The name Alison Flegel has been synonymous with pottery for the past several years. She began forming clay at Pocahontas County High School under the tutelage of art teacher Rosalyn Leary before she moved on to undergraduate and graduate studies to become a professional artist and art teacher.
Flegel returned to Pocahontas County in 2011 and built a studio and kiln at her home in Cass. That is where she spends most of her time – when she isn’t sculpting the young, artistic minds of students at Green Bank Elementary-Middle School.
Recently, Flegel added to her list of accomplishments when she found out she was officially juried into Tamarack – a center of West Virginian culture featuring art, crafts and cuisine made by West Virginia artisans.
“When I came back to West Virginia, that was a goal – to apply to Tamarack,” Flegel said. “When I built my kiln and I did my first firing, I was like, ‘okay, now I can produce a body of work.’ I was really waiting until I could have a body of work that I could show.”
To apply to be a part of Tamarack, an artist must submit five or six photos of their work and then participate in an in-person jury selection, exhibiting their work in person.
Flegel had her in-person jury in Sutton, and learned last week that her work had been approved.
While Tamarack is on a buying freeze until March, Flegel said there is a lot of work to be done, and she is excited about jumping into all Tamarack has to offer.
Flegel said she was not aware of all the benefits offered to Tamarack artists, including exclusive arts and crafts festivals and shows, and business savvy classes to help artists market themselves and their work.
“They offer all kinds of business classes,” she said. “They said there is a big trade fair that happens every year, and they have people coming in for that. Being an artist there, you really are opened up to a lot of different educational things about how to market yourself, how to price your work, how to be competitive, how to not undercut anybody, especially yourself.
“It’s a way for them to showcase West Virginia artists, and it’s a way for the artists to grow.”
Tamarack, located in Beckley, is also more than what it appears to be from the outside. It’s more than a place to buy art. It’s a place to experience art and meet the artists who create it. There are classrooms and demonstration rooms which allow artists to have residencies and show visitors the process that goes into making their art of choice.
Demonstrating is something Flegel hopes to do in the future at Tamarack, mainly because she feels there is a deeper connection between artist and consumer when they are able to experience the effort that goes into creating a piece.
“I like that, too,” she said, “when you can see the artist at work, and you can hear the artist’s story. That’s what I really like about selling my work at festivals and art shows, because I can make that connection with a person. They’re more likely to purchase something because they have that story, because they have that experience.”
Due to her “day job” and volunteer work in the county, Flegel took a sabbatical from making a lot of pottery, but now that she has a place to sell, she is ready to get the wheel spinning. Most of the pieces she has sold in Pocahontas County were on the small side, but for Tamarack, she is excited to get back to her favorite kind of pottery – big.
“I’m excited about the bigger work – that’s my favorite thing to make,” she said. “I love making big stuff. It’s a challenge and it feels good.
You start with this lumpy piece of clay and then you get this large piece. They don’t weigh very much. I can throw really thin. The juror was like, ‘the only thing you might want to think about is making them a little thicker for durability.’ I spent my whole life trying to make them thin. That’s my style.”
To get back to making bigger pieces, Flegel has had to do a specific “workout” routine. She started with throwing six pounds of clay, moving up to eight, nine, 10 and 11. She is building up her muscles as some large pieces begin with 15 pounds of clay.
For Flegel, pottery has always fallen between the fine art and functional fields, and while she used to care about the distinction between the two, now, she’s just happy to be making pottery for people to enjoy.
“When I was an undergrad, I cared,” she said. “I wanted to be fine art. I wanted to be art. Now, I’m just like, ‘who cares?’ I think pottery falls into both, and I think people say, ‘you’re a crafter’ or ‘you’re an artist.’
“I like artisan.
“The really cool thing about pottery is it can be seen as fine art, and it can be seen as a craft.
“I like that about it.”
For more information on Tamarack and how to join as an artist, visit www.tamarackwv.com