Couple mixes pottery and business at W.Va. studio

April 11, 2005|by DON AINES

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. - Pam Parziale has been wedging, throwing, glazing and firing pottery for more than three decades at Sycamore Pottery, but to her, each piece is more than a work of art.

It is also a job.

Last week, Gov. Joe Manchin presented Parziale, who with her husband, Ren, has owned Sycamore Pottery since 1971, with the Distinguished Arts Award at the Governor's Arts Awards ceremony for her service as an artist, administrator and advocate of the arts.

"As an arts administrator, I was on the West Virginia Commission on the Arts for nine years and chaired it for 21/2," Parziale said Sunday. Appointed by then-governor Jay Rockefeller, Parziale was the first artist to chair the commission.


She later helped rejuvenate the Arts Advocacy Committee of West Virginia, feeling she would be more effective in that role. Parziale said the group "lobbied the legislature on the economic power of the arts in the state and the need to support the economic development of the arts."

Whether it is painting, music, sculpture, theater or pottery, Parziale believes the arts are a substantial economic benefit to the state. The image of the starving artist slaving away in the solitude of a studio does not paint the complete picture.

"You only have to starve once to know it's not a good idea," Ren Parziale said. The arts, he said, are good business, encouraging tourism with events such as the Mountain Heritage Arts & Crafts Festival and Jefferson County's own Over the Mountain Studio Tour.

Major corporations, he added, also do not wish to locate in a cultural vacuum.

Set in what had been a pasture, Sycamore Pottery is both artistic refuge and down-to-earth business. The studio at 5210 Paynes Ford Road has the pottery wheels and kilns one would expect, but the couple is very much in the business of production.

They purchase tons of clay each year and the rising cost of energy is reflected in the propane bills for the kilns, which heat the works up to 2,400 degrees, Ren Parziale said. They have to market, produce and distribute the product to customers, just like any business.

"What we make is functional, utilitarian and high-fired," Pam Parziale said.

"Pots to be used," said Ren.

Utility does not have to be boring, however. Their works are made from a custom blend of clays, are dishwasher and oven safe, and come in a variety of glazes with brushwork by Pam Parziale.

"We like to say they're almost perfect and nearly alike," she said of the handcrafted creations.

The couple met in Washington, D.C., when Pam was taking a pottery class and Ren was building a kiln. Ren Parziale said it was a meeting with the late senator Jennings Randolph that planted the seed for their eventual move to West Virginia.

Randolph came to a showing of Appalachian art in Washington and encouraged Ren to make the move, later helping the couple get a commission with the National Park Service. Ren said commissions remain an important part of their work to this day.

Encouraging arts education has been an important part of Pam Parziale's life, as well. She helped found the Arts Advocacy Foundation of West Virginia, setting as one of its goals having an elementary arts and music teacher in each of the state's 55 counties. Forty-two counties have adopted the idea to one extent or another, she said, with Jefferson County having one of each in all its elementary schools.

"Kids in arts perform better academically, so I think we've made the case," she said.

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