If it Can’t Be Hand Built, it’s Not on this Potter’s Horizon

Matt Jones can get so absorbed in clay he forgets to eat.
Portrait by Morgan Ford

Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, wasn’t particularly known for its art department. But it happened to have a great ceramics professor when Matt Jones was there.

“I switched from being an English major to an Art major with a Ceramics focus within a month,” says Jones, who also comments, rather literarily, “My first few weeks in the clay studio was like falling through the looking glass.”

The material was so malleable, he says, that he “could see new horizons opening up with every touch. I could lose myself in it for hours at a time — even to the point of forgetting to eat.”

But his formal training in ceramics really began with two post-college apprenticeships: working for a potter in Connecticut for two-and-a-half years, then six months spent with ceramist Mark Hewitt of Pittsboro, NC.

Following the stint with Hewitt, Jones and his wife, Christine, began looking for rural property in the Asheville area. When they found a 1867 farmhouse on ten acres in rural Sandy Mush in northwestern Buncombe County, they made an offer the same day. Soon after moving in, they began establishing their pottery business. Matt creates the vessels, and Christine — a full-time biology and environmental-science teacher at Asheville School — keeps the books and organizes biannual “Kiln Opening” events.

Jones fires his pots in two wood-burning kilns fueled by waste wood from sawmills. “I built the original kiln 20 years ago this summer,” he reflects, “and have built and rebuilt a smaller kiln three times before getting what I wanted.” He describes these kilns as “above-ground tunnels” constructed of high-density industrial firebrick. “Both connect to the same chimney but are fired separately,” he says. “This saved me from having to build two chimneys.”

Some pieces are earthy, some more whimsical, but everything is homemade, down to the glazes. Photos by Tim Barnwell and Morgan Ford.

After exploring hand-building techniques early in his career, Jones says he became mesmerized with working on the wheel, producing bowls and other simple vessels for the home and garden. He found throwing pots on the wheel more difficult to master than hand building, but says the process allowed him to create a larger volume of work.

While he prefers making medium-sized pots, he’s also known for shaping much larger ones, some as tall as four feet. “A base is thrown [on the wheel] and stiffened with a propane torch,” he explains. “This allows me to add large coils of clay which I flatten with my hands, then add water, and throw to the desired height before torching and adding additional sets of coils.”

His creative glazes include some made with glass powder from beer bottles that he crushes in a small, water-powered mill — which is also handmade, “built on a stream that runs through our property.”

Jones Pottery, 209 Big Sandy Mush Road in Leicester, open by appointment. (Public “Kiln Openings” are held the first weekends of June and December.) Jones Pottery is part of the Come to Leicester Annual Artist Studio Tour, happening, Aug. 18 and Sunday, Aug. 19, 10am-6pm; see cometoleicester.org for a map and more information. Jones’ vessels are also shown at Asheville Art Museum and will be exhibited at Blue Spiral 1 in September. For more information, call 828-683-2705 or visit jonespottery.com.

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1 Comment

  1. says: Deb Hyatt

    Matt makes some of the most beautiful pottery. For about 15 years I packed and shipped his pottery so I got to see it all. Always loved to see it.

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