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Pottery Thoughts

Landmark Moments: Anniversaries, Birthdays and Other Dates

I mark my days, weeks, months, years by what's happened in the past.  Two years ago this October we went to China. Twenty-one years ago John and I married. Seventeen years ago John's Dad died and my Mom died.  There are birthdays and holidays and weddings scattered throughout these years. It's easy to forget how much my past influences my decisions today, so making a point of remembering these moments and even celebrating them brings my attention to how important they are to me now. 

Actually, since we work hard every day making pottery, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, weeding the garden, talking to customers, demonstrating in our studio, vacuuming the gallery floors, sweeping the cobwebs that re-appear daily, making a big deal of an anniversary may even seem like one more chore on my To Do list. And I even groan and whine to myself, why do I have to throw a party, again. 

Because we should pay attention to what we've done. We should honor the hours spent in the studio or gallery or on the lawn mower, that kept us here for forty-one years. We should stop and appreciate our own selves, and then share that amazement with our friends.  We are amazed that it's already been forty-one years in Ellison Bay at EBP.  

It IS a big deal, and on Saturday, August 22 from 1-5 we're going Celebrate our 41st year here AND John's 72nd Birthday all at once.  We're going to eat cupcakes and sip something cold and refreshing and toast ourselves and YOU, all of our friends.  We'd enjoy ourselves a whole lot more if you were here to celebrate this with us. 


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Take a Class with John this June at The Clearing in Ellison Bay

Over the years people have asked us to teach a class but we've had to turn the opportunities down because our studio is not large enough. Collaborating with The Clearing has alleviated this so we're announcing this first ever chance to learn from John Dietrich AND another great potter John Hanson. 

The week long class: Making Pottery: Beginning and Beyond 

This is from The Clearing catalog:

"In this week of pottery making, you will have the opportunity to explore some of the roots of the craft and get different perspectives and techniques from two long-time professional potters. Both Johns—Hanson and Dietrich—are fortunate to have had a long relationship with Door County's Potter Emeritus, Abe Cohn, who died in 2013. They will share some stories, philosophy, materials and tools from Abe and from their many years of teaching and making pottery.


Hand-building will be emphasized in this class. You’ll have turns on the potter’s wheel, with assistance from both Johns, to produce a variety of pottery. Work can be pit and Raku fired on Friday at Ellison Bay Pottery just across the road from The Clearing." Read more HERE

BUT! There's More!!

The Clearing has scholarships available. Contact them directly here: 877-854-3225. This information is NOT on the Clearing website but shared with the instructors. Please don't hesitate to call get more information. 

If you haven't been to The Clearing then you are in for a treat. I call it a sleep away camp for adults.

It's called The Clearing because the founder, Jens Jensen, world famous landscape architect, believed we as adults needed to get away from our every day life and clear our minds by learning something new.  Please take a moment to check out the website. 

The Clearing is right across Garrett Bay Rd from our home.  And they are the best neighbors that anyone could ask for. 






John Hanson started Mudslingers Pottery in Colorado in 1998. John Hanson also worked at the Potters Wheel, with Abe Cohn in Fish Creek. 

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Winter in Ellison Bay: Art Show--New Dog--New Ideas ---Oh My!!!

Valentine's Day means Art Show for us this February in Madison, WI at the Olbrich Botanical Gardens. If you saw us last November there then you know how fab the show was. Let your friends know. If you can't find us at our booth you'll know we're enjoying the gardens. 
Introducing our Studio Dog-who supervises us, or something like that. Mostly, though, he's looking for a lap and John is sitting down, so....? Bo is getting used to life in a pottery studio and soon he'll become our new gallery dog. 
NEW for this year is this deeper casserole or baking dish. There are lids, but I wasn't around to shoot those. I love these and I know you will too. John's going to make some bigger ones for those family dinners that come around. 
Bowls are on our mind all the time, but especially in the winter when we can focus on new shapes and art. Last year's Door County Potter's Guild show in May had all the potters making one of a kind bowls and we were hooked. Not quite obsessed. But almost. John throws these and we took turns adding our January thoughts to the surface. 
There are the regulars that are getting a make-over as well. The humble mug is really a sculpture you hold everyday making them uniquely personal. The handles are the same, though. They must fit your hand, whether you're a girly girl or a manly man, and John wants each person to feel like that mug belongs in your hand. But wait till you see the mugs and steins.  Oh, baby, they are, well, wonderful. 
That's it for now. Thanks for reading!

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Kiln Furniture is Not Comfortable

Kiln furniture isn't for sitting. It's for holding shelves in a kiln. This is where John stores his furniture between firings. 
This is for plates. The posts hold the plate stand and then we can stack two/three plates in one space. Very handy when we're filling a dinnerware order. 
Posts on the floor of the kiln. These will probably stay here until the next firing. 
And here is a pile of cone packs. 
Cone packs hold pyrometric cones that measure accurately the temperature in the kiln. John uses cone packs and a pyrometer and the color of the flame when he looks into the peep hole to manage his firing. I like to think the cone packs are a kind of art. 
New Shape
New Glazes
I love these. 

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Nature and Our Ceramics

Our ceramics are inspired by the stunning natural beauty of Door County, the southern part of the amazing Niagara Escarpment.

The arbor vitae cling to the cliffs and fill the air with it’s tenacious aromas, the fresh air off Lake Michigan and Green Bay lift spirits, the clear water and skies expand hearts and minds of all who visit.


It’s impossible to not be inspired. Our shapes, images and glazes reference the lakes, cliffs, forests, beaches, and weather in each piece of functional art we make.

We translate these powerful experiences into abstract and universal images that elicit an instant response by the viewer which makes visiting our showroom an interactive experience.

A bowl or pitcher may be reminded of a certain beach, person or moment, or a certain season, night sky, a concert or meal when you see a bowl or pitcher.  A connection is made, the story becomes yours and you know you've found what you were looking for.  


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'Hands in Clay' a Group Pottery Show at the Miller Art Museum Sturgeon Bay, Door County, Wisconsin

Hands in Clay, a new exhibit at the Miller Art Museum in Sturgeon Bay, includes sixteen Door County potters in all their glory. The show opens November 8 and closes at the end of the year. 

Think pottery is brown or blue and a heavy mug or bowl? Go to this exhibit and be amazed at what potters can do with this simple, humble material that is clay. 

'Gillian' by Stephanie Evans

We delivered pieces from both of our current work to the Museum. In addition to the pieces in the exhibition, many of the participating artists agreed to put some pieces in the Museum's gift shop as part of the Museum's ongoing fund raising efforts. 

Please join all the artists this Saturday afternoon for the Opening to this important Door County art show. 

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Our Last Art Show--in Madison, Wisconsin--Olbrich Botanical Gardens--Booth 14 in the Commons

Used to be we'd have half dozen or more Art Shows to go to all year, although most of them were in the off season. During the summer John would pack up the van and drive to Milwaukee, Racine, or Appleton. We also had, during the year,  two in Madison, one in Green Bay and one in Ellison Bay for Olde Ellison Bay Days. (That one we were also directors of, so we had more fun sometimes than is legal.)
Anyway, back to this Art Show. 
 A new date (not March anymore) and a new location (from the Hilldale to the Olbrich Botanical Gardens) have served to improve this show. Being in the mall wasn't bad, just too mall-like. Food though was good. The light and atmosphere will probably be better and November is a great month for us to get away and enjoy a new location for a while. Also, we plan on lingering in Madison for a few days after the show. Something we didn't do in March, being we needed to get back and continue production. 
This year we have a sizable order list to complete in time for Christmas and for that we're grateful but we don't have to rush home, and we're happy about that, too. 
Oh, that order list? There's room on that list for a few more orders, in case you're thinking about placing a pottery order for Christmas.  
In fact, you should act now before that list fills up. It's happened before. 
One more thing. Call to check with us on our inventory. We may have already created what you'd like and we can bring it down for you. Special and free delivery! 

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Almost Perfect Pottery Sale - September 13

Some potteries have a 'seconds' shelf and they might call it 'The Wall of Shame' and it was usually located in a corner of the show-room. 
We liked the idea of selling our minor flawed yet fully functional pottery just once a year and make it into an event. The problem for us is that with the passing years, John has gotten better and better at making and firing pots so our inventory of seconds got smaller but the quality went up. That's good for everyone else. 
We have two Almost Perfect Pottery sales each year, for one day only. If you can't make the fall one then you can look forward to the Memorial Day weekend sale which is on Saturday. 

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The Party

What was the best part of the party for me? I could say that not raining was the best part since the party was outside. I could say the food, since it was the FIRST time I'd ever had Paella.

But no, the best part was the friends old and new, some of whom drove hours just to celebrate with us. The friends who couldn't be here who took photos of their collections and sent them to us. The friends who called or took us to the Players or out for drinks in the following weeks. 

I'd include the music, which was the first time I'd ever learned of murder ballads or death folk (google that and be amazed). 

Again, it it weren't for all our friends we would have had a lonely evening, so-----

Thank You to all who came, sent well wishes and pottery photos

and gave us presents. We probably didn't get to talk to everyone but we did try.

Thanks also to Nick Hoover and Jess Holland: 'Death Folk' for their amazing and beautiful music;


The Brew Coffee House in Ellison Bay for the delectable Ooo Laalaa's and coffee, Island Orchard Cider House for the best cider ever and


Scott McEvoy Culinaria for making that yummy paella which everyone raved about.



Thanks to Martha Beller of Tweak, who gave us good advice; to Pat Keenan Graphic Design for her artwork in our ads, to the Peninsula Pulse and Kathleen Maci for that glowing article about John.


Thanks most of all to our children- Vanya, Tim and Carly, Shannon and Ella and granddaughters Taylor and Isabelle--everyone got a chance to help us prepare and host this party and for that we are forever proud and grateful.  



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'Living the Potter's Life" by Kathleen Maci

Time has a way of shaping a person, much like clay in a potter's hands. And as trends change, often the potter and his work will change. So it goes with potter John Dietrich, owner of Ellison Bay Pottery, who has been working with clay, glazes and paints for close to a half a century.

His parents, Tom and Margaret Dietrich, were painters and his father used to teach at The Clearing during summers allowing young John to spend memorable weeks in the open spaces of Ellison Bay picking cherries and playing with Lee Telfer. He smiles as he tells me that 10 days before graduating from Lawrence University back in the 1960s he finally took a pottery class "mostly for an easy credit," but, he adds, "I fell in love with throwing – the process of throwing."

Unannounced in 1968 he contacted Abe Cohn at the Potters Wheel about being his assistant.

"Six years later, in the summer of 1974," Dietrich continues with a reflective gaze, "during the last year of my apprenticeship with Abe, he tells me, it's about time, meaning – time to get my own studio."

Determined to follow his mentor's advice he went to get a plat book at the bank in Sister Bay where he struck up a conversation with teller Ruth Telfer about her grandfather's barn and 10 acres of property on Garrett Bay Road, a place that conjured up fond memories of his childhood.

"Finding out the barn and property was available for sale I did what any rational person would do – I went to Wilson's for a cherry Coke," Dietrich recalls with a smile. Thus began Dietrich's pottery career in Ellison Bay.

"Unbeknownst to me I was much like a painter, applying colors while the pot is still wet showing emotion and life. I layer color and texture. I wanted to express confidence, wanted to reflect shapes – in human and animals – the energy that naturally exists."

His parents were the benchmark of excellence. Everything he made he made first for his parents – if it wasn't good enough for his parents he would not sell it in his studio.

After 20 years of focused pottery work he met his wife, Diane McNeil in 1994, while singing with the Peninsula Chamber Singers; he was a tenor and McNeil an alto. McNeil was a dairy farmer in Baileys Harbor, divorced with four children. Dietrich had never been married.

"Those were challenging days," McNeil recalls. "It was a difficult adjustment for the children." Yet, clearly, their art has been a bond. McNeil previously was a bead artist and writer, now she is a clay artist in her own right. Together they work not only on creating but educating customers.

"In today's generation," McNeil interjects, "there's less emphasis on working with one's hands. More often than not people do not understand the process of art, the amount of steps and work that goes into each one-of-a-kind piece. They think if they buy six mugs they can bargain – there's no understanding that the same amount of time goes into making each mug."

The heyday of artists in Door County goes back to the 1980s – and today's customers tend to purchase smaller pieces such as bowls, cups, mugs, vases and candleholders.

Most interesting is the thought that Dietrich and McNeil put into their creations. Take for example, the mug. Dietrich tells me customers want a mug with a handle that feels good – that is ergonomically correct. "Look at the shape of your thumb – the design element of it – the handle of a mug should mimic this design." He holds up his thumb showing off its shapes and tells me that he is always thinking thoughts – exploring new shapes and ideas. "We want our work to function."

Diane McNeil's pottery pieces are a result of hand-building rather than throwing, and they have a whimsical quality to them – like the curved birdhouse infused with movement.

Together they continue to build upon the legacy Dietrich began 40 years ago when he began giving back to the community. Dietrich, while a member of the Men's Club in Ellison Bay helped raise money to build the gazebo, the ballpark and the skating rink. He was director and exhibitor for Olde Ellison Bay Days Art Fair from 1980 to 1995.

To celebrate Dietrich's ongoing legacy in Ellison Bay, McNeil is planning a 40th celebration of his clay art and business on Aug. 24. There will be coffee and Oo LaLa's (lingonberries, dark chocolate, brie and cream cheese in puff pastry) from Brew Coffeehouse, cider from Island Orchard Cider, music from Nick Hoover and Jess Holland from 4 – 7 pm, and a photo booth for people to take selfies while holding pieces of pottery.

McNeil also asks that long-time customers send photos of their John Dietrich collection to so those can be shared at the celebration.

As a final note McNeil says, "Everyone and their mother is invited, even if it's only to listen to Nick and Jess!"


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