Photos and story by Pamela A. Keene
When people think of potters, the image of someone sitting at a wheel elbow-deep in clay shaping pots, vases, bowls and pitchers is usually the first thing that comes to mind. And, yes, spinning, more commonly known as “throwing,” clay into vessels is one of the most well-known ways that potters create their works. That’s the majority of what you’ll find when you visit Mark of the Potter on Ga. 197 North, just south of Helen, but take a closer look.
Between Mark of the Potter’s four in-house potters and more than 30 regional potters who sell their works at the gallery/showroom on the banks of the Soque River, visitors can expect to see a wide range of techniques used to make functional stoneware and artistic masterpieces, from thrown pots and pinch-pot methods to slip-casting and hand-built pieces.
“Each potter here does original pieces,” says Ester Lipscomb, who’s been an in-house potter for five years at Mark of the Potter. “We create our own glazes and have our own techniques.”
Each piece is distinct, and glazes may be a blend of earth tones, deep cobalt blue, pale greens, russet and red colors. Mugs are among the most popular purchases.
Ester’s work continues to evolve. One of her most recent techniques involves using Russian icing tips to decorate vases, plates, bowls, pitchers and other vessels. She extrudes clay through the cake-decorating tools to make flowers, leaves, vines and repeated patterns. Then she applies her hand-made glazes to color the pieces as they’re fired in a 2350-degree kiln.
“I used to be a baker, so it just made sense to use this technique on some of the pottery I make,” she says.
As an art education student at then-North Georgia College and State University, Ester studied pottery with Matt Henderson, who has been with Mark of the Potter for nearly 30 years. After several years of teaching, she came back in 2008. Mary Towers Weese has been part of Mark of the Potter since 1991; she specializes in hand-built pottery. The newest member of the in-house potter team, Betsy Ledbetter has been making pots since 1998; she also operates The Willows Pottery in downtown Helen.
Mark of the Potter is Georgia’s longest-operating craft shop in the same location. John and Glen LaRowe opened the shop in 1969 and sold their own pottery and that of other Southeastern artists for 17 years. Potter Jay Bucek, a teacher at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, was one of those potters. He eventually ran the business until his death in 2010.
Mark of the Potter continues to thrive after 48 years, attracting locals and tourists from around the world who want of piece of Georgia — a mug, a vase, a pitcher or even a full set of dinnerware.
This spring, Ester will be the featured artist at Macon’s Fired Works Regional Ceramics Exhibition, Georgia’s largest exhibit and sale of sculptural and functional pottery, which takes place April 13-22 in Macon’s Central City Park. Sixty-five artists from the Southeast bring more than 6,000 pieces for the 9-day event. For information about Fired Works, visit firedworksmacon.com.
Mark of the Potter is open daily. At any given time, the in-house potters are throwing pots, creating hand-built pieces, mixing and applying glazes, or firing pieces in the kiln that’s located right across Ga. 197 from the retail shop. They also do demonstrations throughout the week. The shop staff is very knowledgeable about the artists and the works that are for sale.
For more information, contact Mark of the Potter, 9982 Ga. 197, Clarkesville, at 706-947-3440 or www.markofthepotter.com.