East Fork Pottery

The canvas tote bag says, “East Fork is a vessel.”  But I know East Fork is the little itty bitty stream that moves through the property at the end of Ras Grooms Road, in Marshall, North Carolina. I remember sitting with my oldest son, Alex, on the concrete stoop of a rundown house at the end of rural road, far from anything, a barren bit of land where the sun doesn’t crest the ridge until 11 am. A simple shed, an old tobacco barn, a field plowed by a neighbor, and a mailbox on a crooked post occupied the flatland; the rest of the 40 some acres were steep and covered with gnarly dense rhododendrons and forest trees. Alex was feeling, “What have I done?” I was feeling the same, but didn’t dare say. It was a shocking beginning; the kind that forms a knot in your chest that can take a long time to unravel.

Alex had spent three years as an apprentice with two North Carolina potters, Matt Jones in Big Sandy Mush outside Asheville, and Matt’s teacher, Mark Hewitt in Pittsboro. Then it was time for him to go out on his own. Alex found this little ‘holler’ where the East Fork stream flows and, pressured by a real estate agent who assured him there would never be anything else available for a price he could manage, bought it.

I was visiting with Alex the day after he had signed papers. I would soon leave him alone in his little, dark house. It would take time and effort to set up a rudimentary pottery so he could begin making his own pots. Two men from down the street appeared, carrying a couple of six packs of beer. I feared that they would arrive daily to drink with him. I felt the fragility of my first born son at that moment; still young, not yet a man — finding out how to become one. I reflected that in some way he was doing what I had done when I left our family home, moved to a farm with an abandoned apple orchard, and began a new life. I knew personally the feeling of isolation and fear that comes after plunging into the unknown. But I was older and had more support. The changes at Old Frog Pond Farm took many years. I was worried for him.

Alex built a beautiful wood fire kiln on the site, and then set about making pots. Friends and family helped. It felt like a slow beginning, but two years after we sat on that cracked cement stoop together, East Fork Pottery was born, and hosted its first kiln sale.

Alex in the Kiln, Photo: Nick Matisse (his brother)

Alex in the Kiln, Photo: Nick Matisse (his brother)

Early on, Alex met a beauty from Los Angeles. What exactly she was doing on a goat farm nearby is hard to know. Connie’s prominent LA lawyer mother visited —  trying to understand why her Berkeley grad was now milking goats, and hoping she could delicately move Connie into the next part of her life. Connie and her mom were at the Asheville Farmers Market, when looking around for a friend for her daughter who didn’t say, “Maaa, Maaa,” Connie’s mother pointed to Alex and said: “See that boy, he looks nice. You should go talk with him.”  Eight years later, Connie and Alex have two beautiful babies, Vita and Lucia, and Connie is artistic director of East Fork.

Connie and Alex in the Kiln. Photo: Nick Matisse

Connie and Alex in the Kiln. Photo: Nick Matisse

Alex could have followed in his mentors’ footsteps, opening Alex Matisse Pottery, but, instead, he wanted community. East Fork is a team of great potters, kiln firers, salespeople – and they're all under forty. This youthful group is creating a successful company that makes beauty and brings it to the world. Tall, thin John Viegland, another traditionally trained North Carolina potter, joined Alex early on. He is the financial manager and works at the pottery full time.

John Vigeland in the Pottery

John Vigeland in the Pottery

One of their first hires was Amanda Hollomon-Cook. She is now production manager and potter, organizing all the numbers of plates, bowls, and mugs needed, and in what glazes. When she goes home, she works in her own studio on ceramic sculpture. Connie recently did a photo shoot with Amanda and her sculpture — a beautiful collaboration!

Sculpture  Amanda Hollomon-Cook Photo: Connie Coady Matisse

Sculpture Amanda Hollomon-Cook Photo: Connie Coady Matisse

I am proud to be Alex’s mother, and Connie's mother-in-law — and I still worry! But take a look at their website – their pottery, the other artisans’ work they promote, and the journal that Connie writes. You will want to be part of this back to the earth and into the marketplace movement! Clay dug from the hills of North Carolina, old world craftsmanship, skill, liberal politics in a not-so-liberal state. “Down with the patriarchy,” says two-year-old Vita. The only difficult family issue is that Connie is a Dodgers fan, and Blase, my husband, is ardently national league, he grew up in Malden outside of Boston. Otherwise, we all eat off plates stamped East Fork.                                             

east fork stamp.png

***While Blase and I are traveling to Florence and Venice for ten days, there will be a two-week pause in the blog.

The Creative Heart

I watched as my son, Alex, carefully undid the wrapping, opened the wooden box, and lifted a corner of the quilted cloth. On his face, I saw a strange look of disbelief. “It’s broken,” he said. Now it was my turn to be stunned. The beautiful ceramic bowl sat in broken shards on its rose-colored cloth. I was crushed and horrified. It felt like a betrayal.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about Kintsugi — the Japanese art of repairing a broken bowl with gold. For Christmas, I offered a Japanese tea bowl that had been repaired using this method, to Alex and my daughter-in-law, Connie. I felt it would be a meaningful gift as they embarked on married life together. With baby Vita now a hear and half, a new baby on the way, and the opening of a store in Asheville, North Carolina, East Fork Pottery, their life is full. I thought of the Kintsugi bowl with its veins of gold as a symbol of creatively and beautifully overcoming challenges.

A week later, I was still feeling badly about how my gift turned out. I thought to myself, I should make something with these shards — a sculpture — and give it to them. I mentioned my idea to Alex and he seemed a little put off — then he said, “Yes, um, we should do a repair.” And I understood that he wanted to repair the bowl himself. I had kept it anticipating that I would return the broken shards to the gallery, but they graciously refunded the price I had paid. We decided to talk about it in early January when we will next be together.

Everything in our world is impermanent. Wood turns to ash and fallen leaves to compost. The broken pot shards can become something else. Accepting change is about no longer being stuck in what was, but moving on. This moving on is the awakening of our creative heart.

I know that my well-being depends on feeling that I have connected to that place of creativity inside my heart. With days of less meaningful doing, I begin to fall into this dark abyss of my own mind. I become disjointed, my body altogether not my body, my limbs connected like a puppet. I don’t act with spontaneity and wholeness. I can be in the most beautiful place and if I don’t feel connected to it, I can’t appreciate it because I block the beauty from entering my bones. I can be in the most loving relationship and not allow this love to enter.

Each creative act makes use of something that is unresolved in our hearts. Each creative act makes the world whole. In this new year, let’s make whatever is broken whole again. We don’t, in fact, can’t know what it will look like. Who would ever imagine that a river carved a canyon that enthralls millions of people thousands of years later. I can’t imagine what will possibly come out of this box of pot shards, but this is precisely the process that heals broken places and turns them into art. 

In this new year, I’d like to remember that broken bowl when I find myself slipping away from my creative heart, when I feel alone and cut off.  For I know that in doing the work I will find my way back. We all share this longing that is deeply human, that beseeches us to be fully our own life, to belong completely to the entirety. Our longing is the gift we can offer.

When I started this weekly blog, Apples, Art, and Spirit, one year ago, I thought it would be a one-year project and I would be using the orchard as a springboard to write. With 2016 being a year of no apples, they have been a very silent partner. I’ve decided to commit to another year, and hopefully with some good winter chill, we will have an apple crop and there will be more apple-inspired writing. Please join me, share the blog with your friends, and together let’s lift the corner of the new year, white, and pure, and unknown. It’s ours to create for the very first time.