CLINTON — Clinton Pottery has designed, produced and sold pottery in the Village of Clinton for more than 40 years, albeit not in the same location.
However, what’s always remained the same is the quality and craftsmanship that goes into every piece.
A line of stoneware that’s known in the village, and beyond, as functional, stylish and practical.
A signature pale interior glaze is complimented by more than a dozen colors, creating a finish that’s
hard not to caress your hands over once you’ve picked up a piece.
Owner/operator Jonathan Woodward is a career potter, a tradesman who’s studied, crafted and honed his pottery making skills for over 50 years, since he was 14 years old. Although he admits his first fascination with the art form came as young as 8 or 9 years of age.
“We all lived in Cypress for a few years when I was very young,” Woodward said. “We brought back some Mediterranean pottery, and there’s a great pottery history, some fabulous works in the Mediterranean going back to the Greeks, lots of very beautiful stuff. And we had a piece, long gone now, a Terra sigillata (red/brown red pottery with a glossy surface) bowl that had a fish and a net, with the depiction of the fish and the net coming through in white. It was this beautiful thing.”
He admits the typical avenues for a teenager growing up in England, the member of an artistic family, eluded him. He said he was never one to “stay inside the box” and his artistic nature took him places which were sometimes hard for others to follow or understand.
“I was actually asked to leave school when I was a young boy,” Woodward said. “But my sister answered an add in the newspaper on my behalf and my wings spread like a butterfly.”
In the summer of 1972, at the age of 16, Woodward began a formal apprenticeship studying under the instruction of Richard Ullman. Ullman was also proficiant in ceramic and crafted nude female statuettes as well as other subjects. According to the Clinton pottery website, Ullman had ties to Nora Braden, a student of world renowned potter and teacher Bernard Leach, the man responsible for infusing America with the pottery craze.
In 1977, four years after his apprenticeship began, Woodward moved to the Mohawk Valley and married. In that time he called several separate locations his work space. Initially on the corner of College Street and Norton Ave. stood Knaves Acre Pottery. Later, in the early 80’s he opened “Woodwards” on West Park Row.
In 1989, he bought the property on Utica Street, where he runs the family business with who else- his family.
Woodward compliments his former wife, Dawn Woodward with years of support and hard work and even though they divorced, and she remarried, the family is still intact and they all get on very well.
“It’s all about the family and staying together,” Woodward admits. “That’s why this place is so important, we live together, we eat together, we work together. My former wife married a nice man and I consider him like a brother-in-law. We do all the things a traditional family does and got a very nice extended family out of it.”
Woodward’s daughter, Alice Curtis, runs the store and the media arm of the business. Curtis admits she had to push and pull her father into some of her ideas, sometimes not as smoothly as she would have hoped, but Woodward finally came away with the confidence to do as Alice saw fit to move the business into the 21st century.
Going online took a bit of convincing she admitted. Also, the idea of accepting credit cards was new concept to get used to.
“He was afraid we’d get in trouble if we couldn’t keep up with the supply of the demand,” she said. “ So far that has not been the case. Also, the fees you have to pay credit card company’s was something to consider.”
“In my youth I tried to ride the tiger too soon and got scratched,” Woodward said. “ I just didn’t want the same thing to happen here.”
Today, Clinton Pottery is fully operational with a highly-advanced and beautifully crafted website. They have expertly taken pictures featuring their products. They even have a history tab for customers to learn who they are and what they are about. That, along with modern Apple pay stations inside the store moves them into the present state of retail function. And yes, they take credit cards.
Woodward’s son, Alexander is also a part of the Clinton Pottery team. He crafts the mug handles, trimming and press work.
With his former wife Dawn looking after the grandchildren, Jonathan, Justin, Alice and Alexander work everyday, and keep a tight schedule with all the arrangements to travel to different art shows where they display and sell their wares. Nancy Weber, The shop’s glazer has her own line in the store called Clinton Leaf. She’s worked for Clinton Pottery for nearly seven years. Anna Arnn is a Hamilton graduate and has been at the store for 2 years. Arnn is Weber’s glazing assistant and also tends to the store.
The state of Vermont gets a lot of visits from Clinton Pottery. This year alone they set up tents and displays in Bennington, Manchester and Stowe. The next show on their schedule, in Ghent N.Y. takes place at the Yuletide Fair on November 30.
The store even has a link to Hamilton College with it’s “bubble mug” or just plain mug. But these squat, round vessels are tradition with the college. Each mug has a commemorative Hamilton College “H” stamp on its bottom, Also the year 18012, the year the college was founded, to each new year as they progress.
“The kids say you can’t get your diploma from Hamilton until you get your mug from Clinton Pottery,” Curtis said.
And to show his appreciation Woodward has given away hundreds of thousands of dollars in small little pots he puts in gift boxes and hides all over the Hamilton College campus for students to find. Just like an all-year Easter egg hunt- only pots.
Woodward said sometimes creating the pottery is just an excuse to get into the zone. A zone so deep he becomes transfixed into a creation mode that is tremendously focused and he’s not conscious he’s making the pots.
“I’ve made hundreds of thousands of pots,” he said. “But when I’m making the pots, Jonathan Woodward vanishes and hours later he comes back, looks around and there are a ton pots made. it could have been the fairies at the end of the garden who made them and I have no idea how they got there.”
Woodward, as a former apprentice himself, must realize the importance of passing his skills down to the next generation and has taken on his own apprentice.
Justin Mastrangelo came to Clinton Pottery after taking a workshop in Oswego in ceramics. The more he did it, the more he liked it and after moving to Hamilton N.Y, he started searching for artists like himself. He found Clinton Pottery online and after some time, sold them on the idea he had the passion that was necessary to be a good fit in the Woodward family business.
“Starting out, I was working here part-time,” he said. “Over the past year, end of August, Jonathan has worked with me helping me to learn to throw.”
Throwing is potter’s jargon for putting clay on the wheel and spinning it as the potter molds and creates his/her piece.
“My long-term goal is to become a production potter similar to Jonathan,” he said.
Recently, Mastrangelo became a pottery instructor at the Kirkland Art Center, taking over for Roger Honey who retired in September after many years with the KAC.
In the end Woodward and Curtis both agreed this business was started not to make money or build fame, but to create a life where they could all live and be together.
“This life we built together is about hanging out with the grandchildren,” Woodward said. “Where we can live as a family, coming and going as we please and conducting ourselves in a certain way.”
Curtis has a passion for the shop maybe even more deeply than her father.
“You wouldn’t think pottery would have such an impact of peoples lives,” she said. “ And it’s not just my life these pieces have an impact on, but every hand that touches them they impact. I’ve gotten phone calls from these distraught people from across the country who say, ‘I just dropped and broken my favorite mug, can you replace it...and can you send it out today? And to me- it’s just amazing to be able to provide something this special that means so much to people.”