About The Artist
Barbara Walch has been making handbuilt pottery since 1973. She is one of only a few American potters who work primarily with the pinch technique. Her handcrafted stoneware dinnerware is distinctive, unusual, and appealing. Barbara and her husband, Charlie Krause, are the proprietors of Fire Flower Garden and Pottery at their home located just outside the village of Thorndike, in central Maine, where her studio has been since 1989. In addition to the working pottery studio, there are extensive cottage gardens, cutting beds and a roadside plant stand.
Fire and Flower
When I was looking for a home and studio in Maine I knew that I wanted my own yard, maybe a half acre, big enough for a garden so I could plant perennial flowers and have space for a few vegetables and annual flowers. I had been gardening for several years in a community garden and around my rented studio, but never had a permanent enough place for perennials (also my studio garden flooded occasionally, a deterrent for any gardener). I wound up with ten acres, most of it hayfield and woods. Now at least one and a half acres are gardens of one sort or another, tended by me with the able assistance of my husband ( poor man, every time he makes a new garden for himself and leaves it empty for a few minutes, I fill it up with my flower overrun).
Not only did I have enough space for more garden than I could handle, but the perennials thrived and increased so well that I began to divide and pot them up to sell at a local farmers’ market. Now I go to the Belfast Farmers Market one day a week from May through October, selling perennial plants in the first half of the season and increasing amounts of fresh cut bouquets as the summer progresses. I also grow flowers to dry for bouquets and wreaths that I market at the Common Ground Country Fair, run by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association in September. This I would consider the equivalent of Baltimore or going back further, the old Rhinebeck show in the craft world.
I market my pots primarily in the state, at the Maine Potters Market, (in Portland, cooperatively owned and run by 13 potters) and at several other store/galleries in Maine, a very few craft fairs and to a very few out of state accounts. I do take some pots to Farmers’ Market, as a very secondary product.
Now I spend the winter months planning the garden, doing my bookkeeping, making pots, ordering seeds, and in late winter starting seedlings indoors. I work up some new pottery, using different materials and techniques, but usually don’t have time to fully resolve and market these. I do make pots year round, which makes the growing season more intense. Initially it was a bit easier, because my pinch pots always need a period of time to set up during the pinching process, which I use to tend the garden. I make more slab work now, which needs very much less setting up time, so the weeds can get ahead of me.
My pots are inspired and informed by nature, and I have always loved forms in nature. This has always been an intuitive rather than an intellectual thought process. I love the forms I see, and my hands make forms that reflect those in both tactile and visual ways. I used to collect beautiful flowers, shells, seed pods, stones, gourds and squashes, and kept them in baskets and on window sills. The picking up of found natural objects is one way to feed that, but growing those forms can become all consuming. Balance is always precarious between my two callings. They are both time consuming, and labor intensive, but call for different sorts of labor. Pottery is mostly indoors (except for kiln loading), fingers, hands, wrist work, less physical labor. Gardening is mostly outdoors, lots of digging, walking, lugging, working on your knees, also fingers, wrist and hands, and a bit more back work. Pottery can wait, thanks to plastic, whereas horticulture waits for no one.
Market gardening connects me to a different segment of the local community and the actual gardening tends to isolate me ( as does making pots in a solo studio) from other people while connecting me more closely to nature. I pay a lot of attention to weather conditions and forecasts, the change of seasons, wildlife and the life cycles of insects and plants.
Going to market helps make me feel part of a larger community-something I missed when I stopped doing craft fairs and moved from a group studio to a solo studio.
There is a bit of a tug of war between pottery and gardening. I have been pretty good at multitasking, so back and forth I go, making pots and tending the garden.
These two occupations/callings do compete with each other for my time, thoughts and energy, and I could likely do either one better without the other, but giving up either one feels like too much of a sacrifice. The two feed me in both different and similar ways.
About the Pottery
This pottery is made using only handbuilding methods. No potters wheel is used. All work is formed by hand using primarily the pinch method, supplemented by coil and slab work.
The hands-on art form called “pinch” pottery has been the method of choice for Walch since she began making pottery full time in the early 1970’s. This process involves starting with a chunk of clay and forming it patiently into a shape, either functional or fanciful, using only the artists hands and imagination. Because each piece is hand built, no two are ever exactly alike. She also uses the ancient technique of building containers using coils of clay, as well as from flat “slabs”.
The pottery is stoneware, a durable clay fired at 2300 degrees Fahrenheit in a propane fired kiln built by the potter.
A striking characteristic of her work is that the exterior is often left unglazed, allowing the natural patina and texture of the fired clay to define the form. When glazes are applied, often only to the inside, they are reminiscent of colors found in nature, such as a clear morning sky or a drift of snow slowly melting into a plowed furrow. Her work strongly suggests shapes and textures found in the natural world, and spring from both her intimate involvement in that world and from the nature of the clay itself.
I continue to work to perfect my pinch pots, exploring the shapes that can be made by pinching.
My work is meant to stimulate the imagination and the viewer’s sense of fantasy inspired by details
of the natural world’s organic forms and colors.
I work to renew a sense of connection to nature, using the nature of the clay itself to reflect the textures of sand and stone, the colors of earth and sky and the forms of leaves and gourds, shells and seed pods, driftwood and flowers.
I hope for this work to remind us of essential aspects and details of nature–echoes of the natural world which nurtures and supports us.