Tour is glimpse of artists' world

November 23, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

WASHINGTON COUNTY - In a small studio on the western slope of South Mountain, Bill van Gilder spends hours in solitary pursuit of his craft.

Using a slow momentum kick wheel and a wood-fired kiln, he turns chunks of clay into functional works of art.

Van Gilder is a potter - a profession he has pursued since the age of 15.

Over the past 30 years, he has studied in England and Ireland, has participated in workshops around the world and even hosts a television show.

But he remains as enthusiastic about his craft as the first time he put his hands in clay.

"It's a form of communication," he said. "It's a common language among people who love things made by hand."

This weekend, van Gilder joins other artisans from southern Washington County in opening their doors to the public for the Valley Craft Network's annual Holiday Studio Tour.


The tour highlights art in many forms - from pottery to jewelry - offering a glimpse into the artisans' creative worlds.

This year marks the 27th year for the tour, which van Gilder believes is one of the oldest craft tours in the country.

Nine artisans will be greeting the public this weekend, with several studios hosting a guest craftsperson.

Van Gilder expects more than 1,000 people to visit his Gapland gallery and studio over the two-day event - an increase from last year.

Ninety percent of the purchases will be given away as gifts, van Gilder said.

Because it is a solitary profession, van Gilder said he looks forward to the studio tour because of the feedback that he receives.

"People's suggestions will guide me toward what I will make next," he said.

All of the items on the tour, van Gilder said, won't be found on a store shelf, which is the appeal of buying handmade items.

Also participating in the tour is Deborah Dickinson of Keedysville, who makes Raku-fired lamps. Raku refers to a firing technique that dates from the 16th century in Japan, she said.

Dickinson also creates ceramic jewelry, vases, bowls and wall pieces.

She has worked in clay since 1973, and specifically with Raku since 1980.

Dickinson said she has been part of the annual studio tour for the past 15 years, and this year hosts guest artist Linda Minnick, who creates hand-knit accessories, hand-spun yarn and wool angels.

"I think the tour is a great idea," Dickinson said. "It's an opportunity for other creative people to see the workplaces of craftspeople."

Diane Morton of Burkittsville, Md., was among the people participating in the tour.

"I've been doing this for the past 20 years," she said.

Morton said she is a big pottery collector and had found several items she liked at van Gilder's studio.

"I like the glazes and the textures he adds," she said. "I also like that they're functional. They don't just sit on a shelf to be admired. Everything is functional."

If you go...

What: Valley Craft Network's annual Holiday Studio Tour

When: Today, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Studios include Coles Pottery, JRW Creations, Deborah Dickinson Pottery, van Gilder Pottery, The Studios at Stony Acres, Catoctin Pottery and M4 Studios

For a tour map, go to

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