Local artists take center stage at Potters Market

Nation’s largest all-clay pottery sale hits Madison Heights Dec. 2-4

By: Andy Kozlowski, Jeremy Selweski | C&G Newspapers | Published November 30, 2011

 Alice Ham of Berkley, whose work is featured at left, and Mike Williams of Ferndale, whose work is featured at right, are two of about 135 independent artists who will have art at the 36th annual Potters Market, which will be held Dec. 2-4 in Madison Heights.

Alice Ham of Berkley, whose work is featured at left, and Mike Williams of Ferndale, whose work is featured at right, are two of about 135 independent artists who will have art at the 36th annual Potters Market, which will be held Dec. 2-4 in Madison Heights.

Photos provided by Linda Ashley


MADISON HEIGHTS — If you’re a holiday shopper looking for unique, handmade gift ideas and a way to support Michigan’s hardworking artist entrepreneurs, then a trip to the Potters Market may be in order.

The three-day event is the largest all-clay pottery sale in the U.S., with tens of thousands of items to choose from, all handmade and one-of-a-kind. Now in its 36th year, the Potters Market will take place at Madison Place, 876 Horace Brown Drive, one block south of 13 Mile Road between I-75 and John R Road, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 2, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 3, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 4. Admission and parking are free, but no strollers are permitted due to the bustling crowds.

There will also be a special preview sale held from 6-9 p.m. on Dec. 1. Admission is $10 per person.

The 12,600-square-foot facility will be jam-packed with people and products. The crowds number 9,000 strong over the three-day weekend, and nearly 40,000 pieces of pottery will be available from 135 independent potters — including eight from the Woodward Talk coverage area — who also staff the event.

According to event spokesperson Linda Ashley, these are items that you won’t find anywhere else, made to the event’s exacting standards of quality and professionalism. There will be ornaments, pins, necklaces, vases, relish dishes, serving platters, tiny pots, tiles, wall hangings, bowls, mugs, pitchers, planters, statues and more, many in an eye-catching, color-coalescing glaze. Prices range from $5 to $400.

“If you’re a pottery lover, oh my God, it’s every variety of pottery you can imagine,” Ashley said. “It’s staggering to see all the things that can be made out of pottery, all the types of objects, and all the techniques and colors and textures.”

Many of the vendors are advanced ceramics students from the Royal Oak and Orchard Ridge campuses of Oakland Community College, who had to prove themselves as skilled, successful production potters to earn a spot at the show. They then generate enough stock to ensure that they don’t run short of a given item. Vendors receive most of each item’s sale price, while a portion goes back to OCC to keep the kilns firing and the pottery wheels spinning.

Joining the students are artists from Pewabic Pottery, individual studios and more. “One of the founding principles of the Potters Market was to give the potters an opportunity to sell their work,” Ashley explained. “You need to be a great potter and know and develop your craft, but also how to sell your work, what people want and how to present it. Over the years, the potters get a tremendous amount of feedback. It’s been a huge success.”

When shoppers are done perusing all the stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, raku, smoke-fired pottery and other items, they can expect a speedy exit thanks to 14 cashiers working like clockwork to complete each sale. And those who want something that appears sold out need only to check the customer service area to see if more like it is available in the back room.

All through the event, the potters are constantly restocking the shelves, replenishing popular items and cycling in new ones, so that each trip around the sprawling hall catches the eye with new offerings that weren’t there before. “You keep going around saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t see that before! Oh, I didn’t see that before!’” Ashley laughed. “It’s so much fun.”

The potters come from all over, but visitors can expect to see some local talent, as well. From Ferndale, there are Mike Williams, Jeremy Forman and Rodney Harris; from Berkley, there are Shirley Wigman, Alice Ham and Miles Stearn; and from Pleasant Ridge, there are Priscilla Eggen and Mona Russell.

Williams’ signature creations are his self-described “crack pots,” which feature heads and limbs peeking over the top or side as if someone is literally climbing out of them. He will be bringing plenty of them to the Potters Market for customers who like their pottery a little more left-of-center.

“A lot of people make functional pottery, but I make dysfunctional pottery,” Williams said with a laugh. “That’s my trademark. I make bowls and vases that don’t function as bowls and vases. My stuff isn’t for everybody, but there are always a few people out there who are just as crazy as me. And even if they’re not crackpots themselves, they at least have a friend or family member who’s a crackpot.”

This year will mark the fifth time that Williams has showcased his work at the Potters Market. He keeps coming back because of the social, communal atmosphere between the artists, as well as the massive size and scope of the event and the open-minded attitude of the patrons.

“I’ve been making pottery for 12 or 13 years,” he said, “but until I came to the Potters Market, I had no means to sell it. Over there, if you make a quality product at a fair price, you’re pretty much guaranteed to sell a lot of pots.”

Wigman has appeared at every Potters Market since 1997. This year, she will be bringing along her functional stoneware, which carries a contemporary design aesthetic. Many of the items are intended for everyday use at the kitchen table — platters, mugs, bowls and serving accessories — and some carry a Christmas theme.

“When you’re making your own pottery at home, you just run out of space at a certain point,” she explained. “So it’s a natural progression from just doing it for yourself to coming to shows like this. It’s a part-time business for me now.”

Like Williams, Wigman relishes the spirit of solidarity among the artists at the Potters Market. Describing the event as “a potters’ family reunion” and “the Pottery Olympics,” each year she looks forward to meeting up with old friends, working together to run the event and bouncing creative ideas off one another.

“This is such a great show, and there’s really nothing else like it,” she said. “Potters are an incredibly collaborative group, so there’s always lots of great camaraderie and friendly interaction going on. We love to talk to each other about our work, and share tips and ideas. It’s always a tremendous learning experience.”

For more information on the 36th annual Potters Market, call (248) 246-2686 or visit www.thepottersmarket.com.