Sightseeing in Northern Michigan: Claybanks Pottery

Don’t let the garbage cans fool you, what comes out of here is way more treasure than trash.

Welcome to Claybanks Pottery, in New Era, Michigan.

“It’s raku firing, r-a-k-u,” explains owner Laurie Pounder. “It’s an old Japanese way of firing where you take a pot and glaze it, put it in the kiln and fire it to about 1700 degrees and you take it out red hot, and you immerse it right away into sawdust, and it reduces the oxygen in the atmosphere and pulls out the colors in the glazes.”

These are some of the end results.

“We get a lot of coppers and the white glaze is called white crackle, and where it crackles, the soot goes into the crack and makes it have a pattern. It look really beautiful, looks really nice, but it’s a really old, old ancient way of firing,” says Laurie.

Nothing Laurie Pounder and Adam Merten do here is cutting edge technology — and it’s a slow process.

But that’s the way they like it.

“We start with a piece of dirt and make it all the way to a finished product and it makes something that people are going to use and it’s something that will potentially last for thousands of years,” says Adam.

And it’s certainly not their first day on the job.

Laurie has been here more than three decades.

“January of 1980. So pretty neat. Pretty proud that we’re still here,” says Laurie.

Today she and Adam have carved out their niches.

“I basically do the slab work, which is these flat-sided things, like these letter boxes here, anything flat sided. So I roll out a sheet of clay and I cut it up into pieces and I put those together. And Adam throws on the wheel on the potters wheel so we have that combination which I think is unique and fun,” explained Laurie.

And even if the design starts the same, they never end that way.

“Every piece is one of a kind,” says Adam. “Even if you make it and it’s similar to a piece you had, before when you fire it, the atmosphere in the kiln will be totally different. When they mine the glazes, the materials come from different parts of a mine so they can be a little different and vary from batch to batch.”

And if these two need a little inspiration, they only need to step outside.

“When I first started working here, that’s what drew me. You could feel the energy of the big trees and the peace and the nature. Take a break and wander out and see the wildflowers, it’s just a gorgeous place,” Adam explained. “Then seven years ago we added the water feature, and we have sculptures and things in the yard, so it’s really, a lot of people when they come here, they say there’s an aura about the place that’s very warm and happy and we like that.”

Visitors are free to enjoy everything about this place, from the grounds, to the shop, an impromptu lesson, even a Tigers game or two.

“We have two dogs. Adam has Sparky Anderson and I have Ernie Harwell, so they’re brothers. We are great Tiger fans,” says Laurie.

There are plenty of reasons to take a ride off the beaten path, look for the shoe tree out front, and bring home a little piece of Claybanks.

They’re open all year round.

“We make everything from outdoor things, to decorative things, we have Michigan trivets, we make dinnerware, we make custom orders for people. We’re always willing to try something.”

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