Montana Earth Pottery....A Serendipitous Beginning
Post by Judy Howell, Montana Earth Pottery
It was the early 1970's and my husband and I and 3 year old son had arrived in Missoula, Montana with the Women's Movement (aka "women's lib") in full force and everyone seeming to have an endless desire for house plants and macrame'. I had been hoping to take a few classes in ceramics while I was in college but did not get the chance before marriage and a child took over my life.
One day I heard that a group of women had formed a coalition which was called The Women's Place and one of it's members was offering a free community pottery workshop. Oh my goodness! I hopped right on that and showed up at an old warehouse next to the tracks on the north side of Missoula where Kate Brown had set up a studio with a potter's wheel. One of the things Kate had experience with was using native clay and she showed me where to get it, how to process it, and how to make unglazed clay planters. Little did I know at the time that this knowledge would become the springboard for developing a complete line of functional pottery using native Montana clay as the base for my clay body.
A couple months went by and one morning I woke up to learn that the warehouse had burnt down. Some of my pots had survived and the wheel (a homemade kick wheel) had made it through the fire. Kate invited me to take the wheel home and continue a private apprenticeship with her as out of the initial handful of women who had shown interest in her workshop, I was the only one who had stuck with it.
We put the wheel in our basement and every chance I could get I went down to the wheel to practice throwing and eventually started producing useable forms. I stuck with planters....plain red clay (which we learned worked better with the addition of river sand). My husband found an old kiln at the dump in Missoula and managed to get it working well enough that I could fire my planters at home.
Having learned there were art/craft fairs several times a year at the Student Center building on the U of M campus I was determined to try my hand at selling my work. I signed up for a booth and I managed to get enough planters made to fill a table. At the end of my first show my table was empty, it was a sellout! It seems I had fulfilled a need for something to put houseplants in and something to put in all those macrame' hangers and I was hooked!