MEDICAL LAKE – Jeff Harris and pottery have been together since 1981, when he began his business, Color in Clay. Just two years earlier he took his first lesson and discovered he was a natural.
“I took a class and fell in love,” says Harris. “I wanted to learn how to throw because it was so difficult, and I just had an affinity for it, immediately.”
After his schooling Harris attended workshops and began teaching. The studio at his Medical Lake home expanded. In 1988 he earned an MFA in ceramics. But for Harris, pottery is more than just an art form or a job.
“It’s part of an everyday ritual. A lot of people don’t recognize that,” says Harris. “With containers you can hold water, contain grains. It’s used as a container to eat out of. It’s been in every facet of life from funerary urns to chamber pots to bowls and pitchers. It’s really a big part of who we are.”
Harris enjoys combining art and utility in his work. He creates the customary domestic items as well as platters, French butter keepers and salt cellars.
“Being a three-dimensional artist, form is real important to me,” says Harris. “The bowls and the platters are a canvas upon which I can paint, but then it’s still functional.”
With four kilns – two bisque, one high-temperature gas and a raku – Harris can use different techniques for his pieces. He built his portable raku kiln, where the item is removed while still orange, hot and crackling. These pieces are more delicate than conventional stoneware.
“Raku is not typically used for functional work because it’s fragile and porous,” Harris says. “It’s for decorative purposes only, whereas stoneware is high temperature and vitrified, meaning that there is a layer of glass inside, so it’s going to last for tens of thousands of years, dishwasher-safe, microwavable.”
Harris’ styles include traditional earth tones with no pattern, and blues and greens with designs. His themes include trees, people, frogs and turtles, the latter evolving from a local incident.
“There are no fish in Granite Lake, but there are thousands of turtles,” says Harris. “It’s really cool – they’re all out on the rocks, on each others’ backs. In the summer we have turtles that cross the road, and we save them from being run over. I guess that was when I started doing the design.”
Harris designed most of the glazes he uses, except the brown glazes, which have been passed down through many years and generations, some from China, some from Japan, and some are American in origin. The colors come from both the clay and the glaze.
Much of his pottery is sold at Pottery Place Plus in Auntie’s Bookstore, at arts and crafts shows and at a gallery in Schweitzer Mountain Resort. He also does special orders, which he prefers as they offer more creativity. Harris likes to keep most of his pottery local. He teaches at The Clay Connection in Spokane and hopes to expand his classes.
“My biggest dream would be to have some sort of foundation so that I could teach what I think is important to teach,” says Harris. “Not just clay but all forms of art. What traditionally we are as people, as potters.”
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