[Clayart] Some Important Mentors.....

Hank Murrow hmurrow at efn.org
Fri Jan 28 22:39:52 UTC 2022

Dear Clay Folks;

I can only submit a very personal list of potters who influenced me through workshops, and studio experience.

Note: My list has little to do with fame or notoriety, despite those names who have accrued same. These are 

people like Peter Voulkos, who taught me to wedge the oriental way with the 1000 pound batch of his clay I 

mixed for his Oregon workshop in '59.

Then there is Robert James, who gifted me with a lifelong love of metaphor and firing. He trusted me with the 

school Alpine for my first firing in a kiln of any kind. He also trusted me with the care of his young childen 

when he and his wife Connie went to an event or a movie. Michael Cardew helped me to make a 5 foot by 40 foot 

record on heavy craft paper of his two weeks of lectures on the blackboard, which eventually became a help with

his writing "Pioneer Potter". David Stannard worked at his studio on Hilltop outside Eugene, with me watching 

his every move, and never complaining when I asked why or how. In fairness, to not impede his work, I waited 

until he served the inevitable fresh baked bread with coffee afterwards. He also allowed me to overfire that first 

Alpine, gently suggesting that it might be finished, and I shold draw on the blackboard how the cones looked when 

I set them up. Then he retired the 10 Oclock pm studio, and left it up to me to figure it out.

Since thoase days, I have built as many as 175 kilns, and I give him the credit for never squashing my enthusiasm,

along with Bob James himself, who quietly told me where to find the spare parts to get that overfired Alpine back

in service! which I did that very day by dinnertime.

Our own Vince Pitelka, newly in a wheelchair due to a horribly battered leg from an accident in the Escalante

Canyon, let me teach his students for 8 weeks at the Appalachian Center for Craft, and fire a soda kiln, and the 

bigger stoneware kiln, and daily show his students how I worked , while building those kiln loads of my stuff.

George Kokis hired me in the absence of his boss, Henry Lin, at Ohio U. in Athens, and between us both we created 

a fine opportunity for those students in which to grow and learn. I returned the favor later, when I helped him to 

get the job from which he retired, at the U of Oregon. Hamada Shoji and his son Shinsaku endured my questions at 

the workshop they gave at USC, and along with my partner in the Venice PotShop, Jane Heald, we enjoyed a fine 

lunch Jane brought most days during those several weeks, and I made sure that there were Dos Equis beers on hand, 

which improved their willingness to speak English noticeably after lunch. Jane became the Mother-who-Understands-

and-Inspires me for the remainder of her very creative life.

In 1996, I asked Harry Davis to come for a workshop at the U of Oregon for three weeks, scrounging funds from the

City of Eugene for this, and he responded with a memorable series of morning and evening talks about the various 

potteries he worked in in England, and later started in Africa, Peru, and New Zealand. Copies of those notes he also 

used to help him write his own book, “The Potters’Alternative”.  

James Laub was a student at Ohio, who became a best friend there, and gave me the chance to build my first lifting 

fiberkiln, a 350cuft kiln, serving two firing pads from an overhead beam and a traveling winch. This formative design for a 

factory he was building freed me up to develop my own studio-sized(28 cuft) lifting version that eventually led to two dozen, 

built for potters in Canada and around the US. Jim, having sold his own group shop in Eugene, is retiring to do his own work, 

and we are building a new version of our design, a bit smaller at 12cuft, for his new situation. Perhaps if it is successful, we will 

find a manufacturer who wants to build it for other potters. At 83, I am more interested in continuing my own clay work than 

making money, and my own Doorless Fiberkiln is newly re-lined with Zircoonia-reinforced fiber that promises a lifetime(and beyond my own) 

of fires, as it has only 500 or so on it at present. I will have a younger potter in my will to gift it to. The copy in the Shadbolt Centre in 

BC has 2400 fires to its credit, so I am encouraged.

There have been others who were just as generous to me during my 64-year apprenticeship, but those will have to await another 

day and another chin-wag with the Clayart Community. Meanwhile, I have my own book to write and self-publish if I can. I will 

call it A Potters Primer, as I hope it will reach young ears and eyes who are starting in clay, and might find a helping hand useful.

Cheers! to Clayart list serve, Hank in Eugene

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