In the field of art, you are never truly an expert. There is always room for improvement and new techniques to learn.
Although he has been a potter for seven years now, Eric Stahl knew when the opportunity arose to take a class, he couldn’t turn it down.
Stahl recently took a pottery class at the John C. Campbell Folk Art School in Brasstown, North Carolina.
“I’ve taken three other classes down there and the instructor, a guy named Kevin Crowe, from Virginia, was giving it and I knew his work,” Stahl said. “He’s an excellent potter and I wanted to learn some more. You can always get better. There’s always something new.”
The class gave Stahl a chance to learn to throw larger pots – something he had previously steered away from.
“There’s always new things to learn,” he said. “I brought back an eighteen-inch tall vase. It looks like an umbrella holder. This last class, we did not do any firing. It was strictly wheel work so I brought back this piece that is very delicate. It was seat belted into the front seat of the car. I fired it myself. I was lucky, it just fit into my electric kiln.”
Stahl began working with clay at a Pocahontas County Arts Guild class. His wife, Cyla Allison, wanted to take an oil painting class and Stahl chose something a little messier.
“She wanted to check this place out and she said, ‘come with me,’” Stahl recalled. “I said, ‘no, I’m not an artist, this is not going to happen.’ But, she dragged me kicking and screaming to the Art Guild. At that time, Cynthia Gurreri was doing a demonstration and a little bit of an introductory lesson there. So I said, ‘okay, I can do this. I’m not going to do oil painting. I can try getting my hands dirty.’
“I ended up liking it a lot,” he continued. “I had fun there.”
Stahl soon got a wheel and kiln to feed his new pottery habit. He continued to take classes – at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg and with Campbell in North Carolina.
Stahl’s pottery is available at 4th Avenue Gallery in Marlinton and Gunter’s General Store.
Along with selling his artwork, Stahl “pays it forward” by occasionally offering beginner classes through the Art Guild.
“I do teach occasionally,” he said. “I’ll do an introductory lesson with ‘this is clay and this is how we get it ready for the wheel. We’ll all get our hands dirty and maybe we’ll get something thrown. It’s a two-day thing, and we just have fun. It’s interesting to watch some people work. Some of them are timid and they don’t want to press on the clay and some people go ‘boom’ and it flies off the wheel.”
Stahl’s only requirements are for his students to want to have fun and are prepared to get dirty.
Instead of looking at his pottery as a “job,” Stahl sees it as a hobby that he has to sell, or else the house would burst at the seams from the amount of pottery inside.
“This is not a vocation, it’s an avocation,” he said. “This is more of a hobby but I’ve got to sell the stuff otherwise my house would be full of pottery. As it is, my coffee mug drawer is full of stuff that I’m not quite ready to sell. It’s not quite good enough.”
When asked by his peers why he has made a hobby out of pottery, Stahl has a perfect one-line answer:
“I’ve got a t-shirt that says ‘mud slinging pyromaniac,’” he said. “That sounds fun, doesn’t it? How can you not have fun playing with mud and playing with fire?”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org