Farmington Valley Artist Creates Distinctive Crystalline Porcelain Pottery
| Hartford Courant Staff Writer
July 12, 2008
POTTER ANNE MELVIN holds an example of her distinctive porcelain pottery. She uses metal oxides in the glaze to create unusual colors and varies the kiln temperature to form what she calls "halos." (MARK MIRKO / HARTFORD COURANT / July 2, 2008)
Anne Melvin has a mirror opposite her pottery wheel, not because she's vain but so she can better watch the outline of each porcelain vessel as it forms.
When a piece comes off the wheel to dry, Melvin scans the lines and proportions in the matte-white clay. If it's not just right, she breaks it up with a hammer.
After a vase or pot is glazed and fired in the kiln, Melvin scrutinizes the now-glistening curves, along with the colors and crystal blossoms that are her signature.
Even then, when a finished piece is sitting pretty on a shelf, Melvin sometimes sees just the slightest problem. She says her husband, Paul, tells her she takes the self-criticism too far, that she should just be quiet about whispery flaws no one else will see.
Melvin, however, aspires to the highest form of the potter's art and, for the past several years, has immersed herself in "turning this" — she points to a raw lump of clay on her kitchen table — into "that," a finished vase.
Today, the 66-year-old sells her crystalline porcelain as part of the Pottery Spectrum at the Farmington Valley Arts Center in Avon and at Sarah Byrnes Goldsmith in Simsbury. The look she's come to focus on, after several years of mentoring, lessons and hands-on experience, employs zinc in the glaze. As it cools in the kiln, the zinc forms crystals that, depending on the spacing, size and color, can look like blue-green flowers, a deep blue coral reef or a golden tapestry.
Different metal oxides mixed in the glaze produce distinct colors: Cobalt makes blue; copper produces green; iron, yellow; and manganese, brown. Melvin also mixes colors and plays with the kiln temperature to ring the crystals with "halos."
The Pennsylvania native has been living in the Farmington Valley for about 30 years, first in Avon and now in Simsbury. She was a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, then a computer analyst and software consultant in Connecticut. Melvin says she made enough money as a consultant to afford her pursuit of the perfect pot.
All her materials and equipment are in the basement shop of her home. The kiln cost about $1,500 and just about that much more for the installation and upgraded electrical connection, Melvin said. Her pottery ranges in price from $35 to $250, with the most popular items costing $65 to $75. She said she's breaking even financially.
Hammering a rejected vase into her clay recycling bucket, Melvin said she loves porcelain pottery because it's a forgiving art.
"You can make a mistake," she said, "and start again."