Thursday, June 21, 2018

Get fired up for Tour de Clay and a groovy party


The view from the studio of Wellman & Welsch Pottery is a pleasant one overlooking a swath of fenced-in pasture and wide open sky. The backyard studio is a simple structure — a large metal shed filled with the tools of the trade, tons of raw clay, a few languishing cats, and racks, shelves and tables filled with finished pottery all covered in a light blanket of powdery dust.

Kim Wellman and Harry Welsch, both 65, are a husband-and-wife team who got into the craft in the 1970s, shortly after they married and moved from their home state of Michigan to be closer to Welsch's parents. Kim took an evening pottery class with a friend on a whim and ended up discovering that she had some talent.

"She was one of those annoying people that is very good at something very quickly," said Harry, recalling how he went down to the classroom studio to see what she was up to and ended up leaving with the idea to build her first kick wheel and kiln.

A couple of years later, he was into throwing and building pieces, too.

"He fell in love with it," Wellman said. "It was a happy meeting of two minds — it just worked."

The two built a business together, supporting their family for 10 years on the functional pieces they made and sold at art festivals and shops like the Florida Craftsmen gallery in St. Petersburg.

When the thought of future stability took hold, Welsch took a job teaching chemistry and physics at Chamberlain High School in Tampa.

"The kids started getting older and we needed to think about things like benefits and retirement," Wellman said.

Now she works clay full time with the help of the couple's daughter, Adrienne Welsch, who has taken on the role of studio assistant. Most days Harry shows up to work in the studio after school's out.

There in the backyard shed, they create functional pottery pieces — mugs, bowls, vases and such that are fired in a store-bought kiln and a much larger one built by Welsch.

The studio is rarely open to the public.

But this week Wellman and Welsch are dusting off the shelves and laying out the welcome mat in preparation for the sixth annual Tour de Clay, which will be held Saturday and Sunday at five studios spanning Tampa to San Antonio.

Hosted by members of the Florida Westcoast Ceramics Society, the tour features 22 clay artists offering a variety of approaches to making functional and decorative clay pieces — stoneware, earthenware, raku and porcelain. There will be demonstrations and studio tours, and the opportunity to unload fired pieces at kiln openings held at selected times at each studio. Add to that the annual after-party Saturday night at Jack Boyle's San Antonio Pottery.

Best of all — there's also the opportunity to do some holiday shopping of the handmade sort.

"We're very much looking forward to it," Boyle said, noting that this year's musical guest, indie-folk singer Rebekah Pulley, will be providing some fine entertainment along with DJ Ed Green, who hosts the Freak Show on WMNF-FM 88.5, on Saturday night.

Those who go can support WMNF by purchasing a chance to win clay pieces created by Boyle and fellow potter Michele Ginouves or by tossing some cash in a tip jar.

"It will be a really, really interesting year with our new artists and especially Rebekah Pulley," Boyle said. "There's sure to be a lot of energy here."

Michele Miller can be reached at [email protected]

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