Potters teach their craft during pottery festival

June 05, 2005|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - It's not often that a beginner can receive instruction in a craft from someone who has been working at it for 70 years.

The public had that opportunity Saturday at the inaugural Cumberland Valley Pottery Festival at Renfrew Park.

Robert Engle, 84, was on hand to coach beginners in the art of throwing pottery on a wheel. The Waynesboro resident started making pottery in 1934, and also worked as a cabinetmaker. His wife, Sylvia, who accompanied him to the pottery festival, decorated his ceramic creations.

Watching Tracy Holliday, Renfrew Institute's assistant director, making her first attempt at creating a pot, Engle adjusted her elbow and said, "Don't use your body."


April Tyndall of Waynesboro also tried making pottery for the first time under Engle's tutelage.

"Push (the clay) down," Engle said. "Cup that hand."

"It takes muscle," Tyndall said of shaping pottery on the electric wheel.

Also tutoring beginners was James Smith of the Nicodemus Center for Ceramic Studies. He instructed Holliday to start working the pot at its base.

"Keep it steady," he said. "Pull straight up. It was a little off-center when you started."

"I think my fingernails are too long," Holliday said.

Smith and Engle frequently wet their students' pots to keep the clay workable.

Jack Handshaw, a potter since 1974, sat at his wheel under threatening skies. He said that Engle "influenced me greatly as I was getting started in the business. He inspired me as a craftsman."

Handshaw, who runs Hobbitt House Pottery in Fairfield, Pa., was making a vase of white porcelain clay and answering questions as he worked. Porcelain clay shrinks 20 percent when fired, he said.

The festival also featured the opening of the renovated Bell family pottery exhibit, a sales area and a silent auction of pottery.

The exhibit celebrates the achievements of two pottery shops, John Bell and his six sons in Waynesboro, and John's brothers Samuel and Solomon in Strasburg, Va. Most of the 140 decorative and utilitarian pieces on display were made in Waynesboro between 1833 and 1896.

In a typical year, the Bell shop produced 15,000 pieces of earthenware and stoneware.

The pottery exhibit, silent auction and the sale of locally made pottery continues today.

If you go

What: Cumberland Valley Pottery Festival

When: Today, noon to 4 p.m.

Where: Renfrew Park, 1010 E. Main St., Waynesboro, Pa.

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