A combination of people and events led to the founding of Local Clay Potters’ Guild in 1997.
The people involved were Barb Bihler, potter and proprietor of The Gallery in Bloomington, Susan Snyder, Bloomington native who had recently returned from a fellowship in Faenza, Italy, Tena Wenta, potter who came to Bloomington with her IU doctoral candidate husband, and Karen Green Stone, potter transplant from Denver and member of Colorado Potter’s Guild.
In 1994, the first Soup Bowl Benefit for Hoosier Hills Food Bank took place at St. Paul’s Church basement on IU campus. Bloomington area potters were asked for contributions of soup bowls. This event sparked relationships by connecting potters to each other. Following the Soup Bowl Benefit, Barb Bihler asked the question, “who and where are all the potters in the area?” with the goal of organizing an exhibit of local potters’ work at the John Waldron Art Center.
The Gallery was dedicated to selling fine art pottery by clay artists from Indiana and beyond. Susan, Tena and Karen had independently formed relationships with Barb, stopping in The Gallery from time to time. As the concept of a group show grew from her question, Barb began the process of gathering the names of area potters for show at the Waldron. Susan, Tena and Karen volunteered to help her.
As part of the exhibition, “Local Clay”, we wanted photos and biographies of each of potter to mount with the exhibit. Susan and Barb worked as a team going to studios of half the potters while Tena and Karen worked as a team on the other half.
The show was received with great success. We were told Waldron Gallery Director, Suzanne Halvorson, that our exhibit was the most financially successful show in gallery history.
As we worked in the Rosemary Miller Gallery, Barb was not feeling well. She was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer and her health began to decline and she was unable to work. She passed away in 1999 with the help of dear friends and colleagues, many from the newly organized potting community.
After the success of the exhibit and with some names in hand, Tena, Susan and Karen sent out invitation letters to all the potters who had participated in “Local Clay” asking if they would be interested in forming a guild and hosting a fall/holiday show and sale. Karen, as a member of Colorado Potter’s Guild, had participated in large group shows and had an outline of job descriptions needed to pull a show together. The meeting was scheduled at the Uptown Café back room. A long table was set up for our expected large group. The three of us sat down and waited for others to arrive…and waited…and waited. No one came. It was just the three of us. We looked at each other and wondered if we show give up on the idea of a guild. Instead, we decided to make it happen by dividing up the job list into three committees with each of us chairing a committee, assign jobs to the other potters and move forward to form Local Clay Potters’ Guild.
Our first show was at the Harmony School gym in the fall of 1998. To our great surprise and pleasure, the gym filled with customers and we have never looked back!
Local Clay Potters’ Guild is a direct descendent of the Potters Guild of Michigan, Ann Arbor, founded in 1949. Colorado Potters Guild, founded in 1964, was partly inspired by the Ann Arbor Guild and adopted the By-laws of Ann Arbor Potters Guild. Local Clay adopted and revised the Colorado Potters Guild By-laws in 1998.
The Soup Bowl Benefit for Hoosier Hills Food Bank helps reach out to the broader clay community including high school students, IU ceramics students, Waldron students, teachers and studio potters. This combination of people weaves together a community of clay lovers whose contributions are directed to eliminating hunger and supporting a well-established organization.
These two events, the first Waldron exhibit and the Soup Bowl Benefit connected potters by creating professional opportunities along with unexpected and truly wonderful relationships. Local Clay Potters’ Guild members share information, order supplies together, travel together to shows and events, and organize a fall show that has become the premier pottery show in Indiana.