Emma Shuford ‘22
Ceramics is a popular visual arts class at Mercersburg Academy, where students explore working with clay and experimenting on the pottery wheel. Addie Geitner ‘21 has taken both Ceramics I and Ceramics II with Wells Gray, a member of the arts faculty. Geitner said, “I took ceramics because my sisters had chosen it as their art at Mercersburg and because it was something I could not have done at my old school or have done easily on my own.” During these classes, Geitner realized her passion for making pottery. She has joined a pottery studio in her town called “Mud Mama’s” during the summer after her tenth grade year.. This studio gave her the opportunity to continue working in clay while on breaks from school.
Geitner was inspired to pursue her love of pottery because of Mercersburg’s ceramics classes, as well as her local community. Geitner said, “I grew up with the Catawba Valley Pottery tradition and I aspire to one day become an apprentice to a local potter… I cannot think of anything more beautiful than Catawba Valley pottery, and I would love to be able to take up the tradition of digging my own clay, mixing my own ‘Tobacco Spit’ glazes, and firing in a groundhog kiln.” The rich history of pottery in North Carolina has greatly influenced her work. She especially appreciates local potters Burlon Craig, Steve Abee, and Kim Ellington.
Arts and crafts have always been a passion for Geitner. She enjoys pottery in particular because her art can be useful in everyday life. It is also exciting to see the final product of a piece of pottery after it has been fired in a kiln. Geitner said, “I will add that in falling in love with Catawba Valley pottery I have found that I am always a bit dissatisfied with each piece because so much of the beauty and meaning in local pieces comes from the hand dug clay, hand made glazes, and the tradition… The glazes I use are studio glazes and it is all fired in an electric kiln, so in these ways I do not attain the intrigue present in the pieces I love.”
Face jugs are one of Geitner’s favorite kinds of pottery to make. These are fundamental pieces in the tradition of Catawba Valley pottery. While learning virtually, Geitner experimented a lot with her work by combining both her love of music with her pottery. Geitner said, “I threw 8 jugs and attached handles and faces, and each face expresses the face I associated with the protagonists of a few songs I like, lines of which I etched on the backs of the jugs. I did a group that were characters in the Kossoy Sister’s album Bowling Green and Other Folk Songs From the Southern Mountains, including Darby Ram, Engine 143, and Wagoner’s Lad. I also did a group that contained lyrics from songs that commented on a common theme in traditional mountain songs–the devastation of coal mining (John Prine’s Paradise and Jean Ritchie’s Black Waters).”
Mercersburg students have recently been at home for long periods of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While this time was challenging and uncertain, many students embraced the unexpected time to focus on their art. Geitner’s local pottery studio closed briefly last summer due to the pandemic, but it soon reopened, providing a welcome relief. Geitner said, “I loved having pottery because it was one of my few excursions and my sisters and I could walk down to the studio 5 out of 7 days a week.”
Last summer, Geitner created an instagram account in which she showcases her pottery. The account also exhibits her love of music, as each post’s caption is a song title. Geitner has found joy through her pottery during the past few years, and through her instagram account, she is able to share that joy and her impressive work with others.