Crystal Bridges is open to the public, with timed tickets and walk-ups welcome as capacity allows. Learn more.
Crystal Bridges is open to the public, with timed tickets and walk-ups welcome as capacity allows. Learn more.
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Artist Spotlight:  Master Potter Jim Young

Skipper greets all visitors.

Skipper greets all visitors.

It was a beautiful day for a drive to the studio of Jim Young, a master potter who lives in an idyllic setting on the Van Hollow arm of Beaver Lake.  I arrived right at 1:30 and I was greeted by a welcoming committee of one energetic Jack Russell Terrier named Skipper.  Jim wasn’t far behind and he was anxious to get started.  We had been planning this visit for months, but the winter weather had us postponing our appointment time and time again.  There were no worries about weather on this day since it was a perfect spring day.

Jim began to tell me about the artistic journey that landed him here.  His story began like many other Americans:  college, dream job, beautiful house and family … but something felt off-kilter for Jim.  One evening at a party during a fortuitous conversation, he agreed to attend a pottery class with a colleague.  Unbeknownst to Jim, this pottery class was to take place at the famous Roycroft campus located in East Aurora, New York.  The Roycroft is an influential community in the arts and crafts movement.  When Jim’s friend called to say it was time to attend the class, Jim had nearly forgotten that he’d agreed to go.

Potter Jim Young at work at his wheel.

Potter Jim Young at work at his wheel.

The art of pottery affected Jim in a way he’d never expected—he felt at home and grounded when working with the clay. Nevertheless, it would be years before he would make a full connection with the art.  When Jim and his wife Sarah decided to start downsizing, they sold their house and began collecting some tools of the trade.   Travel was also in the cards for the two of them—they wanted to learn everything they could about the history of pottery, as well as to study the similarities and differences in pottery from different cultures worldwide.  What finally brought them to Northwest Arkansas was Sarah’s desire to be near the water, and the fact that her parents lived in the region.  They discovered Beaver Lake and knew they had found their home.

hands and rimYou will see nature’s inspiration in the detailed finish work on each of Jim’s pieces.  Castings from shells, vegetables, and pine cones often adorn the handles of his serving bowls.

Mary Douthit, our Retail Operations Manager, arrived later in the afternoon of my visit.  Jim was at work at the wheel.  On the wall was a rudimentary drawing that laid out each step of how to throw pottery.  He’d already prepared some bowls and set them out in various stages of completion so we could see the shaping process from start to finish.

Retail Manager Mary Douthit tries her hand at Jim's wheel.

Retail Manager Mary Douthit tries her hand at Jim’s wheel.

Little did we know Jim had a surprise for us: we were going to make some pottery of our own.  Jim is very much a teacher at heart, so he insisted we give it a try.  Since I was bit reluctant, Mary was first at the wheel.

In addition to thrown pottery, Jim also creates handbuilt slab vessels and extreme forms in which the clay is flattened with a slab wheel and formed by hand.  During our visit, we made both thrown and slab bowls.  Eventually, they will be fired in Jim’s homemade kiln, which has no mortar, so he must stack the bricks by hand for each firing.   In the end, Jim says the fire has the final say, so you have to set it up to fulfill your plan.

Our creations!

Our creations!

After all was said and done, we learned, created and even made a new friend.  It was a wonderful day at the studio!

To see more of Jim’s art visit the Museum Store where his work is on display and for sale.  And please join us May 24 through 26, when Jim will be demonstrating his thrown pottery technique at the Museum Store! 

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