The Evolution of My Birch

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.

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