CLAY SUPPLIER ~ FRIEND ~ HUSBAND

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Over the years I’ve moved dozens of times. The list goes: Maryland, Florida, New York, Georgia, Kansas, Texas, Germany, Kentucky, France, Virginia, Florida, Virginia, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, New York, North Carolina, New York. That’s twenty states though the number of moves is more than forty because I moved several times each time I was in every state.

After France I lived in Virginia (1978) and began taking pottery classes. In North Carolina (1981) I set up my first pottery studio and found my first clay supplier. Pretty much every time I moved I needed to find a new clay supplier. Mid-South Ceramic Supply was my first clay supplier for cone 6, deep brown clay, commercial glazes and tools.

In 1988 I moved from Seagrove, North Carolina to the Adirondacks. Over the years I’d kept current clay company catalogs in my clay library and I began ordering a few tools and minerals and having them shipped to me.

Setting up my pottery studio in the Adirondacks I went through my clay catalogs and settled on Minnesota Clay Company. I called them and they agreed to send me five samples of cone 6 red/brown stoneware clays. I tested those five claybodies, found one I loved and ordered a ton. Being who I am, my thrill over having a ton of clay plus the minerals I’d also had shipped from Minnesota to make glazes I missed something important that didn’t register on me at the time. The cost of the clay and minerals was less than half of the cost because shipping from Minnesota to Upstate New York.

Eight months later I was preparing to teach pottery classes and had used most of the ton of clay I’d previously ordered. A phone call to Minnesota Clay Company resulted in two tons of clay being shipped to me. When my clay order arrived the trucker chuckled and said it was costing me an arm and leg to get clay shipped half way across the country.
Late that same night I checked out the invoice and was astounded ~ my first thought was “I could have gotten three tons of clay if I didn’t have to spend so much on shipping”.
This was pre-home computer days for me. I called information and found Miller Clay in Weedsport, New York. A phone call to Miller Clay to get directions (exit 40 on the NY thruway) and business hours meant I’d visit them, get clays to test and order closer to home.
For two years I used my Minnesota Clay Company clay and Miller Clay.

Driving to Weedsport was a long drive and one day while visiting Miller Clay they mentioned Northeast Ceramic Supply in Troy. Ah, an even closer clay supply supplier! 1990 found me wandering in the doors of Northeast Ceramic Supply (NEC), 621 River Street, Troy, New York. I walked in and roamed the aisles checking out everything. I loaded up the counter with pyrometric cones, glaze tongs, glaze minerals, stains, tools and figured I could haul 500 pounds of clay in my car. 150 lbs. in the passenger seat, 200 lbs. in the backseat and 150 lbs. in the trunk.

My car crawled back to Speculator with me smiling the whole 90 miles. Almost every other month I’d make a day of driving to NEC for supplies then take myself to lunch and head home (yes, smiling all the way!). On my third or fourth visit I met Dennis and he listened as I explained the whining sound my wheel was making. My Shimpo has a cone in it and Dennis said he could either come to my studio to see if he could fix it or I could bring it in for him to fix. The following week I brought my wheel to NEC and left her with Dennis who said he’d have it ready in three weeks.

True to his word, I got a call three weeks later. Dennis told me my wheel was fixed and I could come and get it whenever it was best for me. I ordered a ton of clay and asked that the clay and my wheel be delivered. Four days later I was standing at the end of my driveway when Dennis, in his delivery truck, arrived. After maneuvering his truck down the slope to my studio he unloaded the clay I’d ordered and set my wheel up in my studio.
My delight at having my main wheel back and Dennis plugging her in and demonstrating how smoothly she ran after being repaired meant inviting Dennis to stay for lunch. We ate lunch, I gave Dennis a tour of our home then he hopped back in his truck as I said I’d be back in Troy at NEC in a few month for more clay.

For about the next five years I’d drive to NEC every few months for supplies. About twice a year I’d have two tons of clay delivered. Usually Dennis delivered my clay, sometimes his employee Chuck would deliver for him.

Over the years I’d pop into Dennis’ office when I’d go to NEC. He always answered my questions, laughed at my clay misadventures and made getting clay supplies a happy experience.

1995 found me moving to North Carolina. My husband had retired and we were ready to settle into a small North Carolina town. Moving to Lincolnton, NC meant setting up a home studio which meant locating a clay supplier. In Charlotte I found Ginny who owns Carolina Clay Connection and then I also found Brian at Highwater in Asheville. A year later I’d found a local sculptor who wanted me to rent part of his studio to teach pottery classes. I had so many students that after a few months I leased a large building and was preparing to open a co-op and pottery when my marriage fell apart. The next year was a whirlwind/nightmare. The co-op and pottery classes soared and my marriage ended.

As 1999 was coming to a close and the world was supposed to end, I decided to move back to Upstate New York to be close to my daughter and her family. It took a little over six months to sell my pottery co-op and most of my pottery equipment. I kept my original Shimpo wheel, lots of tools and tons of glaze minerals. I loaded up on Gerstley Borate because at that time it was supposed to not be available any longer. The world did not end that year and Gerstley Borate is still available!

Not knowing what direction work-wise I’d be going in to support myself I arranged to go on a 10 day retreat at Vipassana in July 2000. A week before I went to Vipassana one of my friends and former students, Annmarie, called me from the Adirondacks and wanted to meet me at NEC so she could get clay supplies and we could go to lunch together.

Annmarie and I met at NEC, looked around, bought supplies and I saw Dennis and told him I’d moved back to NY, divorced and was undecided what my next step would be concerning clay and/or work. Annmarie and I went to lunch, laughed and cried together and talked clay. When Annmarie dropped me back off at NEC where I’d left my little red Honda, Dennis was getting into his car. Dennis drove over to me and said he was glad to see me back in New York and that I should consider him not only my clay supplier but also my friend.

Ten days at Vipassana changed my life. I’d heard about Vipassana and wanted to go for five years but had never been able to find ten days to devote entirely to the retreat. Coming to terms with myself and taking responsibility for my actions and life was what I came away from Vipassana with.

Two days after leaving Vipassana I called Dennis. I told him I was taking him up on his offer of friendship and that I had some important decisions to make ~ could we talk. He said that NEC would be closing at 1 pm (it was a Saturday) and I could come by and we could talk after hours. At 1:30 I arrived and we sat in his office for two hours talking. I explained that I needed to find a job and while I’d been a paralegal in the past and enjoyed the work I just cringed everytime I thought about dressing up in heels and sitting in a cubicle. Dennis listened and then asked if I’d be interested in teaching pottery classes for him. He suggested we go upstairs to the space he rented out to potters and sculptors.

621 River Street has five floors and Dennis leased one and a half floors ~ a total of 23,000 square feet. Upstairs there were 22 individual spaces plus a large communal area with eight wheels. There was great light coming in through six large windows. In addition, there was a bathroom, sink area and a kiln room. Dennis told me he hadn’t wanted to compete with The Art Center for two years but that in a few months it would be two years since The Art Center had moved from 621 River Street to their downtown River Street building.

Now he felt he could set up pottery classes at 621 River Street and he needed a teacher. We talked about classes, equipment, times for classes and my salary and medical insurance. I was very happy with Dennis’ offer and then he floored me by saying “I’ll order you a gas kiln”. I said yes. We talked awhile longer, returned to his office and he asked if I’d like to have dinner.

Dennis drove us to the Chinese restaurant at Monument Square in downtown Troy. Just as we sat down in the restaurant a band set up outside and started playing. Dennis told me he’d arranged for the band. We laughed as I realized Troy was putting on a special evening downtown to welcome the RPI and Russell Sage students.
We ordered sushi, talked constantly about setting up pottery classes. Dennis offered me a large space at 621 River Street for my private pottery studio. There were lots of details to work out and I found the challenge of cleaning out, painting and getting what we would call River Street Pottery set up exciting.

After dinner we left the restaurant, walked through the crowd of college students listening to the band. Dennis gave me a short walking tour of downtown Troy, describing buildings and listing all the past stores and restaurants from his childhood. As we crossed meandered around Troy, Dennis gently took my hand.