Wearing his signature dust-covered apron, Jack Boyle centered the gray mound of clay on his pottery wheel and demonstrated the first step in throwing a vase. Watching intently, 11 children looked on as he worked magic in his San Antonio pottery studio, cupping the spinning clay between his hands and easing it up into cylindrical form.
"In the old days it was important to have a pottery shop in your town or village," Boyle, 59, told his young audience as he pulled his fingers up through the inner well to make the vase taller and thinner.
Turning the basic elements of earth and water into something functional and worthy of display is an ancient art, he explained, and a craft worth sharing with future generations.
It was almost happenstance that the kids ended up at Boyle's studio for a demonstration and the opportunity to play with the clay under the guidance of Boyle's wife of 33 years, Deborah Gillars, 58. The lesson was prompted by a 6-year-old's newly developed reading skills, a daily trek past the shop on Curley Road and a mom's search for educational and entertaining summer activities for a Wesley Chapel moms' meet-up group.
"My daughter really loves art," said Angie Carter, 36, who brought her children, Mallory, 6, and Jason, 8. "She knows how to read now, and every time she saw the sign for San Antonio Pottery when we drove by on the way to swimming lessons she'd say, 'Please, please, can we stop?' One day, I did."
Carter, who easily rounded up moms willing to pay a nominal fee for the hands-on experience, was pleased with the visit.
"I thought it was just a wonderful, teachable moment," she said. "I had no idea how welcoming they would be."
More than a few Florida artists would welcome a visit, but happenstance drive-bys are not reliable ways of drawing people in.
Modern technology, on the other hand, might be.
Boyle got his first taste of pottery making a clunky ashtray at the famed Jugtown Pottery in Seagrove, N.C., when he was about 5 years old. He has been an accomplished and successful potter in San Antonio for close to 35 years.
"It's hard to imagine that this little shop helped us raise three children," Gillars said. "But it did."
Now the man who can throw some 20 soup bowls in an hour and who devises recipes for his own glazes is delving into the world of technology to lure people in. He created a series of how-to videos featured on YouTube, and he is getting the word out about himself and other local artists through a new website at artistfinder.info.
"It's an idea that's been brewing for about five years," Boyle said, noting that his shy nature and lack of computer skills make him an unlikely spokesman. "But I wanted to give the street artist a voice."
The site, co-created with Web designer Lisa Dawson, launched in June and is under construction. So far, it features 30 artists and digital pictures of their work. It also lists their media, websites, YouTube offerings, contact information and whether their studios are open to the public.
The idea, Boyle said, is to generate traffic and sales, to describe the artists and to provide other information that could enhance a day trip to the area, such as the location of a child-friendly park or a place to shop or grab lunch.
"We want people to realize that there's these treasures right in your back yard," said Gillars, a fellow artist who teaches art at Zephyrhills High School and often assists her husband with the shop, website and art festivals.
"Florida is a mecca for the independent, pioneer spirit," she said. "And there are so many people working every day in their studios to create art. But the new generation might not go to an art show. They might not stop in randomly off the street. They're going to find it online."