Fong Choo is a Singapore-born studio potter whose miniature sculptural teapots have garnered international acclaim, turning heads at lauded venues like the Smithsonian Craft Show and the American Craft Exposition. And yet, in a recent conversation with Asheville Made, Choo spoke as much about cucumber salad as he did ceramics.
“I love to cook, so people are always asking if I can send them my cucumber-salad recipe,” the artist says from his studio in Louisville, Kentucky. “But I don’t measure. It’s never three tablespoons of soy sauce or two teaspoons of sesame oil. There’s no order to the process.”
Similarly, there’s no order to Choo’s creative process. When he’s making his bijou kettles — some as small as an egg — he relies on intuition rather than procedure.
“It’s controlled chaos,” says Choo, who is this year’s featured potter at the WNC Pottery Festival in Sylva.
First organized 17 years ago by Texas transplant Joe Frank McKee, the festival began as a modest gathering of 21 local and out-of-state artists. But as news spread, the festival exploded in popularity. One year, 10 private jets reportedly flew into Franklin, each loaded with passionate pottery collectors. Another year, the 40-booth show featured artists from 18 different states.
Attracting such a loyal following hasn’t been easy. Though certain mountain communities like Burnsville and Brevard have emerged as pottery meccas, there’s still a “perception that nothing artistic happens beyond Asheville,” says McKee. There’s this idea, he says, that creativity stops and starts within the city limits.
Luckily, this notion is changing, in part because of the WNC Pottery Festival’s growing presence in Jackson County and far beyond.
“The show is huge — a shock, really,” says Choo, who has attended a handful of times before. This year, as the featured potter, he will bring his signature teapots as well as “simple objects of use” like plates and bowls. Utilitarian yet stunning, Choo’s dishware is the perfect accompaniment to a heaping serving of cucumber salad.
“I cook like I glaze,” says Choo. “Haphazard and on a whim.”
The WNC Pottery Festival happens on Saturday, Nov. 5, from 10am-4pm at Sylva Bridge Park (76 Railroad Ave., Sylva), rain or shine. $5 entrance fee. For more information, visit wncpotteryfestival.com.