Twenty years ago, Nancy Scilipote took her first pottery class as a gift from her children. Now an accomplished artist, Scilipote was featured last weekend at the Arts Center at Killingworth’s Autumn Open Art Studio Trail and Outdoor Arts Festival.
North Branford Patch: How did you first become interested in pottery?
Scilipote: I've always said that I've been interested in it. My daughter was working at Creative Arts Workshop [in New Haven] and Stephen Rodriguez was giving a demonstration and I went down to watch him. Shortly after that, my children chipped in and got me a gift certificate for classes and I never stopped. Watching someone throw a pot is very mesmerizing. I had an affinity for it.
North Branford Patch: Why do you think people love pottery?
Scilipote: It's a stress reliever. You find a lot of people who are in the sciences–grad students, doctors, dentists–do something like pottery. They find it very therapeutic because it takes them out of their normal everyday life.
North Branford Patch: What makes pottery unique as an art form?
Scilipote: With pottery, you can watch the clay change right before your eyes. You have an instant response to every action that you do. You can see the results of your pot in a few minutes. That's very gratifying and very creative. There are so many ways to work with clay–you can throw it on a wheel, you can hand build it with slabs, you can coil it. There are so many different techniques so that if one doesn't suit you, you can try something else.
North Branford Patch: What is your favorite thing to make?
Scilipote: Whatever technique appeals to me. I love trying new things. I'll take different workshops. Most of my stuff is eclectic, it's one of a kind, because it's what I'm playing with at the time. Sometimes it speaks to other people and they buy it. I can't just do sets of cups and sets of dishes. That's no fun.
North Branford Patch: Can you describe your personal style and where you draw your inspiration from?
Scilipote: I like things that are organic, but I think I can draw my inspiration from whatever speaks to me–if I'm looking through a magazine or if I'm out walking and something appeals to me. I like color and I'm starting to play with more color.
North Branford Patch: Can you describe a day in the life of a potter?
Scilipote: It's what I'm working on at the time. If I need to make things for an upcoming show, I'll do that. If there's a specific technique I want to work on, I'll work on that. I'm not disciplined like some people. I don't go down into the studio everyday from 9 until 2.
North Branford Patch: How long does it typically take to make one piece?
Scilipote: It depends on the piece. If it's a simple bowl, I can have it thrown in about five minutes or so. But, then it has to dry to a certain degree so that I can handle it and trim it. Then it has to dry again. When you have enough pieces, you bisque fire them, which takes all of the water out of the pots. That goes to about 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and that takes about six to seven hours. After they're bisqued, I can glaze them. Then they go through a glaze firing which is about 16 hours at 2270 degrees Fahrenheit. After that they have to cool for at least 24 hours.
North Branford Patch: It seems like pottery has a very scientific side.
Scilipote: That's what I love about it. I make my own glazes, so there are different formulas for the glazes. You experiment with what combinations of glazes will give you. Sometimes one glaze over another is absolutely stunning, sometimes it's garbage. There's a lot to think about, so it's always new and you're always learning something different and expanding on your knowledge.
North Branford Patch: What is the most satisfying part of being a potter?
Scilipote: Having a piece come out the way you wanted it to is very satisfying. Also, having somebody like what you've made enough that they want to take it into their home and enjoy it. That's a good feeling too.
North Branford Patch: What is the most challenging part of being a potter?
Scilipote: Probably glazing and coming up with combinations that are pleasing and that work. Not all combinations work on all types of clay.
North Branford Patch: What is the biggest misconception about pottery?
Scilipote: That things should not be used. That pieces should just be decorative. My feeling is that if it's a piece of functional pottery, you should use it and enjoy it as long as you have it. That's the highest compliment you can give to its maker. If you're going to buy a bowl and just put it in your hutch and look at it–take it out and put mashed potatoes in it. Get it dirty and use it. Enjoy what you have.
To be featured in ‘A Day in the Life’ or to suggest someone who should be profiled, send information to Jim Gangi.