The eighth annual Tampa Bay Tour de Clay kicks off Saturday, offering folks an opportunity to embark on a two-day, self-guided tour of four art studios.
The event has attracted thousands over the years — some who visit one or two studios, others who take on the entire trek.
The work of 25 artists — some nationally and internationally known — will be on display and for sale. From functional to decorative, tiny teapots to sculptured pieces, it's sure to be found somewhere on the tour. Those who visit will be rewarded with the opportunity to win a piece of pottery after having a "passport to pottery" stamped at each studio.
It is no doubt a good way to take care of holiday gift purchases in a stress-free environment while supporting talented artists and the burgeoning "shop local" movement.
"It's definitely a way to pick up that unique Christmas present," said Glenn Woods of Pottery Boys Studio in Palm Harbor. "Even though you might be buying a piece that looks similar to other pieces, they are all made individually, so you're buying something you just can't get anywhere else."
The tour is great for local collectors and connoisseurs looking for something out of the ordinary, Woods said.
"Not only does it just feature just pottery," he said. "It features pottery that you might not see at the local fairs."
New artists this year include Fong Choo, who creates whimsical, miniature teapots in his studio in Louisville, Ky., and Jennifer McCurdy, who will be traveling from Martha's Vineyard with porcelain sculptures that resemble delicate ocean coral.
Kiln openings will be staggered at each studio on Saturday, offering tour patrons an opportunity to join in the unveiling of what can be a gift or a curse for even the most seasoned potter.
"When you put the pieces in the kiln, you have in your mind's eye what you want it to look like," Woods said. "But then the flames dance around the pot, and then sometimes it comes out close to what you thought, and sometimes it doesn't."
Artists will be on-site to chat about their techniques. Some will offer demonstrations.
That's one of the favorite parts of the tour for Ira Burhans, one of the original artists on the tour who will be exhibiting his handmade pots at San Antonio Pottery this year.
Burhans typically displays his work at Clay and Paper Gallery of Art, a shop in downtown Dunedin that he owns with his wife, Barbara. The tour offers the opportunity to teach and enlighten.
"We're exhibiting our work, but we're also letting people really see the whole process of what we are doing," he said. They're not just seeing the final product.
Those who go can plan on a bit of a party atmosphere, complete with live entertainment at Jack Boyle's San Antonio Pottery. Boyle stays open a little later than the rest, at typically what is the last stop for many, including artists who enjoy the fellowship.
Tour de Clay is also a charitable event. Each year, artists donate pottery that, in turn, benefits local organizations. More than $10,000 has been donated to different charities over the years, said Boyle. Proceeds from this year's event will help support community radio station WMNF-FM 88.5 and the DMG School Project in St. Petersburg.
Contact Michele Miller @ [email protected] Follow @MicheleMiller52.