*A version of this story appeared in the April 5, 2017, issue of The Budget’s Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany, The Budget
Tucked away in the scenic hills between Ragersville and Stone Creek lies a magical place where dull hunks of gray clay are transformed into one-of-a-kind art pieces.
That place is Hidden Hollow Pottery, and the magician behind it all is Sally Windate, a 69-year-old retired dental assistant who has been making both functional and decorative pottery inside her home studio for the last 27 years.
In mere minutes, Windate can shape a vessel on her pottery wheel or using her slab roller, however, it can take several weeks before that vessel reaches completion. “There’s so many steps to this process. Some days I just prepare my clay. Some days I mix up glazes. Some days I make the pots.”
After shaping, Windate fires the vessels in an electric kiln until they reach a porous state known as bisque. After the objects dry, she applies a glaze, which she mixes herself in house from various chemicals and compounds. After glazing, functional objects like plates and cups make their way into a large glass kiln for a second firing. Windate said that process takes about 12 hours. The finished product is what is known as high-fire stoneware, which can be used to hold food and beverages.
Decorative pieces go through an even longer process. After shaping and an initial firing in the electric kiln, the vessels are placed inside another container which Windate fills with copper and organic materials like straw, sawdust or seaweed. Those objects are then refired in the gas kiln at a higher temperature, and the atmosphere created by the burning material creates a unique design on the vessel. This technique is known as saggar firing. “It’s really fun to do, the artist explained. “I’m doing more and more of that.”
Sometimes, when the vessel is glowing hot from the kiln, she takes it outside and applies strands of horsehair, which singes to the vessel upon contact to create a one-of-a-kind effect. “It’s like 1,000 degrees,” the artist explained. “It take it outside and carry this glowing hot pot out and put the hair on it. It actually burns a line in it.”
Windate said the technique is something she learned during a workshop and one that originated with the Native Americans, who would use it to honor the spirit of a fallen horse. Windate and her husband actually have horses of their own, Paso Finos named Rock’n Rhythm, Navarre and Chispa, which means “spark” in Spanish.
The artist said she likes to complete the process outdoors, because she doesn’t want to burn down her studio, plus the burning horsehair also emits a very unpleasant smell.
Windate said she first became interested in pottery after watching an artist shaping a vessel at a world’s fair-type event. “I was just fascinated by it, and I thought I’d like to learn how to do that, so I came home to Akron and took my first class at the Akron Art Museum,” she said. “From there on, I got hooked.”
That was 40 years ago, and Windate is as enthusiastic about the art form today as she was back then. In fact, she said she’ll probably never get tired of making pottery, because she’s always learning something new and trying out new techniques. “What I like about it, oftentimes people will just make the same kind of thing and just become good at one design or one type, but I just like to keep learning new techniques,” she explained.
Windate crafts a variety of different objects including from mugs and platters to jewelry, photo frames and figurines. Currently, she said she has been making a lot of tiles and decorative pieces that customers can hang on their walls.
The artist said her pieces are currently being sold in two different galleries – Arts on Broadway in Sugarcreek and a gallery in Peninsula. She also has a sale at her studio twice a year, one in June and one in October.
Because she has many repeat customers, she said she’s always working on coming up with different kinds of pieces to mix things up. “The same people come, so I’ve always got to make new things,” she said.
Windate’s studio is located at 5373 King Road SE in Stone Creek. To check out photos of Windate’s latest pieces, be sure to visit Hidden Hollow Pottery by Sally Windate on Facebook. The artist can also be reached by calling 330-897-0907 or emailing email@example.com.