleague taken years ago illustrates this point exactly. Robert Lee Hodge, noted living historian and Civil War battlefield preservationist, had created an impression of an early-war civilian soldier. Wearing accurately constructed period clothing, sporting period facial hair, carrying a battle knife, and even crossing his eyes slightly, you would not know if this man is alive today or if it was taken of a Missouri or Kansas “cut throat” or “boarder ruffian” from 1861. Rob’s accurately constructed drop-shoulder cotton plaid work shirt (or battle shirt), fancy silk cravat, jeans-cloth trousers – all with a great deal of wear patina – make this image indiscernible if was taken within the past ten or 150 years. Rob was one of the subject matters in Tony Horwitz’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Confederates in the Attic and this image was used on the paperback version of the book.
Volumes could be written on the material culture aspects and the use of such understanding for recreating clothing and articles of the past and it all begins with the study of originals. During Civil War Remembrance we are very fortunate to have material culture experts and historians bring in their magnificent collections for display in the Village Pavilion (the “Civil War Resource Center”) as well as provide special presentations sharing their deep and extensive knowledge. We have experts from Michigan, Alabama, Maryland and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania here over the weekend. The fashion show, “What We Wore – Clothing and Uniforms of the 1860s,” has been expanded this year and will be co-presented by local historian Beth Turza and Brian Koenig, material culture export from Pennsylvania. Both Beth and Brian construct exquisitely detailed period clothing.
Through researching, understanding and re-creating accurate clothing and articles from the past, we can get a clearer picture of the people and time period we seek to know. We are indebted to those who keep the skill, expertise and craft of the past alive and relevant. A quote that emerged from presentation workshop we conducted here years ago seems very appropriate for those who make period clothing for living history uses:
“We teach our hands with yesterday so the eyes of today will see the hearts of long ago.”
Brian James Egen is Executive Producer at The Henry Ford.
During Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village there are countless activities, performances and hands-on experiences to keep you busy all day long. Music is a large, important part of how we celebrate the weekend, so you can expect some fantastic performances all three days.
Taking a look at our lineup for this weekend you’ll notice some groups familiar to the stages of Greenfield Village. Included in that lineup is Tim Eriksen and the Trio de Pumpkintown. I had a chance to talk with Tim recently and learn more about his approach to songwriting and performing his own style of folk music.
Fans of the 2003 award-winning Civil War drama “Cold Mountain” will quickly recognize Tim and his work as he contributed several songs to the popular soundtrack. With a background working with some well-known names in the music industry, Tim’s career has been eclectic and fascinating all at the same time.
Describing himself as “hardcore Americana,” Tim takes an imaginative approach to his music. Guests can expect humor and intensity during his performance, especially those who are brand-new to his work; it’s an unusual take on folk music that will leave everyone pleasantly surprised.
Listening to Tim’s work can also be a bit of a history lesson, too, as he sings about a fictional New England village. To Tim, the line between history and fiction is often hard to draw. As he puts it, fiction is a very powerful tool in telling the truth. As an artist, he’s passionate about reimagining stories.
When it comes to influences, Tim finds inspiration from the New England communities of the late 1700s, a very diverse area during that time, in his opinion. Beyond the historical influences, Tim is inspired by the everyday objects he finds in nature.
After listening to Tim and the Trio de Pumpkintown’s performances this weekend at Civil War Remembrance, Tim hopes that guests enjoy themselves and engage in history. With Greenfield Village’s busy backdrop commemorating an important time in our nation’s history, you can assume that Tim’s hopes will definitely come true.
Tim Eriksen and the Trio de Pumpkintown take to the Town Hall stage in Greenfield Village for three performances during Civil War Remembrance: Saturday at 7 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, and Monday at 1 pm. For more information about this year’s weekend of events, check out the schedule and map.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
This story originally ran in the June-May 2013 edition of The Henry Ford Magazine.
Greenhouses on rooftops in city centers, next to supermarkets, on hospital campuses, in Antarctic research centers, on golf resorts and on space stations.
I continue to see new applications and extensions of hydroponic growing popping up in nontraditional spaces around the world, especially as populations increase and arable land declines. For me, I consider it my privilege that I have been able to help design cropping systems in some of these spaces — from the British West Indies and downtown Montreal to a suburb of Detroit — that are maximizing production while using less energy and natural resources.
Hydroponics, or growing plants without soil, isn’t a new science, but it is a versatile one.
Almost all commercial greenhouse vegetable production is grown hydroponically. Some of the largest growers in the U.S. and Canada, such as Village Farms, Windset Farms, Eurofresh Farms and Houweling’s Tomatoes, have hydroponic greenhouse operations equaling 200 or more acres in size, with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuce and various herbs growing.
One of my most recent challenges was designing a small greenhouse for Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital in a suburb outside Detroit. The objective was to produce vegetables hydroponically to increase production in the limited area of the greenhouse. At the same time, they wanted to grow an assortment of vegetables.
To do this, we designed a number of different hydroponic systems to meet the specific needs of each crop. Plant towers increased production of various herbs, as greenhouses have vertical space that must be optimized in its production systems. A water culture system called nutrient film technique (NFT) was the choice for lettuce and basil. Tomatoes, peppers and other vine crops are grown in buckets of perlite with a drip irrigation system feeding the plants with a nutrient solution.
The versatility of hydroponics applied at its simplest best.
Better by design, hydroponic operations, whether they are large and commercial or smaller scale like the hospital’s greenhouse, require less space, less energy to run and consume less water. And, without the presence of soil, they don’t have to rely on artificial pesticides. Instead, they can use Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a biological procedure powered by natural predators and bioagents (pesticides made from natural sources), to control pests.
For the end consumer, that equates to crops free of disease, improved food safety and even increased nutritional value.
Howard Resh is the manager of the hydroponic farm at CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa in Anguilla, British West Indies, where fresh salad crops are grown for the guests of the resort. Dr. Resh is also an international consultant on the development of hydroponic operations. He has written five books, with Hydroponic Food Production in its seventh edition, and also has a website.
Early American settlers depended on corn as a sustaining food crop, but also tried to utilize every part of the plant. Out of this desire to make the most of existing material was born the cornhusk doll, a toy made from soaked and shaped husks. We’ve just digitized nine cornhusk dolls from the collections of The Henry Ford, dating from the late 19th century through the early 20th, including this one, tagged with the name “Bonnie.” As an added bonus, between May 5 and June 13, 2014, visitors to the Luther Burbank Birthplace in Greenfield Village will be able to see these dolls on display, and for $4 can make their own cornhusk girl or boy to take home. View the cornhusk dolls in our digital collections, or come make your own this spring!
In February I took my first visit to the Pottery to learn about the studio challenge our potters were given at the beginning of the year. It’s been a few busy weeks for the team as they work on both their challenge pieces and get ready for the opening of Greenfield Village on April 15.
It should come as no surprise that the pieces are all looking fantastic and completely different from one another, as they should be. Vessels now look like teapots, hand-crafted stamps have been busy stamping and over-the-top sculptures continue to be developed. For anyone who enjoys art and design, it’s a welcomed sight.
Taking my tour through the shop I visited Alex’s station first. He’s experimenting with some special stains for his collection. These pieces are covered in wax and when fired the wax burns away to reveal the true colors. Like the other potters, Alex isn’t worried about uniformity this time around.
“It’s been really interesting to work outside my comfort zone,” he said. “This is a learning process, but I’m feeling really optimistic about it.”
Melinda Mercer has been focusing on incorporating bold patterns and textures to her pieces, which is a new creative direction for her work. She’s also been focusing part of her project on hand building, a technique that’s a bit different for her.
To create her patterns and textures, Melinda decided to make her own custom stamps. To achieve the look she was going for she hand carved the designs into porcelain and then fired them in a kiln to make them permanent.
John Ahearn has added a few additional pieces to his artistic roundup of work for the challenge since I saw him last. While his pieces aren’t meant to be functional, he did create a cake stand that you can’t help but imagine holding a delicious, huge cake in the coming weeks.
“This project, in whole, has made me realize the power of art,” John said. “Doing something over and over is how we show guests what the production techniques from the past were. But the power of art is more than just production work. Now I understand what potters during this movement were doing at the time. They were being different on purpose.”
As the team agrees across the board, it’s been a lot of fun to see how their individual projects have been developing; and that includes being very different in size, scale and approach, which is the complete opposite direction of their daily production work and responsibilities. While initial sketches helped define the origins of each of their pieces, they haven’t kept themselves too married to those original ideas as the project takes shape.
“These pieces allow our personalities to come through,” Melinda said.
“These pieces really reflect who we are as people. Our styles have really influences our interpretations of the challenge.”
Check back soon for a final update from the team as they show off their finished pieces.
Lish Dorset is social media manager at The Henry Ford.
As spring officially begins today, Michiganders breathe a collective sigh of relief. For those who have experienced it, the winter of 2014 has been memorable; this is especially true for the Firestone and William Ford Barn staff who braved polar vortexes and many feet of snow to ensure our animals had the shelter, food, water, vet care, and stimulation they needed.
Throughout the winter months, we still had vet appointments, our farrier still changed horseshoes, we still taught horses new skills (when conditions were safe for humans and horses alike), and we still moved tons of hay and grain. Carrying several 50-pound hay bales is quite a task; doing the same through drifting snow and arctic winds is heroic! The folks who do this day-in and day-out do not see themselves as heroes, however. They have a deep dedication to the animals that make Greenfield Village home. This is inspiration enough to do whatever is required—and more!
As the days get longer, the sun stronger, and birdsong louder, we think about spring and our spirits are lifted. On the farm, spring means new life: blossoms, pasture grasses, oats, wheat… and lambs! As we prepare for our new arrivals (which should begin around the same time Greenfield Village opens for our guests), staff are busy preparing lambing jugs—small, private pens wherein lambs and mothers can bond, shearing pregnant ewes so that they are more comfortable and hygienic for birthing, and undergoing yearly special training that prepares everyone for the challenges and excitement that comes with lambing.
Despite the threat of more snow and cold temperatures, we know both spring and lambs are on the way… and we are eager to share both with our guests when Greenfield Village opens on April 15th! See you then.
Ryan Spencer is Senior Manager of Venue Interpretation and Firestone Farm at The Henry Ford. He encourages all to think spring!
William Clay Ford, grandson of Henry Ford, was the longest standing Chairman of the Board of The Henry Ford. He held the position for 38 years from 1951-1989. Through his vision and leadership, the institution, founded in 1929 by his grandfather, began its transformative evolution to the premier American history destination that it is today.
Mr. Ford recognized the national significance of The Henry Ford, its unparalleled collections and educational importance and he was committed throughout his life to the ongoing health and vitality of the institution.
As the largest donor in the history of the institution, his generosity helped restore Greenfield Village and build new visitor experiences in Henry Ford Museum, most notably, "With Liberty and Justice for All" and "Driving America," the country’s most significant automotive exhibition. During his tenure as Chairman of our Board from 1951 to 1989, he influenced the addition of many visitor amenities and collecting initiatives including programs such as Old Car Festival, Motor Muster and Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village, the acquisitions of John F. Kennedy’s Limousine, Firestone Farm, the Allegheny and the DC3 and the building of Greenfield Village’s railroad to name just a few.
In recognition and honor of Mr. Ford’s many contributions, the museum hall was named the William Clay Ford Hall of American Innovation.
At the time of his passing, Mr. Ford was Chair Emeritus, serving The Henry Ford for a total of 63 years. In recent years, he visited the institution often and enjoyed touring the archives, the Village and museum exhibitions.
Recently, when recounting his memories of The Henry Ford, Mr. Ford simply said, “I was brought up with it.” He spoke fondly of roller skating and riding bicycles on the floor of Henry Ford Museum and spending time with his grandparents Henry and Clara Ford in Greenfield Village as a child.
We are deeply saddened by this loss and grateful for Mr. Ford’s lifelong dedication and commitment to The Henry Ford. He will be greatly missed.
We encourage you to take a moment and share your thoughts or memories honoring Mr. Ford’s legacy. Visit our online collections to see more images of Mr. Ford.
On any given day inside the Pottery Shop in Greenfield Village you’ll find our team of potters and decorators creating a variety of different handmade items, from mugs for Eagle Tavern dining to new-baby birthday plates and even Christmas tree ornaments. But right now in the snow-covered shop our artists are taking on a new challenge that’s all about creativity and exploration instead of out-of-the-box, obvious function.
Senior Manager of Program Operations Tom Varitek issued a challenge to potters Melinda Mercer, Alex Pratt and John Ahearn at the beginning of the year to each create a piece of pottery that best reflected their interpretation of the studio pottery movement. It didn’t have to be functional and it didn’t have to look like something you’d see on the kitchen table inside the Ford Home. There could be revisions and further exploration along the way; it didn’t have to be perfect after the first firing. It just had to reflect who they are as potters.
Studio pottery is work created by artists that isn’t mass produced, either by a large pottery or factory. The pieces can be functional, but tend to lean more toward the artistic, individual expression side of design. Simply put, factories equal function, studios equal art.
The studio pottery movement took hold of America in the early 20th century, most notably in the 1930s and 1940s as large factories began to consistently produce pottery in masses. Artists looked for creative outlets in their work; those opportunities were often found in smaller potteries and studios across the country. Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery is one example of the transition the Arts & Crafts Movement reflected in the early 1900s. As founder Mary Stratton said:
“It is not the aim of the Pottery to become an enlarged, systematized commercial manufactor in competition with others striving in the same way. Its idea has always been to solve progressively the various ceramic problems that arise in hope of working out the results and artistic effects which may happily remain as memorials....or at least stamp this generation as one which brought about a revival of the ceramic arts and prove an inspiration to those who come after us."
Getting a chance to see what the potters have been up to with their challenge assignments so far this winter, my visit to the pottery shop this week was met with smiling faces and enthusiastic displays of their work made so far.
For lead potter Melinda, the assignment has been a great chance to depart from the production pottery the team is responsible for throughout the year. However, its this background in producing goods visitors see across the Village and for sale in our shops that gives the team the confidence to let their creativity lead the development process this time around.
“Doing production work is invaluable,” Melinda said. “It builds your skills so that you can achieve whatever it is you want to make.”
Alex echoed similar sentiments. He feels his production work here at Greenfield Village has strengthened his own skills and gives him a greater understanding and appreciation of well-crafted work, no matter its function.
“I appreciate a really, really nice piece of pottery now,” he said.
When given such a big, open-ended assignment like this, I was curious how the team got started in the research and design process of their pieces. For John, his development process began with a lot of reflection of his craft and the work of artists before him.
“During the Industrial Revolution, things were just made so quickly. Some potters couldn’t keep up,” he said. “With studio work, they could take a step back and think, ‘What’s the purpose? Why should I make it if a machine can do it faster than I can?’ I’m using a piercing motif in my piece; I’m not worried about the function right now, I’m worried about the production. I’m literally piercing into my piece, almost into its soul, and evaluating it to determine what it should be.”
Alex also spent time thinking about artists from the past, especially those working during the 1950s. For his collection of vessels, he’s experimenting with transferring images to them and trying new glazes. One piece could turn into a teapot, another into a coordinating sugar bowl.
“I’m taking my inspiration from the world around me. Colors and lines in the city, colors and lines in the country.”
An appreciation of nature and a longing for Spring were the source of Melinda’s inspiration.
“I looked at seeds, seedpods, nuts and vegetables to explore ways to create an interesting surface. I’m thinking about the texture of the natural world, of water and plants.”
Her colorful sketchbook is a collection of nature-related drawings, from large bowls meant to serve big salads at a dinner party to serving platters that look like peapods for a potluck. She’s even making her own collection of stamps to add texture and pattern to her pieces.
Next to Melinda John is creating as he goes. His tall vessel is covered with perfectly carved holes, both created by hand and, believe it or not, a Dremel rotary tool.
So far, Tom likes what he sees.
“Greenfield Village is all about telling stories with ‘stuff.’ We want to create some new ‘stuff’ to show this transition in form. I wanted to give our potters a chance to express themselves and show off.”
What will Melinda, Alex and John discover next in their work? You’ll have to check back to the blog next month to see how they’re moving along with their pieces as Greenfield Village gets ready for opening day.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford and a wannabe potter.