SAN ANTONIO — On any given workday, the genesis from a blob of clay to something from which one can eat or drink commences with a swirling potter's wheel and a fair amount of elbow work.
For 44 years, Jack Boyle has carved a living this way, the last 40 in a studio and shop housed in a brick building on Curley Street. There, he builds, glazes and fires functional and decorative pieces that adorn the wooden shelves.
Boyle, 65, is semiretired now. Last year, he traded the wearying art festival circuit for more down time and the opportunity to teach more pottery classes at his studio.
The pace has ramped up these past weeks for Boyle and some 25 artists who have been preparing to roll out their wares for the annual Tampa Tour De Clay at four area studios Saturday and Sunday.
The event features artists from near and far, offering visitors an opportunity to check out works they might not otherwise see locally in working studios, some of which are not generally open to the public.
There are those who make it an annual pilgrimage just to visit a favored artist, said Boyle's wife, Deborah Gillars. More than a few return each year to see the intricate, carved-out pieces of William Kidd of Miami, she said.
"Collectors just love his work."
The tour winds through Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. While there's no pressure to visit all of the studios in one day, there is an incentive to complete the journey — even if it's a leisurely two-day jaunt. Those who pick up a "passport" and have it stamped at each of the stops might win a couple of Boyle's four-piece place settings.
It's also an opportunity to shop local and support the arts by purchasing a unique gift for someone, or perhaps start or add to your own collection. There's an educational slant as well, with artist demonstrations and an open invitation to help unload fired pieces at kiln openings at each stop on Saturday. Add to that an altruistic component. Some $20,000 has been donated over the years by the Tour De Clay, the bulk of it going to community radio station WMNF-FM 88.5.
"That's not bad for a little arts event," said Gillars, who has been helping prepare her husband's studio for the onslaught of visitors.
San Antonio Pottery is considered the last on the four-stop tour, mostly because of the extended-hours after party on Saturday evening, complete with light refreshments and entertainment by local favorite Those Fabulous Sunspots.
There's a lot of grit and some ingenuity that goes into turning a working studio into a festive art gallery, complete with decorative lights, refreshments and music that will last into the early evening, Boyle said.
"It's a magical transformation — like a Christmas miracle."
Contact Michele Miller at [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52.