In 2015, the Artisans Center of Virginia held it’s bi-annual conference, and on the opening day, they held a meeting of juried artisans and other interested folks to discuss the trail systems, Open Door Tours and other related issues that they promote and to share ideas about how things work. As per usual, when I attend a retreat or a conference or meeting, I will take one of my own mugs to use while there instead of drinking out of styrofoam or disposable cups. A gentleman sitting at my table asked where I got my mug and when I told him I had made it, he proceeded to tell me that he was Alan Yost and was the tourism director in Greene County and that they were planning to start a Clay Festival and would I consider being part of the event. I said absolutely. Little did I know what a wonderful event I was signing up for.
The Virginia Clay Festival has been happening now for 4 years and I can’t say enough great things about this show. As an artisan, you can expect to work your butt off getting wares or products ready for a show, pack said work into crates, load it all into your vehicle and then go, onsite, and set it all up. Shows are set up in a way that you are assigned a space and you go find the space and set your work up. You sit there during the event and make sales and hope you can make enough to cover the rent of your space. Shows can range in price, depending on the quality of the show or the reputation of the show. A show in DC can run $1200 for two days while a local small town show or vineyard can be $75. Juried shows are the only shows I will do now. If the show is not juried you end up beside someone that is selling something that you wouldn’t purchase for yourself and it feels that your work is diminished if you have to listen to someone selling birdhouses made from beer cans during the whole event. And sometimes you feel that you are paying the entry fee in order to make someone else money and not bring home a profit.
But the Virginia Clay Festival is very different. These guys make the potters feel like we are the show. That CLAY is the show. And they help you get all your “stuff” into the facility allowing you to focus on the setup. And they feed us pizza while we set up and some of the musicians are playing their Irish music for us as well so it really makes the work feel fun. Greene County Tourism has partnered with a lot of folks who are taking the time to care for and help the artisans in this way.
The first year there were about 23 potters from all over the state of Virginia who were juried into this show. Quality work. All of them. And I felt honored to be a part of this show because I have only been a full time potter since 2011. This year, there were 34 clay artisans. Below is just a sampling of some of the work of the artisans. Each artist has a unique style and their booth reflects the works, in many cases, taking on the same characteristic of the pottery. And it isn’t all mugs and bowls, there are lamps, jewelry and sculptural whimsical pieces.
The show combines Irish music with clay demos by the potters, a children’s clay area along with a Raku demo and firing happening outside. Last year they added a couple of food trucks to the mix. But, the details of providing a hospitality room with food, brought in by volunteers for the artists, and host families for the artists, which allows us to not have to pay for lodging while there, and then they provide us a wonderful home cooked meal on Saturday evening. This year it was held at Julie and Scott Winslow’s home which was a very scenic location where we can relax and rest and socialize with each other is just amazing. As a side, there was a wedding going on in their barn while we were having dinner….
And to remind our customers to come back next year, the staff provided us with a can of pencils, with the theme of this year’s event on the can, as if it were a can of fresh food, to give out with next year’s date of 2019 on the pencil. How fun is that? Mark your calendars now for this fun event next September around the weekend of the 21st & 22nd, 2019. And I hope to see you there.