East Fork Pottery's New Apprentice
Amanda Hollomon-Cook is not the type of person to dabble or dally. When something tugs at her curiosity, she dives in head first. The first time we sit down with Amanda for tea, Alex gives the verbal tour of the mugs, saucers, creamers, and teapots that make our tables is the custom of potters and lovers of pots): "That's Michael Kline, that's Mark, Matt Jones..." It's unnecessary, though, because Amanda has already done her homework on pretty much anyone making work in the South East and beyond.
While taking classes at Gainseville State College she read The Potter's Eye by Mark Hewitt and Nancy Sweezey. The book put her on track to disentangle the tightly woven web of ceramic influences and lineages, working backwards to see the craft as it stands today.
She recalls the moment it really sunk in that Ron Meyers and Michael Simon, potters whose work she'd admired, were making a stone's throw from her backyard. "The more I researched, the more I realized that the tradition was so touchable." Though she was already taking ceramics classes at a community studio in Athens, Georgia, she knew she wouldn't be satisfied standing on the sidelines, "I wanted to be a part of that community and I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than my basement."
It took her a while to build up the courage to seek apprenticeships with the potters she wanted to emulate. "I’ve been intimidated to access this world […] because I’m a girl. These [potters] work very hard. They’re totting around a lot of weight. I want to be able to do it too. I don’t want my gender to be a shortcoming or any reason for someone to second guess me."
Though she's careful to not give any names, she says she had been warned that East Fork Pottery was full of a bunch of macho men who liked to walk around with their chests puffed out with bravado. So, "When I first came to meet you all…Golly. I was f***ing terrified.” I have a good laugh at this one because although combining Alex and John into one person might result in some NBA Allstar/Viking hybrid monstrosity who would scare the thong off Dwayne Johnson, they're still the Madison County Kings of Tea Time, enjoy poems by Mary Oliver and Fresh Air re-runs.
She reassures me that she has found the rumors to be totally off the mark and that we've been nothing but welcoming, though I can imagine Amanda holding her own in the most cut-throat of workshops. But as much as I wish it weren't so, we can't overlook her gender. Of the potters who learn their craft through traditional apprenticeships, women and people of color are disproportionately underrepresented. Why that is is a question that comes up again and again in forums, interviews, and panels, but Alex, John, and the other members of their ceramic lineage have struggled to come up with a satisfactory answer. We're grateful to Amanda for her persistence in getting our attention and her willingness to be a bellwether for women interested in traditional ceramic apprenticeships.
Where she stands, she sees no reason why wood-fired stoneware's status-quo should sully up her elemental love for clay:
"I just love it. Every part of it."
I ask her if there's any shape in particular that really gets her going. "I really like plates." When I ask why, though she concedes that she likes dinnerware's accessibility, the real reason seems to be necessity. “Well, right now I'm most excited about making plates because we don’t have enough at home!" My favorite pots to make are really whatever pots I get to be making at the moment." I try to approach it from another direction. Is there anything she doesn't like to make? Or any part of the making process she'd really rather do without? How about cleaning buckets? "If my job right then is to clean buckets, then I guess my favorite thing to be doing in the pottery at that moment is clean buckets."
Right about then I remind her that she doesn't have to pretend to like cleaning buckets - she's already got the job, she doesn't have to try to impress me. But the earnest look on her face says it all: She's pretty into cleaning buckets. And pugging clay. And mixing glazes. And pulling weeds. As she puts it, "If this is what I’m doing, this is what I have to be excited about."
Amanda's love of pottery is like the beau ideal of the sort of love we spend life looking for: unconditional, impartial, and deep.
Amanda lives with her husband, Thomas, who she met as a freshman in high school. When she's not making pots, reading about pots, or looking at pictures of other people's pots (OPPs), Amanda likes to play board games with Thomas and practice yoga. It’s so surreal," she says, "It's like someone plucked me out of my dream while I was sleeping and when I woke up it was real. It’s such a privilege to be here.”
I'd say the privilege is truly ours.