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Potter's hand-made homes are a hit

June 15, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

by JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

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Potter's homes

BROWNSVILLE - Pixie Harsh has found an interesting challenge in reproducing a sprawling Victorian farmhouse in Burkittsville, Md., for display on a historic home tour.

The Brownsville potter was commissioned to depict the home as it looks today and how it looked many years ago.

Harsh, 38, had only a black-and-white photograph to illustrate how the house looked before modern alterations.

But a home doesn't have to be historical, big or fancy for Harsh to want to make a pottery miniature of it.

"I am addicted to doing this, like people are to cigarettes. I've got to do this every day," said Harsh, who crafts her made-to-order replicas in a small workshop next to her home.

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The passion started as just another in a string of craft "phases" after Harsh went to work for a local potter after a mass layoff at Grove Worldwide in 1982.

Harsh made her first home replica as a birthday gift for her mother-in-law.

Crude next to her later work, that replica now stands on its own small shelf in her workshop.

It's there to remind her both of how far she has come with her work and of her late mother-in-law, whom she cared for in her last months, Harsh said.

Harsh followed up that first attempt with other replicas she made as gifts to family, friends - and talk show host Sally Jesse Raphael.

In 1992, she crafted a fantasy country antique shop, which she stocked with eggbeaters, quilts and hats and other things she read that Raphael collected. The gift prompted an invitation to Raphael's show, a backstage meeting and an open invitation to the show any time she's in New York, said Harsh, who displays framed snapshots of herself with Raphael in her home and workshop.

The gift also prompted a commission from Raphael's special assistant for a special wedding cake topper featuring a bride and kilted groom, she said.

Harsh said she later made a miniature gazebo with a moving swing for Raphael's daughter's wedding.

By 1995, enabled by the kiln her husband, Tim, bought for her, the hobby had evolved into a business, with Harsh joining the craft show circuit to drum up commissions. Her goal was to earn enough to build a workshop to separate craft from home, she said.

One of the best things about the enterprise - dubbed Pixie's Hand-Built Pottery - is that it allows her to be at home with her 10-year-old son, Curtis, Harsh said.

"Since he's been around, I've liked being at home for him," she said.

At this point, Harsh limits herself to two big craft shows a year.

Those shows and word-of-mouth business are keeping her busy enough that she probably won't be able to take the long vacation she usually does during a seasonal lull in orders, she said.

But she's not complaining at all.

"I really do enjoy doing replicas of people's homes because all the houses are different. It's not the same thing over and over again," Harsh said.

So far, she has done about 50 different replicas, including several churches in addition to homes, with multiple orders for some of them.

The intricate miniatures are labor-intensive, Harsh said. It takes about three days to build the average home, not including several days of drying, multiple firings and cleaning, sanding and glazing, she said.

Priced based on the time they take, the average cost for the replicas is $150 to $200.

Harsh doesn't even visit many of the homes she immortalizes. It's not necessary, as long as she has photographs showing the building from every angle, she said.

Making the initial paper model she'll use for patterns to cut out the clay pieces, Harsh said she can eyeball the proportions after studying photographs of a home.

"When I look at the pictures, I'm already building it in my mind," Harsh said. "It's getting easier and easier."

Harsh keeps shop hours by appointment. Her telephone number is 301-432-2123.

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