By Morgan Packard Photographed by Cheryl GerberAlex Williams shaping a piece
Having delved into pottery for the Zen of the art itself, it’s no wonder that when Alex Williams founded Potsalot Pottery with his wife Cindy, he created his work and retail space with drama in mind.
“I used to be a drummer and performer, so in keeping with that persona I’ve built a stage on which I perform pottery-making for visitors every day,” Williams says. With pottery wheels on this makeshift stage in the front room, surrounded by pots, bowls, pitchers, serving ware, dishes and other items displayed on shelves made by Cindy’s father, C.A. Sanchez, it’s not just the business of pottery that’s expressed but the art. “What we do is make functional pottery that’s done at such a high standard from its core to its shell that the term art applies,” Alex explains.
detail of a glazed bowl with astarburst pattern
Alex and Cindy met in a painting class at Loyola University—however, they were both sculpture majors and actually had no interest in painting. After graduation they had the lofty goal of starting a bronze foundry, but did not have the funds. With a small electric kiln that Alex purchased with the money he made from what was sold at his senior show, the couple entered a craft show and made enough money to start selling their own pottery. They “haven’t looked back since,” Alex says smiling. That was 1993.
Alex always seems to have a smile on his face, whether he’s in the process of finishing a piece or answering phone calls. “I have had to confine my creationism to the horns of the workplace,” he says. “Obviously with an employee, customers, faxes, phones, bookkeeper … I have to create when I can. Every day I try to throw a certain amount, trim what I threw the day before and glaze what came out of the bisque kiln. My favorite part of being a potter is when the shop is quiet, I’m the only one there and I’m throwing on the wheel. A very strong feeling of serenity takes over.”
the bowls show the diversity of glazes
Each piece of pottery at Potsalot goes through four main stages. The piece is first formed from a clay body that Alex developed—one that’s “a plastic, super throwing body with lower shrinkage, is dark in color for a rich ground under the glazes, and fully vitreous when fired to cone 6 oxidation,” he says. The clay is shaped by hand or on a pottery wheel, and once “leather hard” the bottom is trimmed or finished out. The piece is then bisque fired (fired in a kiln to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit). After that, the piece is glazed and returned to the kiln for glaze firing (up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit).
This whole process usually takes just over a week. The Williamses have also developed their own glazes that show off the clay and move during the firing process.
Their most popular piece is the bread bowl: a flat-bottomed container that comes with a recipe from Alex’s Aunt Carmen for a quick bread that’s baked right into the bowl. Recently, their sinks, which can be mounted any way you choose, have surpassed the bread bowl in sales. “I also love making pitchers,” Alex says. “Putting together all of the components in such a way as to have the piece pour effortlessly. Then to compose those pieces into a unified dynamic and somewhat biomorphic vessel is the aesthetic challenge.”
Alex has a distinct style: the strong, terminating lip he creates on his pieces. “The lip stops your eye at the top of the piece. It should be interesting. It should say something,” Alex explains. “On Cindy’s trays, her beveled edge emits a clean, crisp finality. My rims are expressive and undulate or twist, telling the viewer that this piece was definitely hand made.”
Sinks come in different sizes and shapes—right is a Cindy Williams design
Alex, who is inspired by the decadent and lush landscape of southern Louisiana, continues to make pottery that pushes dichotomies. It’s durable yet vibrant, useful yet artistic—as Alex himself strives to balance business with art, finding peace in creating while performing on his stage. Pottery in raw
Potsalot Pottery, 3818 Magazine St., 899-1705