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A passion for pottery

Pottery remains a fixture in art, culture and everyday life, especially for dining.

Besides the art of throwing and carving pottery, which can take years to master, painting it also represents another step in the process.

Various artists across the Grand Strand make and market pottery, and some places also provide instruction.

Harry the Potter, which opened in February near Carolina Forest, lets people paint, or really, add an underglaze to finished pieces, whether dinnerware or a variety of designs, such as animals.

Todd and Brenda Harris’ family of Murrells Inlet family threw a birthday party Saturday for their daughter, Madison, who turned 6 and painted pottery with nine of her friends, and a few other parents adding a helping touch.

On “Dad’s duty,” Todd Harris watched as the birthday girl, with butterfly clips in her hair, painted the owl’s eyes first.

“That owl has blues eyes just like you,” he told Madison from across the table, as her mother helped with making the wings and nose teal.

Todd Harris said this marked his fourth time at the studio, where he also has painted a remote control holder in the jersey colors of his favorite football team, the New York Giants, the 2012 Super Bowl champions.

Brittany Uller, owner of Harry the Potter, for which her family also operates a store in Mississippi, said each color needs three coats, each drying in a few minutes, and to do the light hues first, the dark ones last. As each child worked on her artwork using six colors and representing a range of choices – a princess, frog, cupcake, mug, heart case, teddy bear and mirror – Todd Harris called this kind of activity “a wonderful concept.”

Uller said besides a memory, the artists get to take home a memento from the occasion – three to five days later, after the works are glazed and fired up for seven hours in a kiln at 1,862 degrees F. She explained how some glaze colors change dramatically in the oven. The blue might look dull upon application, but “it fires to this,” she said, showing a completed piece with a radiant navy on a shelf. Pink, though, stays pretty much the same, and a cream tone turns more white.

Mugs and dinnerware, which work for serving edible foods, are cookable with foods on and in conventional – not microwave – ovens, and are washable, preferably by hand, remain the most popular items among customers, and banks and boxes resonate the most with youngsters, Uller said.

As Todd Harris added some final polishing strokes on Madison’s owl tail feathers, she said her favorite part of the cycle was “painting, because it’s pretty.”

Across the studio, Nick and Kim Sherfesee of Myrtle Beach brought their 2-year-old son, Grant, to celebrate both parents’ birthdays from the past week.

They had planned on teaming up to paint one popcorn bowl, but Grant also worked on his own, smaller bowl, alternating with his brush between the inside and outer surfaces.

Nick Sherfesee, quipping how he had more paint on his hands than their son had on him, even with a dot on the nose, remarked on how much more vibrant the colors turn once baked in the kiln.

His wife worked on another red coat for the parents’ bowl, and thought about how to mark its premiere use, watching a 1980s movie, perhaps “Pretty in Pink.”

Married for 10 years, the Sherfesees agreed that even more than the reason for their drop-in for their art projects, the time together becomes a memory from that hour-and-a-half to complete their pottery coloring.

Back in the party side of the room, Uller worked on having the family and guests at Madison’s table give a thumbprint on the outer rim of a commemorative plate with her own hand print. Injecting humor to that moment as Uller rolled his thumb down, Todd Harris wondered what the same action felt like “behind bars.”

A second life in pottery

Joe and Tonda Jeffcoat of Little River have made second careers in pottery, long before retiring respectively from the banking and art education fields. Ever since they took a technical class in ceramics in 1974, they made a part-time vocation in pottery, and for eight years, have operated Jeffcoat Pottery in Calabash, N.C.

“We’ve gone from working in our spare bedroom to a 5,000-square-foot building,” Joe Jeffcoat said, happy that both of their grown children help in the business, too. “It’s our passion.”

The Jeffcoats are always connecting with fellow potters, especially a group in the Seagrove area, south of Asheboro, N.C., and they set up for regional art shows and festivals, such as at Brookgreen Gardens.

Jeffcoat said some places teach classes, and that “hand building” provides the best way for a person to get oriented with clay. He advises that anyone mulling over weekly classes seek instruction before getting on a pottery wheel, so the student can create “slabs of clay and build them into objects.” Then later with more time at hand, say two or three times a week, proceed to a wheel and “learn how to throw” clay on that spinning platter to make bowls and dishes.

The Jeffcoat couple also look forward to teaching a weeklong “Pottery Passion” course next week at the John C. Campbell Folk Art School in western North Carolina, for students who travel from across the Southeast, including Florida and Kentucky.

Besides taking workshops every year, the Jeffcoats also bring in other artists to teach classes in their studio for several days each winter.

Jeffcoat said even the kilns can vary, from electric to wood to gas, as they use.

“They all create different effects,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn. We’ve been at it 38 years, and we’re still learning.”

He said they like making “functional pieces,” that is, things cook in and eat from, and that prices range from about $20 to $50.

Such items make great gifts, and with pie plates, for example, including a recipe only adds icing on the cake, and that one-of-a-kind pieces have their own market for collectors.

However, overall, Jeffcoat said he simply loves “working on the wheel,” and that the studio operates on a 10-day cycle in production: creating pieces for four to five days, then two days to glaze them, 12 hours in the kiln, and a full day to cool. With that pace, they generate about 1,000 pots a month.

“Passion is what gets us out here every day,” he said.

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