NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — "I'll Drink to That" is a veritable wonderland of handcrafted vessels: delicate celadons, chunky tankards, prim porcelains, bowls with heft and inventive shapes.
The group exhibition at the Eclipse Mill curated by potters Gail and Phil Sellers and Arthur De Bow, gallery manager at MCLA Gallery 51, features more than two dozen artists who sculpt functional art out of clay.
"I think it's really cool when you have an exhibit of something that's as simple as a cup and then you get to see so many interpretations of what a drinking vessel is, is just amazing," said Stephanie Boyd of Williamstown, who was exhibiting her work and also picking up pieces from other artists. "Every night I have a cup of tea and I go to my cupboard and I get to pick which friend am I going to have tea with tonight."
The Sellers run River Hill Pottery in the mill, where they also live. Gail Sellers said they had invited about 60 artists after looking through their work and about 25 participated, some local and some from as far as Washington and Utah. In all, the pieces on display represent artisans from nine states.
Sellers said the mugs, cups and bowls are both functional and beautiful, a piece of handcrafted art that can be picked up and taken home.
"It's gender neutral, you can buy as a gift and there's a lot of different things here," she said. Prices ranged from the $20 to the hundreds, often depending on the background, history and process required to make them. In fact pieces were flying off the shelves at the well-attended opening reception two weeks ago,
The Sellers have made their name primarily in the woven clay baskets they make, but sifting through others' work and taking to fellow potters in preparation for the exhibit inspired them.
"This stuff is fairly new to us ... we've kind of played with it and enjoyed it," Sellers said. "Phil was very motivated. ... It almost feels like we came full circle. When we started out, we were both functional potters ... then we did our baskets, then we did wholesaling, we got into several books, and now we're back doing functional stuff."
Sellers said De Bow had been a great help in planning and curating the exhibition and she hoped that could become an annual event.
"We have done so many things that aren't a fit for us, this is a fit for us," she said.
Molly Cantor of Shelburne Falls finds her inspiration in nature, creating pottery that sports birds, wildlife, flora and homey scenes. The pieces have almost a wood block print look to them.
"Sometimes people ask me to do something not native ... but usually I just go outside and see what's blooming or if I have an encounter with an animal, I'm like drawing a little story," she said. "They're just sort of elements of my life that I tell by putting stories in the pieces."
Cantor, the daughter of a printer and granddaughter of a painter, had always wanted to be an artist but didn't think it was practical.
"But then when I discovered pottery, I put these things together and you can have artistry and function that seats all the sensibilities," she said. After doing it as a hobby for six or seven years, she made it her profession for the past 20.
"I just discovered there was nothing I wanted to do more," Cantor said.
While Cantor tries to create a connection with nature, Boyd likes likes the ability to say something. Some of the adult and political work she brought along at the last minute is for sale in the Sellers' shop, like the tall mugs inspired by Sen. Elizabeth Warren that say "nevertheless she persisted" and others that are pretty on one side with a sharp four-letter word on the other.
Mugs are difficult to get right, she said, because the lip has to be just so and the handle has to work.
"Many people have never had a tea or coffee or beverage out of a handmade mug ... Occasionally I will give a mug to a friend and he will say, oh my God, it's changed the way I enjoy something. There's a real human connection you don't get with factory made. ...
"Somebody's hands were all over this, permanently, and it's kind of captured in that."
"I'll Drink to That" runs through Aug. 27 in the Eclipse Mill Gallery. The gallery is open Thursdays through Sundays from 10 to 5, and by appointment.
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