About The Artists
Susan Dimm Williams
I was born in New Jersey and later moved to Connecticut. I threw my first pot in fifth grade and there was no turning back from that point on. Pottery continued to be my focus throughout high school, Simons Rock College, and Bennington College.
I was completely immersed in pottery and painting at Bennington. I had my own studios, got to leave classes to check on kilns, made my own clay, stretched my own canvas, made glazes and was always covered in something. I had to change clothes every time I went from my painting studio to the kiln room so I wouldn’t catch on fire. While at Bennington, I also went to Alfred University New York State School of Ceramics for the summer to study with Val Cushing.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Art Degree in Painting and Ceramics, I moved to New York City. Thanks to my Mom (thanks Mom) I landed an amazing job as Registrar at the Marisa del Re Gallery on 57th Street. I spent the 80’s very quickly learning how many zeros there were in a million dollars, speaking Italian and French, traveling to the South of France to install large sculptures, and going to art fairs in Chicago and Nice.
After Marisa del Re, I managed the Michael Werner Gallery and then went on to work at Christies Auction House (I could write a book on that one). I tried graduate school but one year was enough for me to realize that I already knew what they had to offer, so I moved to my parent’s summerhouse in Chatham.
My house is a fisherman’s Victorian, built between 1905-1909. Originally, an old ship’s mast was the main supporting timber in the basement. In 1998, a 3,000 sq. ft. post and beam barn was added for our studio, kiln room, and the original retail shop. I pot in the barn and teach at the Creative Arts Center in Chatham. I am truly fortunate to live in this beautiful place and live out my dream.
I was born in Aspen, Colorado. My family later moved to Hawaii and then Connecticut. When it came time to leave home after high school I lived in Maine, Alaska, and Vermont. I moved to the Cape in 2005. I like to joke that my career has been down hill all along until I finally reached sea level.
Pottery is new to me. Beginning in high school, my focus was on environmental studies and this is what I studied at the University of Alaska, Bennington College, in my masters program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. I was a regional planner for over 20 years in Vermont before switching careers to become a science teacher for grades 6 through 12.
My first job on the Cape was working with Autistic students at the May School in Chatham. That school closed and the series of jobs and family responsibilities that followed gradually led me to spend more time helping my wife in Barn Hill Pottery. I continue to be one of my mother’s five caretakers and one day a week, I am a vocational trainer for special needs students at the Dennis-Yarmouth High School. Once you get teaching in your blood, you can never completely walk away from it.
Actually doing pottery is a release of an inner artistic appreciation and sensitivity. Regional planning did not provide much of a venue for artistic expression but teaching certainly did. I grew up surrounded by wonderful art in my home and artists at Bennington College surrounded me.
So today, pottery serves as my centering force. It has all the life elements that I love – problem solving, exploration, testing the limits, design collaboration, and starting a creative process that always gives you a surprise ending. My only frustration is that there are not enough hours in the day to pursue all the ideas I have for works in clay.
THE NINE STEP PROCESS
Our clay comes from Western Massachusetts in batches of 2,000 to 3,000 pounds twice a year. Our trusty watchdog protects the load from blowing away until we can get it inside the studio.
We bring the clay into the studio, 300 pounds at a time, and stack it neatly to age for at least 6 months – the longer the better. Pulling the clay out from under the dog with out tipping him over is no easy task!
With only a few exceptions, each thrown piece is made from a specific weight of clay. This weight is the basis for the price of each pot. The weighed lumps of clay are then wedged – like kneading bread – to mix the clay and remove air bubbles.
Throwing is all about hand-eye coordination, strong finger muscles, and strong back muscles. It is not about making the correct shape. The art of pottery is feeling the correct shape evolve.
These are called ware racks. Before any piece goes in the kiln, it must be as dry as possible. Too much moisture will turn to steam and explode the piece – spectacular yes, but it can be heartbreaking.
Dried pieces go into the kiln for the first firing called the bisque. The pottery is fired for 12 hours up to a maximum temperature of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes another 12 hours for the kiln to cool down enough to be unloaded.
This is what the pottery looks like after it has come out of the bisque firing. Notice the color has turned from grey to very light tan
– the water is all gone and the piece has shrunk by about 10% since it first came off the wheel.
The true mystique of pottery is in the glazing process. We make all our glazes, 5 gallons at a time, from scratch. Some glaze recipes contain familiar household ingredients but some are very exotic. Knowledge of chemistry and thermal dynamics is crucial. Melted candle wax is applied to surfaces that are not to be glazed. Some pieces are dipped, others have the glaze poured on them, and some are painted – the combinations are endless.
Back into the kiln a second time to be fired for sixteen hours up to at stopping point of 2,230 degrees (just a tad warmer than the oven in your kitchen). It is allowed to cool for up to a day to a comfortable 200 degrees before the kiln is even opened. Everything has shrunk by another 3%.
So now, you know all about the art, science, and most importantly, the passion that went into that beautiful pottery sitting in your kitchen or on your coffee table. We had fun for two weeks making your piece so we hope you will enjoy it for years to come!