Pottery is in her heart and hands

Michele Ginouves attaches the next rolled layer of clay to what will be the bottom of one of her signature tables.
Michele Ginouves attaches the next rolled layer of clay to what will be the bottom of one of her signature tables.
Published Dec. 6, 2012

Michele Ginouves spent more than 20 years working as a systems analyst for IBM, but somehow it seemed she was always destined to work in clay.

"It was a great career," she said of her tenure in Manhattan. "But in the back of my mind I was always a potter."

The daughter of an engineer and an artist has long felt the pull, finding hints of it in her first, crude piece: an ashtray formed by small, childish hands while tagging along for her mom's pottery class. Then there are the still life pictures she painted before that, when she was just 5, small bouquets of colorful flowers, dwarfed by their overbearing vases.

"My mother kept it all," she said.

Ginouves still has the ashtray, which is cracked in half now. And the paintings? Well, they are an ever-present reminder of her artistic beginnings, displayed prominently above the door of her studio in the home she shares with her husband, Hall Sweeney. She has come full circle, completing her transition into a full-time potter.

Her works reflect inspiration from all kinds of sources, from the small slab staircases, archways and bridges she created when she was influenced by the urban architecture on her daily commute along the Hudson River; as well as the hand-built, curvaceous vases and lamps or the intricate, geometric, tile-top coil tables she has fashioned that are reminiscent of Florida's native flowers and the grand cypress trees that hug the riverbank near her Brooksville home.

For these last few months, Ginouves has poured herself into creating tables, lamps, vases, pots, small plates and such for this weekend's Tour de Clay 2012.

"It's all about the show," Ginouves said with a smile. "It's all about the show."

The tour, now in its fifth year, is made up of five studio stops: two in Palm Harbor and one apiece in Lutz, Odessa and San Antonio. It features the work of 23 potters, including members of the Florida Westcoast Ceramics Society and a variety of guest artists. Ginouves is one of two guest artists and four local potters to have their work displayed at Pasco's San Antonio Pottery. Other artists include studio owner Jack Boyle, Susan Livingston and McKenzie Smith.

The event is perfect for those looking to shop local or pick up something handmade for the holidays, Boyle said.

This week the studio/storefront is undergoing a transformation of its own in order to make room for the other artists and those who stop by to browse.

It's typically a festive atmosphere offering live entertainment, light refreshment, raffles and the opportunity to help unload some newly fired pieces at kiln openings scheduled at various times at each stop.

Those returning to San Antonio Pottery will find a brightly painted storefront that is easy to spot, as well as a new thought-provoking line of "philosopots" created by Boyle. Some pottery items will be raffled to benefit WMNF-FM 88.5 community radio in Tampa.

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"It's a good day to come out and shop local, a good day to support local artists," said Boyle, noting that shoppers can also make the short trek into Dade City to check out other merchants at two events hosted by Downtown Dade City Main Street: the Holiday Market from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and the Country Christmas Stroll from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday.

"We'll have the stage out back with a DJ and a band," Boyle said. "The lights will strung all around, so we'll be brightly lit — gayly lit."