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Local potter uses history to impact her own imagination

By: Andy Kozlowski, Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published December 1, 2015

 Feather trailing is Bertolini-Fox’s biggest pottery focus. She learned by studying artists who did it centuries ago.

Feather trailing is Bertolini-Fox’s biggest pottery focus. She learned by studying artists who did it centuries ago.

Photo by Agatha Fox

FRASER — As Sue Bertolini-Fox continues to work in her fourth decade of making pottery, there seems to be no end in sight.

The Fraser resident became in tune with her craft in the early 1980s while attending Oakland Community College, when her children were still relatively young.

Once her kids grew and attended school, she became a part of that process in a different way: She became an elementary school teacher. She used her knowledge of pottery and the arts to encourage creativity in her own students, including making Christmas ornaments and later selling them to acquire funds for school field trips.

Eventually, her passion for pottery became a stranglehold she couldn’t break.

“I put my years in (as a teacher) and things were changing in education and it was time to go,” Bertolini-Fox said. “It was something different to have my whole day creating. I work harder now than I ever did.”

She is one of hundreds who will once again be a part of the 40th year of the Potters Market, an event which features around 35,000 pieces by 140 potters. The items change and adapt every year, so attendees never really know what they’re going to find. 

Last year’s event had organizers on pins and needles as they changed venues from the UF&CW Union Hall in Madison Heights to the 20,000-square-foot Southfield Pavilion, part of the Southfield Municipal Complex. While the new facilities were more accommodating, organizers worried they might see a drop in attendance.

The opposite actually occurred, as the event drew even more people.

This year’s Potters Market will be held in Southfield again, running Friday through Sunday, Dec. 4-6. Parking and admission are free. The show runs from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 4, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 5, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 6.

“The event has a wonderful reputation that’s growing statewide,” said Linda Ashley, spokeswoman for the Potters Market. “You have the most established potters in Michigan and the region, as well as the young potters. That is one of the concepts, one of the goals — it’s a commitment to ceramic art and to the growth of ceramic art. The older potters mentor the younger potters through the experience of the Potters Market, which is unique in how it’s organized. Since the potters man the whole thing, there’s a lot of camaraderie.”

Bertolini-Fox has seen the logistics of the event, as well as her own style, change.

Her most ardent form of pottery is in the feather trailing style, which started in England in the 1600s and then was brought over to the first American colonies. When she got married at Greenfield Village in 1978 and saw historical plates, she decided she wanted to learn how to make such works of art.

The passion developed as she realized the tangibility of feather trailing art: They are objects that can be touched, and historical replication is possible. She basically taught herself and perfected her craft.

“The most wonderful thing for me is when (former OCC Instructor Charlie Blosser) purchased one of my pieces,” Bertolini-Fox said. “It felt like I made it.”

She also engages herself in redware pottery, using different layers of color and liquid clay to make lines, dots and circles. It can even be marbled, she said.

Also, she makes plates that have impressions in them, including faces, lighthouses, fairy houses and other whimsical things.

“It’s like an explosion of creativity,” she said.

Times have changed, she said. Decades ago the art education system was not about numbers, but rather about learning how to perfect a skill. Some made it with college degrees and some didn’t need a degree at all.

For the woman who works from morning until night — often teaching classes at her home and having parties for social interaction and creativity — the Potters Market is a centerpiece of originality. There’s something for everyone and the art is proprietary. It’s a continuous learning experience, even for the most seasoned.

And in the case of Bertolini-Fox, the journey is just beginning.

“It’s never-ending and there’s always something new I can learn and always something I can share with someone, and there’s always something new to create,” she said.