BY DIANE BRONCACCIO
Several hundred people satisfy their spring-fever wanderlust with a scenic drive through “pottery country,” during the annual Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail weekend in Western Massachusetts.
The free, self-guided tour takes visitors throughout Pioneer Valley to see the work of roughly two dozen potters in nine local potter’s studios.
The studios are located along the Connecticut River Valley, but the changing list of guest potters each year come from all over the country.
“We’ve had great potters come from all over the country,” says Tiffany Hilton, who is one of the artists who helps to promote the event. “It’s a great way for people to see where the creative process takes place – and (to see) the lifestyles of our artists. We also have a lot of hobby potters and student potters come around to get inspiration,” she said.
“When the Pottery Trail started, there were only five potters in the beginning,” recalls Francine Ozereko, a founding Pottery Trail member. “A lot of people didn’t want to join, at first. But now it’s popular.”
Francine and Frank Ozereko run Ozereko Pottery Studio in Pelham. Among the collectors of Francine’s work is Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Francine said the judge bought cups from her several years ago, and they made a cameo appearance in the recent documentary, “RGB,” in a scene in Bader Ginsburg’s kitchen.
“I didn’t know about it until one of my students saw the movie and texted us a message,” she said. “We saw the movie the next night.”
Bader Ginsburg has since bought more of Francine’s pottery. Her wares include bold, dramatic black-and-white ceramic platters, vases and tripotychs.
Frank Ozereko’s creations include whimsical, animal-shaped teapots, “blockhead” vases and two-faced cups with cartoon-like faces.
For some visitors, its hard to visit all nine studios in one day, so many make a weekend of it, staying in bed & breakfasts in the region.
“Every other year, the potters do the tour on the Friday before – just for us to enjoy everybody’s pottery and see each other’s work,” says Tiffany Hilton, whose pottery studio is based in Florence. “It’s a beautiful drive between studios.”
“We start in Pelham,” says Hilton. After seeing new work by the Ozerekos and their guest potters, Hilton advises traveling north on Route 63, driving through the farmland of Sunderland and Montague before coming to the Northfield studio of Tom White.
“Tom’s almost got a village – with a kiln shed, gallery, food and music, and his guest artists,” says Hilton. “He really makes it worth your while to visit.”
Tom White, a 35-year potter, fires his pots with salt, soda and wood. The studio will offer demonstrations and a chance for visitors to try the potter’s wheel. Grammy-award winning musician Steve Katz, a founding member of the musical group, “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” will perform with the Fiddlin’ Chiselers at White’s studio. Katz’s wife, Alison Palmer, is one of White’s guest potters this weekend.
“Then you drive from Tom’s to another beautiful route – over Route 10 and stop at Lucy Fagella’s in Greenfield,” says Hilton.
Lucy Fagella’s love of food and garden shows in her pottery for the kitchen and the table. Fagella also produces elegant cremation urns and memorials -- including biodegradable urns that incorporate textures from nature.
From Greenfield, Hilton recommends hopping onto Route 2 and heading west to Shelburne Falls. With three potters’ studios all within walking distance, pottery viewers will have a chance to “stretch their legs” and walk to convenient eateries along the way.
The Shelburne Falls studios belong to Molly Cantor, Mary Barringer and Stephen Earp. Cantor is best known for her decorative, functional pottery that features carved designs inspired by nature, animals and stories. Barringer’s platters, bowls and cups are reminiscent of ancient stoneware. She also makes sculpture for walls and gardens. Stephen Earp finds inspiration in historical styles, such as traditional New England redware and early blue and white delftware.
After Shelburne Falls, take Route 112 South through Ashfield and into Florence, a section of Northampton, on Route 9. There you’ll find the studios of James Guggina and Tiffany Hilton. Located in the Arts & Industry building, Hilton will be showing tableware that complements food with rich browns and elegant pale glazes. Guggina makes decorative porcelain and stoneware dinnerware that includes carved black-and-white patterns.
From there, travel to Hadley to see the East Street studio of Donna McGee. She makes earthernware pottery with lively drawings and paintings on the surface.
Studios may be visited in any order. Look for bright yellow “Pottery Trail” signs along the way to guide you. Many of the clay artists, both local and visiting, are nationally known, and will be happy to answer questions. Many studios will have music and refreshments.
This year’s Pottery Trail takes place April 27 and 28, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. Pick up a “passport” at your first pottery stop, get it “stamped” at seven studios and you will be eligible to win a drawing for one of 24 cups made my each of the potters. If you make it to all nine studios there is a special raffle for our 15th anniversary to win a set of 9 dessert plates made by each of the host potters. This year’s guest potters come from all over New England, New York and New Jersey.
All the potters will have items for sale and are happy to answer questions. Much of the trail is accessible by Interstate-91, less than two hours from Boston, three hours from New York City, 50 minutes from Hartford, Conn., 30 minutes from Springfield, and about 90 minutes from Albany, N.Y.