Sep 23, 2013
01:23 PMStyle & Design
Guy Wolff's Mastery of Garden Pot Design Depends on His Litchfield County Roots
(page 2 of 3)
Although he did not initially see pottery in his future, he was definitely lured in the creative direction. “It was crazy the inspiration that surrounded me when I was a kid. There were no boundaries to making beauty happen. It was everywhere. You had an obligation to follow your path and it had to be an honest and truthful path,” he says.
Then fate intervened. He attended High Mowing School—an open-ended, progressive, craft-oriented high school in New Hampshire—and, as it turned out, the best teacher was a potter. For three to five hours a day, five days a week, Mr. Wolff threw pots alongside his mentor. Perhaps it was serendipity, but one great teacher steered the nascent potter toward his lifelong career.
But you can read all about the education of a potter in the biography. And Suzanne (Suzy) Staubach should know what it takes to build a potter, because she also practices that trade at Willow Tree Pottery in Ashford, Conn.—as well as being an author and bookseller. She was originally asked to do the book for Globe Pequot Press, but the project eventually moved over to the University Press of New England. To get the grit for the text, she interviewed 22 of Mr. Wolff’s colleagues and friends as well as shadowing him with tape recorder in hand.
As she interviewed Mr. Wolff, he worked on his wheel, throwing pots. “It was a great honor and privilege to do the project with him,” Ms. Staubach says. “Being a potter made me appreciate how he works—not only his speed, but also how he moves the clay.”
It’s true. Guy Wolff takes massive pride in how many pounds of clay he shapes into pots daily, emulating potters who lived centuries ago.
Of course, with Bauhaus in his background, modernism would have been the obvious route. You will have to pick up Suzy Staubach’s book to find out how Guy Wolff made the leap from the modern art world in which he grew up to focus instead on traditional forms of pottery with very utilitarian functions. But perhaps “traditional” is not the right word, because Guy blazed his own spin on throwing pots. “Tradition is not a form to be imitated but the discipline that gives integrity to the new” were the watchwords written by his father that have served as guidance throughout his development as an artist.
He definitely evolved a signature of his own. But rather than the sleek, spare lines of the modern style of his father’s circle, he went the retrospective route, studying at potteries from Jugtown, N.C., to Wales.
He threw vases, tankards, mugs, plates, bowls, and similar useful ware. But flower pots were not really on Mr. Wolff’s radar screen when he set up his pottery in Woodville, Conn., in 1971 across the street from the home in which he grew up. It wasn’t until Tina Dodge planted the idea that Mr. Wolff began exploring flowerpots.
With typical Guy Wolff scholarship, he studied the history, mastered the process, and perfected a vessel that would cradle roots to their best advantage. At the time (and at present), nurseries peddled their plants in plastic, but gardeners in this neck of the woods immediately shifted their newly adopted botanicals into a more comely frame. The result was like night and day.