There is no denying my birch texture is what people seem to be drawn to most. I’ve been making pottery for more than 15 years, but the birch texture emerged 4 years ago.
When I bought our house in the Western Catskills, the property had a lot of trees. Too many actually, but that’s another story. Mostly hemlock and other types of soft wood pines. Within the mix were a handful of golden birch. The texture was rough and with more pronounced lenticels. They shine in the sun and have a different presence than the papery white birch that are throughout the Northeast, yet they hadn’t inspired my ceramics at this point.
About 4 years ago, I was selling at a holiday market and struck up a conversation with my friends at 2 Queens Honey and Coffee. They were starting to work with local makers to create custom, limited edition honeypots to pair with their honey as a gift item and asked if I would be interested. I said yes, but I was only making pieces with my faux bois wood grain texture, and didn't know if it was the right fit. While I agreed to make the pots, I told them I wanted to try something different if they were open to it. It was then I thought about how the honeypots would look made from a different type of bark, which brought me back to the pieces of birch I had been collecting from my backyard.
As soon as I finished the first few pots, I knew I was onto something. I was inspired to try the texture on other pieces, and on different types of clay. The first iterations I made on white stoneware. The clay fired to a warm white with almost a pale yellow tint. I then tried the texture on porcelain clay and loved the stark snowy white, but the stain used to bring out the texture cast a green haze over the surface. I wasn’t discouraged and after more experimenting, the birch continued to evolve. I made notes on what worked and what didn’t. I would listen to comments made at markets and also asked questions when people started to engage with a mug or vase. Over time I found a combination of clay, glaze, and stain I liked which also appealed to others.
Ask, listen, learn, adapt, ask again…The mugs and vases I’m making today are not the same as the ones I made 5 years ago and most certainly won’t be the same as what I make 5 years from now. Experimenting is how we evolve. I don’t know how long I’ll be working with birch, but for now, it’s still fun and exciting. I don’t know what the next idea will be, but I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of ceramics I make in the future.