Culture- ART FEATURE- What a crock! Potters wheel into Staunton

When Nan Rothwell left college to study theater in England in 1970, she soon came down to earth. Literally. Rothwell began dabbling in a pottery studio in the town where she was staying and found herself drawn to the tactile quality of clay. "I'd never really worked with my hands before," she recalls.

Before long Rothwell had shelved her stage aspirations and enrolled in the prestigious Harrow School of Art to study ceramics, a choice that launched her on a lifelong career at the pottery wheel. 

This weekend, for the first time in over 30 years, Nelson County-resident Rothwell reunites with four of her fellow Harrow students— British potters Silvia Dale, Toff Milway, and Micki Schloessingk, plus American ceramicist Bill Van Gilder— for a three-day conference in Staunton entitled "The English Connection." British-trained American potter Dan Finnegan will also participate.

Dale, Milway, and Rothwell agree that what distinguishes the English studio tradition is its emphasis on function. "We use these pots at very important times in our lives– it's quite personal and tender." says Rothwell. "So I think it's really important that it work well and that it feel good. It's more about that for me than it is for abstract feelings about art." She admits, however, "Making a pot look nice is the most fun part."

With a focus on utilitarian aspects of pottery, the six ceramicists will present a range of demonstrations and workshops, including a discussion by Finnegan of the importance of handles on drinking vessels, and an examination by Milway of how presentation enhances meals.

"I like to provide food that has a farmhouse quality," explains Milway, who lives in rural Gloucestershire and specializes in salt-glazed platters and bowls. "I like to elevate that with pots that provide an elegance."

A longtime associate of Virginia potter Finnegan, Milway suggests the attitude toward pottery in the U.S. is different than in England. "There's a huge gift-giving culture in America," he says, "and they sponsor and support their local artists, which is so curious to us."

Vessels made by the "English Connection" potters will be on public display June 1-3 in the Skyline Room of the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center. Although all the pots are intended for everyday use, Milway notes, "They're radically different in ethos and feeling. 

"I think [the exhibition] will show very clearly," he says, "that here are six different potters leading six different lifestyles."

The Potters Council three-day conference, "The English Connection," takes place June 1-3 in Staunton. See A public exhibition of vessels made by Sylvia Dale, Dan Finnegan, Toff Milway, Nan Rothwell, Micki Schloessingk, and Bill Van Gilder will be on view in the Skyline Room of the Stonewall Jackson Hotel and Conference Center on Thursday, June 1, 6-8pm; Friday, June 2, 4-9pm; and Saturday, June 3, 11-4:30pm. 614-794-5827.