When our daughter, Nancy, was in Sue Mitchell’s 4-H
project on home furnishings, she learned how to remove old paint
and varnish from picture frames and other small items.
One day I stopped by our little rock house, which Nancy and
two other college girls rented from Chub and me. She was outdoors
removing several layers of old dark varnish from an antique
walnut wardrobe. Her brown eyes sparkled as she said, "Mom,
I’d rather do this more than anything else for the rest of
my life." She’d never been that enthusiastic about
anything! She soon began to buy and sell antiques from her garage
and finally opened a shop in 1970.
In 1974, Nancy and I made a trip to England to visit friends
and buy a few antiques. We asked a friend, Priscilla Wood, to go
along, and she snapped up the opportunity. Priscilla and I were
bicycle buddies before she moved from Missouri to Virginia. She
is a potter and wanted to visit the famous Bernard Leach pottery
studio in southwestern England. We took our three bicycles along,
aware that February is England’s "fill dike"
month. The bikes rode on top of our rented car, except for some
nice rides between rains.
Because she is a potter, Priscilla made appointments for us to
tour the Leach workshops.
As our car crested a hill near St. Ivies, we saw black smoke
rolling from behind the next hill. Priscilla fairly screamed,
"Oh! They’re firing the climbing kiln!" The wood
smoke was coming from a smokestack that was not yet in sight.
Nancy and I were ignorant about pottery making but were excited
for Priscilla, who created some beautiful dishes we had in our
She told us that Bernard Leach was known worldwide, and
although he was retired his apprentices and his wife continued to
work in his workshop and were well-known potters in their own
We rolled into the parking lot and she hurried to where men
were stoking 4-foot logs into the side of the Japanese-type
"climbing" kiln. The heat rises from one firing chamber
to the next, four chambers in all, each one higher than the one
below. The workers were hot and sweaty on that chilly February
day. One showed us the "throwing room" where pots were
made, the drying racks up near the ceiling, decorating tables and
Nancy and I were especially interested in the finished
products. We wandered through the sales room and looked long and
hard at a small plate made by master potter Bernard Leach
himself. It had a stylized rabbit decoration and was far out of
our price range.
We selected two pieces from the "slightly irregular"
shelf, not signed with the well-known "BL" mark and
waited in the car. We watched Priscilla choose six or eight
items. The salesman wrapped each one and added up the bill. She
paid, and we knew we’d be on the road soon.
Suddenly Priscilla was hurrying back and forth across the room
putting her purchases back on the shelves!
After another stop at the cash register, she emerged, smiling
and clasping one small package to her chest. We didn’t ask
questions. "My trip is complete," she said. "I now
own a Leach rabbit!"
Later, we located the workshops of Michael Leach and David
Leach, brothers of Bernard, and watched them make everything from
mugs to large vessels. I was "bit by the bug." I wanted
to learn to make pottery.
My husband and son created a motor-driven kick wheel for me,
and Priscilla Wood was my mentor.
I started throwing on the wheel in 1975. After 24 years’
practice, it’s still fascinating.