Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: 25 years and still going strong at Stahl's Pottery

Berks County ceramic artist Steve Day takes nature seriously. He's made it his livelihood for the past 30 years with his signature leaf designs inspired by daily walks in the local woodlands of Blandon. Day will be one of 32 potters displaying wares at Saturday's 25th annual Summer Pottery Festival held on the grounds of historic Stahl's Pottery in Powder Valley, Lehigh Co. It's an event he's never failed to miss since its inception.

The festival, held rain or shine from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at 6826 Corning Rd., Zionsville, commemorates the 25th anniversary of the formation of Stahl's Pottery Preservation Society and the Stahl's Pottery Festival. According to Anne Goda, site director, a "first-time-ever" Anniversary Gala will be held Friday from 6 to 9 p.m., featuring 27 of the 32 potters scheduled for Saturday's festival. Patrons will hear the sounds of the Rob Stoneback Brass Quartet while having the opportunity to do advance shopping for traditional and contemporary wares. A silent auction will include works from the potters, along with gift baskets from local merchants.

New this year at the festival will be three free children's workshops in the afternoon: Hand modeling miniature animals with air dry clay taught by participating potter Sandra Jones; clay whistle making taught by participating potter Bob Hughes, and how to make a coil pot taught by Whitney Leh, great-great granddaughter of property owner Thomas Stahl. Children also can try their hand at the kick wheel and learn how to turn a piece of pottery.

Limited edition traditional redware sgraffito plates marking the 25th anniversary have been made by Goda's brother-in-law, Joel Leh, and will be available Saturday.

What's a festival without food? Family roots run deep in this area as well, with Christa Leh, great-granddaughter of Thomas Stahl, serving samples of pot cheese and "dew-drops" in the summer kitchen next to the Thomas and Alice Stahl House. Goda said Stahl made pot cheese, apple butter, and an ice cream treat he named "dew-drops" which he sold "huckster-style" throughout East Greenville and Pennsburg from his Model T Ford truck. He also sold vegetables he grew in his large garden.

Goda said either she or a Stahl family descendent will conduct tours of the potting sheds and kiln. The "gem of the site," she added, is the round, bee-hive, wood-fired kiln originally built in 1933, around the time of rural arts and crafts revival pottery.

As a pottery vendor, Steve Day said he enjoys the patrons who visit the festival each year. Many return to expand their personal collections. Still others visit for the first time and remark how they've picked up one of his works at a craft gallery or museum shop in the country. "Oh, I have one of those" is music to his ears. "People want to touch your work, and the festival provides that opportunity," he said.

Day creates his ceramic leaf bowls and tiles from his studio at Guldin Mill, a 1781 farmhouse, grist mill and barn. The process involves a thick slab of stoneware clay that is rolled out, with the shape of the finished bowl or tile cut from the slab. While the clay is still soft, colors are applied and the leaf design is arranged. When the clay is firm enough to handle, additional colors are added and the final shaping is done before the firing at more than 2,000 degrees.

The surrounding 15 acres of home provide Day with an ample dose of nature and its native clay and leaves. His inspiration is the transformation of one season to another, with leaves turning color from springtime green to fall red and gold. Aside from Stahl's Pottery festival, his work is sold almost entirely wholesale through his company, Petrified Forest, named after his early work of ceramic bird feeders and houses that resembled wood. His signature piece remains his "Multibowl." He refers to his new work as "contemporary artifacts."

"People connect with a piece and hang on to it. I like to think they're going home with a little piece of nature," said Day, who had no formal pottery training except for the technical advice from his wife, Brenda Wilton, a jeweler and potter. Raised as a "Navy brat" who traveled the world before settling in Pennsylvania, he majored in English literature at Yale University and even operated a goat dairy for a time. He said it was while attending 10th grade in Japan that he gained "a strong design sense," coupled with hands-on skills from silkscreen printmaking and metal sculpture.

"Nature is a cathedral. It's all around us. We just have to slow down and look. A crack in the sidewalk can hold a whole little world," Day said.

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Arts Roundup

Another outdoor show in the region with successful longevity is the 38th annual Art in the Park on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event is held in the serene setting of Allentown's West Park, a century-old classic designed arboretum park nestled at 16th and Linden streets. The juried exhibit is a showcase of local and regional emerging and established artists and their original works in oil/acrylics, graphics, watercolor and photography. The park's signature band shell provides the perfect backdrop for the Repertory Dance Theatre at 11:30 a.m., and a concert by the Allentown Band at 1:30 p.m.

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