"Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." Jeremiah 18:12
As a child in Duplin County, Frank Grubbs remembers digging in the clay at creek beds to mold little works of art. Of course, at the time, he didn't have a wheel or a kiln, but he was a persistent potter. His little hands would work the clay into what he imagined and then eventually the rain would wash it away. Grubbs has always been artistically inclined. But his art has evolved rather slowly in iterations that parallel the stages of his life. From his small creek-clay creations to his obsession with modeling clay in high school art class, to his senior year at Atlantic Christian College when he found himself in an Intro to Ceramics class.
A life-long career in the ministry has rivaled a life-long passion for pottery. The latter of which was truly sparked during a field trip during the Intro to Ceramics class, "it was a field trip to the studio of Dan Finch Pottery. He had a studio in an old converted tobacco barn. I knew one day I was gonna be a potter with an emphasis on wheel thrown pottery." This conviction led Grubbs to buy his first wheel and kiln in 1978, he still has both. After 41 years in the ministry, and counting, he is getting more serious about pottery. Not just about selling it or making a business out of it, serious about the art itself and the joy he finds in it.
"It's like Christmas morning every time I open the kiln, when that feeling goes away I'll quit." I asked him what he meant by that, "pottery is an ancient art that has evolved over time through wonderful accidents discovered by potters before me along the way. And yet no two pieces of pottery are ever truly identical. Even with all the controls and knowledge and experience, I have no idea what I'm gonna get when I open the kiln. Even if I repeat the process exactly, a piece of pottery can emerge different from the piece before it."
"Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand." Isaiah 64:8
What I took away from my time in Frank Grubb's studio, which exists between his home and a barn out back, is that pottery is in fact a process. It goes a little something like this: raw clay to some sort of formation, to a kiln firing to a glaze application, to a glaze firing and then finally any sealing or setting. But Grubbs says he has never been very comfortable with glazing, and a lot of the work he does, and continues to experiment with, is called alternative firing. This includes barrel firing, pit firing, and a method called raku. The last of which involves decorating the pot while it is still hot from the kiln (and when I say hot I mean over 1,000 degrees hot). Grubb's pottery is most known locally for his unique application of horse hair during the raku process but you can really add anything - other types of hair, sugar, alcohol, or even feathers.
Grubbs says that raku is about careful temperature regulation, "if the pot is too hot the horse hair bounces off and disintegrates. If the pot is too cold the hair simply melts into the pot without leaving a mark. I have found that the best temperature range is between 1150-1200 degrees."
Walking around the house and studio is an amazing experience, with so many different shapes, styles, and colors of pottery jumping out at you. You can actually see everything for yourself tomorrow, Saturday, December 5th. For the past 2-3 years Grubbs has done an Open House and this year it will be at his home. You can show up any time from 10:00AM to 9:00PM. The address is 101 Cobblestone Court Smithfield, NC 27577. And it's the perfect season to purchase pottery as a gift. You will be able to purchase a truly unique piece of art during the Open House to give a friend or family member. If you are reading this from another town or state and would like to purchase your very own piece of Frank Grubbs pottery, then good news... he ships! You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A preacher who is a potter. Or a potter who is a preacher? Both take patience. Both instill a sense of wonderment over works wrought. Frank Grubbs is both talented and extremely passionate about his art. It was mesmerizing to hear him talk with such enthusiasm. It made me want to try pottery. To make something with my hands. Owning a piece of pottery, crafted with hands that pour love into its making, is probably as close as I'm going to get though. But you can get that close too. Tomorrow. At the Frank Grubbs' Pottery Open House.