Sep 23, 2013
01:23 PM
Style & Design

Guy Wolff's Mastery of Garden Pot Design Depends on His Litchfield County Roots

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To his credit, Mr. Wolff invested a great deal of energy studying his craft. “You can’t make something beautiful if you don’t have an understanding for the medium,” he says of the immersion process. He had already bonded with clay. However, flowerpots are a very different game. The rigors of growing plants—of roots pushing against clay, demanding oxygen, constantly straining against the walls of their container—require a very specific type of pottery.
In addition to the plant’s requirements, flowerpots have to deal with constant rough handling during transplanting, and the like. Flowerpots are the foot soldiers of the pottery world, which might be one reason why growers turned to plastic. Mr. Wolff, on the other hand, was dedicated to demonstrating that you could have both good looks and durability.
Although he was never technically a gardener, per se, he hobnobbed with the gardening crowd. “I spent all those years looking at flowerpots, the conversation was already started,” he explains.
Setting up shop where he had roots, he inadvertently settled into a horticultural hornet’s nest. “People around here were crazy about plants,” Mr. Wolff noticed. “Those people really wanted this to happen.”
Meanwhile, his patron—Tina Dodge—was getting the message out. “Tina Dodge kicked doors open,” Mr. Wolff affirms. Potted plants would never be the same.
Full disclosure here—I wrote one of the forewords for the “Guy Wolff: Master Potter in the Garden” book. In it, I talk about my long friendship with Guy Wolff and my gratitude as a gardener for all he has done to elevate potted plants. Not parenthetically, I talk about his laugh—which is the synthesis of his larger-than-life personality, his joy for life, his free spirit, and his fire-in-the-belly all condensed into the epitome of mirth. Everything Guy Wolff does is done with verve and dedication. Beneath that gleeful laugh and bandana-clothed head, a very serious scholar lurks.
Whether it is the music that he plays solo or in conjunction with his musician/gardener wife, Erica Warnock, or when he researches pots or lovingly coaxes clay to his will, Mr. Wolff immerses himself in doing it his own unique way with a flourish. He is a good advertisement for the joys of his craft. “Throwing is exhilarating,” he insists, “all that material moving under your fingers. Physically, it’s quite addictive; there’s a motion to it.”
I first wrote about Guy Wolff’s “dance of the hands” in an article for Victoria magazine. That was before Smith & Hawken or Martha Stewart discovered his work and put him into the public orbit.
Many books went home with Guy Wolff’s fans when he appeared at Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington, Conn.  I believe that the Hickory Stick still has some signed copies left. You should definitely seek one out. Then go to Woodville and pick up some flowerpots. If Guy Wolff isn’t in the process of throwing pots, he’ll be plucking the banjo.

For more on Tovah Martin, see her website. This story is from the autumn issue of Passport magazine, a publication of The Litchfield County Times.

Guy Wolff's Mastery of Garden Pot Design Depends on His Litchfield County Roots

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