Elemental Pottery

23 09 2009

By Meredith Hart

Eric's Pottery - by Meredith HartOn a dark, cold night in January when the temperature has reached its lowest low, a warm red light radiates its way through the trees. As the heat of the fire reaches up to 2,000 degrees a group of friends is gathered around feeding it wood. This is not the scene of a bonfire for roasting marshmallows but a brick kiln, firing a batch of wheel-thrown pottery crafted by Eric Friedericks of Brodhead, Wisconsin. The process, which takes up to 36 hours, becomes a party for Eric and his friends during which they order pizza, have drinks, and wait for the kiln to work its magic. The surroundings, made up of precise rows of evergreen trees once part of a Christmas tree farm, are inspiration and comfort for Eric, as well as the breeding grounds for his creative endeavors.

For Monroe’s Community of a Plate segment, we literally used a local ceramic plate for Inn Serendipity’s all-local meal. Eric chose a simple, gorgeous dish glazed with a rich blue green hue. Eric’s years of experience working with clay and his interest in staying local made him a perfect addition to the project.

Owner and creator of his own business, Elemental Pottery, Eric has been turning earth into art since his college days in Nebraska. But, becoming an artist was not always his ceramic cup of tea. Eric’s upbringing was rather unusual. His parents, being missionaries, traveled the world, landing twice in Tanzania in Africa for years at a time. While attending high school in Tanzania, Eric was set on becoming an engineer; but, after struggling through his university science classes back in the United States, he realized engineering wasn’t his thing. “That’s when I decided to be an artist,” he said, smiling through his neatly trimmed beard.

After a six-month apprenticeship under local ceramicist Tony Winchester he really got started. The plan: to become a sustainable, environmentally responsible potter.

Eric Friedericks - by Emily LarsonAnd that he has. He designed and built his own massive wood-fire kiln in his forested front yard with the help of his friends, family and wife, Bethany. All the bricks came from the demolition of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant two hours away in Baraboo, Wisconsin and as for the fire wood, he buys the scrap from a local sawmill, making use of a cheap waste material. In a small clay-splattered room in their house he has his own throwing wheel and bags of heavy wet clay. Maintaining local relationships has allowed Eric to become successful in selling his pottery at area art shows and markets although selling is his least favorite part of being an artist. He explained, “I don’t want to convince someone to buy something they don’t want.” For those people Eric makes sure most of his pieces are functional as well as unique and elegant, each imprinted with his personality.

To learn about the next step in the pottery process we made our way to the greenhouse. Following the path through the young couple’s back yard to the greenhouse is like taking a trek through the North Woods. The quiet and dense tall trees are enough to deceive you into thinking that there is no one around for miles. Designated for glazing, the greenhouse has been taken over by Eric’s unfinished work. Sitting dangerously close to the edge of a countertop was a small piece carved to be the face of an owl, an animal Eric has had a fondness for since his childhood when he found one nesting in his family’s mailbox.

The Snowball - by Meredith HartWith all the idle pottery sitting around it would suggest that all Eric does is throw clay. This, however, is far from the truth. Spending his days working on a farm, Eric saves his free time for growing mushrooms, taking care of their chickens, and making biodiesel using free grease from a nearby restaurant. How does he know how to do these things? “The internet teaches you anything,” Eric explained. The Internet may have taught him the science behind these endeavors but it can’t bring the motivation. That is something that he’s always had within. “I’ve always had this need to solve problems and be self-sustaining,” which must make the intricacies of creating his own motor fuel much less of a bore.

Each time Eric spins the wheel and sells a piece of pottery, he comes closer and closer to the local community. Underneath the delicious meal at Inn Serendipity, one of Eric’s plates seems only appropriate because of his dedication to the environment and his love of art. Eric fits in perfectly to the community of Monroe’s plate of food.

To view more photos of Eric Friedericks, please see the Flick slideshow.

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