by Deb Schwartzkopf
My path as a potter was sparked. Steve Godfrey, my undergraduate professor at the University of Alaska in Anchorage had just given us a class assignment. The message was clear. If we wanted to make good pots – using them daily was critical. He challenged us to notice and respond to how pots serve visually, tactilely, and through use. He offered names of local potters in the Anchorage area where we might find pots to begin our collection with. Shortly after, I set out to visit Peter Brondz’s studio.
As new arrival to Alaska, every drive and destination was an adventure. I traveled down the spellbinding Seward Highway, in awe of the mountains in their spectacular unknown. The road snaked forward, pinned between the feet of the mountains and Turnagain Arm, a vast spread of rushing, tidal water. My eyes strained for the upcoming turn onto Stellar Jay Lane. A small alder-canopied dirt road led to Peter’s studio. A stately, hand-hewn building greeted me. The small, always-open gallery is annexed to the studio and held many pots of Peter’s for browsing. There were bowls, cups, teapots, trays, ladles and oil pourers all glazed in warm, vibrant colors. As a student learning to throw, I was astounded at how lightweight each form was. I was taking in everything – from the pots, to the studio arrangement, to the kilns and studio’s setting in gorgeous Bird Valley.
I continued making trips to Peter’s studio. Eventually, I became his summer studio assistant. This involved lots of mopping, oiling and dusting the gallery shelving, firing the wood and salt kilns, sweeping the house, major studio maintenance projects, pugging clay, schlepping and stacking bricks and wood, scraping shelves, wadding pots, butchering chickens, making tons of clay (literally), mixing glazes, kiln repairs, loading kilns to the max, looking after his daughter, running errands, and of course, making pots. It was an immersion program for a budding potter; I learned about making as a way of life.
I also paid attention to how Peter moved clay. I watched Peter working day in and out, starting the throwing process with more simple forms like cups and moving to more complex covered jars or teapots toward the end of the throwing cycle. Watching him throw bottles and pitchers is still a learning experience for me. I learned about the efficient flow of a studio. There was a clear progression from throwing and trimming, to kiln loading, switching the studio over to “glaze mode” and setting up for the yearly holiday sale, where the entire studio converts to sparkling show space.
Peter Brondz’s pitcher was the first pot in my collection. It is a softly blushed, satin-surfaced, wood-fired, lovely to hold and use vessel. As I have used his pitcher over the years I have come to appreciate it even more. Whenever I pick it up, I hear his views... Once pitchers are filled with liquid they are heavy, therefore they should be thrown with careful attention to weight to make them easier to use. I took his practices and words to heart, and I continue to bring them into my own practice.
The pitcher is a place-holder for my time and lessons learned in Alaska (They are as vast as the State). Moving away from Washington was such a huge learning experience. I redefined myself during these years. The friends from school and from other circles continue to influence my life. They are an important part of my support network.
In Peter I found a steadfast, role model in studio practice and in life. As I have moved from place to place, the pitcher has traveled with me. It reminds me of the encouragement and kindness given from him and his family though out the years. It pulls my thoughts back to the guidance I received as his student. It reminds me of why I love the parts of the process that require discipline. When I look back to this memory I can see my first steps of determination in deciding to be a potter. This is ever so meaningful to me and I am grateful.
For more Info on Peter Brondz:
Peter Lives in Bird Creek (south of Anchorage) Alaska where he has been a full time production potter since 1979. He concentrates on functional stoneware and porcelain designed for everyday use. Peter uses three high fires kilns: gas reduction, salt, and wood firing. The gallery work is always rotating between these different palettes. Stop by and check it out!
View Jennifer Allen’s Blog for more information on Peter Brondz.
For more info about Deb Schwartzkopf visit: