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Inquiring minds lend to potters’ talents

Mistakes often turn to discoveries in various arts

The story begins a few millennia ago, from something I read some decades ago.

It concerns a young man who lived in a culture that had pottery, of sorts. They could shape crude vessels, but did not have much control over shape and none over color.

The young man tried painting some color on his small vase, but it did not take, and in disgust he tossed the vase into the small fire burning nearby and went off to bed. In the morning, the fire long out, there in the ashes lay his unfinished vase. Idly he picked it up and brushed off the ashes and then stiffened in surprise.

The color had been burned into the vase and was, to him, beautiful. Was this the beginning of fired clay? From this distance in time we cannot know. But it may have been, and then came the inevitable improvements as time passed and skills increased.

Now, a very long time later, many clay objects are shaped on a turning disk known as a potter’s wheel. And color on the finished pieces is standard.

Which brings us to the studio of Everett Lynch of Tonasket, a potter who, on commission, made a broad-based container for the then-new Omak Public Library. I went to call on Mr. and Mrs. Lynch in their home in Tonasket with the intent of getting pictures.

Lynch was most obliging, and demonstrated his techniques for my camera.

Things had changed since the days of the young man before an open fire. Now there was the potter’s wheel, which turned the forming piece so the potter could shape it with his hands. He threw, literally, the shapeless hunk of clay onto the wheel, explaining as he went that this was called “throwing” the clay.

Then, keeping his hands wet as he worked, dipping them into a container of water beside the wheel, he turned on the power and began to shape the piece. Steadily it grew in form and shape under his hands until he had it to the shape he intended. From there, he moved it to an oven, his electrically powered, which was the kiln (pronounced kill) for firing into final form.

I never got to see him add color, but he did, and it was baked into the clay. With careful supervision it was baked to the proper condition and then set aside to cool.

And there was the finished piece. Lynch marketed his ware through commercial channels.

I acquired a small number of the pieces he made, and I think of him when I set my blue bowl of oatmeal mush into the microwave for my breakfast. Lynch himself is gone now, and so is his wife, who had a loom on which she did weaving (but that is another story).

There are people who collect Lynch pieces as they find them. The man lives on in his work.

I am acquainted with another potter, though I have never met her, who is at work and marketing her ware. This is Faith Rehpol of Eugene, Ore., a friend of my nephew, David. The work of the two artists is quite different, but I am not interested in comparisons. People collect her work, too, and she markets it through normal channels.

I’ve never seen her at work, but her pottery includes figures impressed into the clay. One such design is of the ginkgo tree, blue on a white ground. She, too, has her own kiln and fires her own pieces, a process which requires a deft touch in the firing.

It’s a long way in place and time between these (and other similar) artists and the young man who accidentally learned about firing his crude clay pot, but somehow there is a connection. Again, as in other fields, the inquiring mind leads to previously unknown developments.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for The Chronicle. This is the 2,869th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.

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