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R. & Deborah A. Fletcher
The “Riffle Pottery” sign along Route 82 indicates the shop is
near—though not visible from the highway.
It is located at the end of the wooded, graveled lane, through the gate
and up the hill. The pottery shop,
situated on a hill overlooking
a warm smile, owner and potter
What at first seems a fairly straightforward and simple process (molding, drying and baking clay) is found to be more complicated with each elemental step. It’s more than turning a piece of clay on a potter’s wheel. For Riffle, it starts well before that. He mixes his own clay, which helps bring control and consistency to the final product.
make truly unique pottery, you must first learn to formulate your own clay and
glazes,” Riffle paraphrases Charles Scott, a (now) retired pottery instructor
under whom he studied at Glenville State College.
It’s an adage Riffle has taken to heart.
In addition to mixing his clay, he has formulated his own glazes that he
mixes from raw materials. His glazes
were developed over twenty years of making pots; experimentation, development,
and refinement. The result is the
product one sees today. His work
includes beautiful cobalt blue pieces, brilliant copper reds, a wood ash “tree
glaze,” and his newest, a lovely purple. The
“tree glaze” is perhaps the most unique.
has formulated a glaze where “trees” result from wood ash.
Though wood ash is commonly used in ceramic glazes, Riffle has developed
something quite different. He
screens the ashes from his wood heating stove, and then mixes a precise amount
into his glaze mixture. The ash acts
as a flux, causing the glaze to run down the sides of a piece during the intense
Ironically, the patterns created by the running glaze resemble trees—truly, beauty from ashes. Sometimes brown flecks show up around the tree “limbs,” and resemble a tree in fall foliage; other times, it’s the stark trunks of a winter forest. The glaze leaves patterned ridges on the finished piece. Not only is this glaze visually appealing, each piece has a distinct feel. Those tree-shaped ridges—on a tumbler for instance—have a textural feel not unlike taking hold of an oak limb. The patterns, like snowflakes, are similar yet individual. A variety of factors interact for a variety of results, making each piece unique.
glazes come out of the kiln in a variety of colors depending upon a variety of
factors. The beautiful purple glaze
has to be placed just so in the kiln to develop the bursting brilliant color
found in some pieces. Placed lower
in the kiln, the same glaze comes out a light, sea foam green color.
The final colors vary depending upon: whether or not the flame comes in
contact with the piece during the firing process, placement within the kiln, air
patterns within the kiln and the barometric pressure.
Some factors can be controlled by the potter, some can be managed, and
some are whims of fate.
Each piece turned out by Riffle Pottery is hand-made, whether wheel-turned or slab constructed. Each piece carries the marks of its making. One can look at the turning rings on a particular piece and tell something about how fast the piece was pulled up from the wheel. These marks represent a period of time out of the potter’s life; the time it took to form the piece. In reality, those marks only represent a fraction of the time it takes to turn out a piece of useful pottery.
Riffle’s single-handedly-built, gas-fired brick kiln near the end of the
firing process is quite a sight. The
kiln bricks are glowing and fire shoots out two feet as Riffle pulls a brick to
check progress. Using welder’s
glasses he looks in to check the pyrometric cones inside the kiln.
These cones, made of specific types of clay, melt at specific
temperatures. Looking into the kiln
is not unlike looking into the sun—at close range.
The pots are so hot (around 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit—Cone 10, for those
of you who know something about ceramics) they become translucent; one can see
through the rows of glowing red pots. These
extreme temperatures explain why it takes nearly three days to cool enough to
unload the kiln. Exposed too
quickly, cool air will cause the glaze to crack.
expresses a deep concern for his products. It
shows in the time he puts into each piece—and details such as sanding the
bottom of each piece coming out of the kiln.
He doesn’t want a rough edge scratching a customer’s counter surface.
He insists his pots are utilitarian.
He wants folks to use them, not set them out for display.
with his time, Riffle stops what he’s doing any time anyone drops by his shop.
Everyone is invited back for a tour of his facility.
Off the beaten path, Cowen,
stays busy filling orders for several outlets around
From I-79 take the
Summersville/Beckley US 19 Exit (Exit 57). Follow US 19 south to