Clay Buddies: John's 5 Things

Clay Buddies: John's 5 Things

Meet John. John is one of the founding members of East Fork Pottery. He's very friendly, very tall, very good at spreadsheets and is a very talented potter. On top of being the nicest guy around and writing incredibly compelling organizational infrastructure literature, he is also always wearing the coolest Wrangler jeans. In all sincerity, he's a pillar of the East Fork family and we would be nowhere without him! We caught up with John to ask him about his five favorite objects and what they mean to him. 

What do you do for East Fork?
I handle a few things at East Fork. Thomas and I take care of all the financial planning and analysis, the bookkeeping, the cost accounting, internal and external financial reporting etc. I'm pretty involved with the production as well--making a good amount of pottery and working with Corey and Cade and Alex to organize the growing production team as effectively as possible. I'm also working on building out some of the unglamorous but very necessary organizational infrastructure to support our growing team--HR stuff mostly.


John's 5 Objects:

Tell me about the objects you chose.

I chose 5 pots--I hate being so obvious, but we are potters after all. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Pottery (and all objects really) have this lovely capacity to accumulate meaning as they move through time. They can bear witness to important events (“these are the plates that your grandparents ate off of at their wedding”) or be part of emotional transactions (“this is the vase your father brought me flowers in when we were dating”). Those two examples are cute and love-y, but objects absorb all sorts of meaning from the circumstances they pass through, dark and light, and it’s potent stuff! With that in mind, these 5 pots are all witnesses to important relationships in my life. Forgive the long-winded self-indulgence, but here it goes. From left to right:

Number one: This large decorated vase is an artifact from the early days of East Fork. The year is 2012. I am still apprenticing with Daniel Johnston. Alex and Connie and I had been talking about the idea of the three of us working together in some capacity for awhile, but we were unsure of what form that collaboration might take. That winter, I went and stayed with them for a week and worked alongside Alex in the studio making pots. It was mostly an opportunity to spend time together in a work setting and try on the relationship. During that week I threw some of these vases and Alex decorated them. I really admired Alex's slip trailing at the time (and still do!) so it was particularly thrilling to see it on a pot I made. A few months later, after he fired the wood kiln, Alex gifted me this vase--one of the nicest ones from that run. At the time I thought it was just the coolest pot. Nowadays its a pleasant reminder of that original leap of faith, our collaborative intent, and the fruits it has borne. There were probably at least 6 more from that same run and I'd love to know where they ended up--any collectors out there have one?

Number 2: The second pot is one that I made toward the end of my apprenticeship with Daniel. It’s sort of a pottery nerd pot--its based off of an old Chinese form called meiping that the Koreans further refined and developed. They're way old though--we're talking like 600AD. Traditionally used to hold wine, and to display branches of plum blossoms, the form is a bit esoteric. But they are a technical challenge to execute and I think when done well, can be exceedingly beautiful. Daniel made really lovely ones and so naturally I tried to emulate them. This one I kept because it’s the closest I got to getting it right. Back then I thought it was the best thing I had ever made. I still think it’s a nice pot; it has this moody anthropomorphic vibe that’s kinda creepy and lovely. But more importantly it represents, to me, the state of mind I had at the time--the earnest striving, the loneliness, the frustration, and sometimes, the quiet little successes.

Number 3: This hourglass mug was given to me by Mark Hewitt himself very shortly after I moved to North Carolina. I showed up to one of his kiln openings right after my move to NC, and after introductions and some chit chat, he disappeared for a moment and came back with a mug and a bowl. "A gift, Happy Birthday!" he joked--but little did he know, it actually was my birthday. I took it to be An Important Sign. I belonged. These were my people. The mug is delightfully chipped and well-used now--it lives out in the kitchen at the pottery and sees regular use at our post-lunch tea time. I'm sure Mark would be pleased to hear.

Number 4: This is a sweet one. This tumbler was made by my teacher, Daniel Johnston, and given to me as something of a "graduation present" when I finished working with him. The story starts with the first afternoon that I met Daniel, when I visited for a working interview to see if the apprenticeship would be a good fit for both parties. I showed up at his home, he invited me inside and offered me a glass of water in this tumbler. 3 years later, remembering our first meeting as clearly as I did, he gave me this cup as a going away present. It's not a particularly technically accomplished or uniquely beautiful cup but rather (and here's my recurring theme) it physically bore witness to the arc of our mentorship--blessed its coming and going, so to speak--and thus has accrued some potent magic. It was a very thoughtful gift.

Number 5: And finally, this last lil mug. This mug was given to me a few years back on my birthday (Aug 31st FYI--all the good things you hear about Virgos are true) by our Production Manager Cade Hollomon-Cook. Cade showed up at East Fork close to 4 years ago now, back when Alex and Connie and I really had no idea we were going to be making a dinnerware factory in a few years. She had been studying pottery off and on for a good while at that point and was eager for an opportunity to deepen her training and work alongside other potters. I was super scared of bringing someone on board at the time--feeling very much inadequate to the challenge of any sort of mentorship/managerial role. She asked to work with us and Alex and I waffled and didn't get her an answer while we mulled it over. Nevertheless, she persisted--much to her credit and East Fork's good fortune. She quickly made herself invaluable and has only deepened her professionalism and further raised the bar at East Fork as time has passed.

Cade coming on board, in retrospect, seems to be an event that got the ball rolling towards our present path. Assembling a team of capable, kind, and determined folks has been a joy in and of itself and a key motivator for me to continue our growth as a company.

But I digress-she gave me this mug early on in our relationship. She made it during her student days at Haywood Community College. It’s a scary thing to share your early work with others, let alone give it away for keeps. I can’t speak for Cade, but I see the mug as a moving artifact of the mutual respect and trust that (if you're lucky) arises when people work alongside one another, earnestly and vulnerably, towards a common goal.

Thanks, John! You Rock!

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1 comment

Enjoyed reading about East Fork Pottery today. We first heard of John after acquiring a tall vase (Mark Hewitt calls this shape an Iced Tea Ceremonial Vessel) stamped w/ a “DV”. Found it to be John’s work as an apprentice for Daniel Johnston. It’s so well done-lots of slip detail. Nice to read about a successful growing ethical company.

Don Koss

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