Mobile native Maria Spies thrives on producing unique ceramic pieces for the benefit of mind and spirit, as well as for functional use. The talented potter has been honing her craft since 1973. Always the innovative artist, she has developed her own unique styles and glazes and enjoys sharing her techniques with others, teaching locally at Space 301 and Eastern Shore Art Center.
My discovery of this passion was quite accidental. In the fall of 1973, I visited the home studio of professional potter Eugenia Lemon in Mobile. She offered to teach me. I tried the potter’s wheel one time, fell in love with it, and continued from that moment on. After my five-week apprenticeship with Lemon, it was mostly self-discovery. I would attend workshops, read books, practice and test out different methods. I still enjoy attending workshops around the country to keep in the loop and up to date, learning new methods and firing processes.
Every potter has his or her own style; mine comes from a combination of my forms and glazes. About 80 percent of the glazes I use are my personal formulas and colors that I mix from raw chemicals. For me, nature has influenced the balance of the forms I use, as well as the soft and calming colors. All the functional pieces are food-, dishwasher- and microwave-safe. I mostly focus on making functional pieces because I genuinely enjoy using them. I find the functional forms also sell more quickly because people identify with them and ultimately take pleasure in using them.
I also make decorative pieces using the Japanese raku firing technique. Glaze is applied, and the pieces are fired in a gas kiln rather quickly. Once the required temperature is reached, the piece is removed while still hot from the kiln, placed into a trash can filled with sawdust and smoldered. This post reduction affects the glaze surface with shimmers of color or crackles.
Another technique I enjoy using is the low temperature saggar firing method. This involves an outer protective pot, known as a saggar, with the good pot inside. Between the two, I place salt-soaked hay and sawdust. No glaze is used in this method. It is then fired in a gas kiln at approximately 1600 degrees. This firing method leaves unique patterns and colors from the materials on the surface of the pot.
I have always loved doing outdoor shows and exhibitions. In the fall of 1974, my sister-in-law, Suzi Spies, and I applied for the Mobile Museum of Art Outdoor Show and were accepted. That was our first attempt at selling our work. It taught us a great deal. I have seldom turned down a commission and have completed a number of large tile installations for architects. I enjoy a challenge like that.
I would highly recommend others give ceramics a try. It’s very satisfying and rewarding. Pottery is something you have to keep learning, perfecting and improving.
To find out more about Maria Spies, her artwork and classes, visit maria-pots.com.
text by Elizabeth Finamore • photo by David Spies