BY CAROL ROEHM
Don Archer has been preparing for months to show off his handmade wares during a grand opening of his Kickapoo Pottery studio next weekend.
In addition to the grand opening from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 10, the pottery studio also will be open for sales from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 11 as well as on Dec. 8 and 9.
During both days of the November open house, pottery will be sold for 25 percent off the original price, and Archer will demonstrate his clay-throwing techniques.
Archer, who has been throwing clay for 15 years, specializes in handcrafted functional and decorative stoneware pottery. His pottery has been displayed at the Georgetown Fair and the Urbana Art Show at Lincoln Square on several occasions and has won various awards.
Each handcrafted piece of stoneware is wheel-thrown by Archer at his studio and is glazed with lead-free glaze, making the pottery safe for food, ovens, microwaves and dishwashers.
Archer finished his pottery studio — complete with throwing wheel and kiln — earlier this year and started throwing clay in March to build up his inventory.
“To open up, I needed 400 pieces,” he said, adding that he doesn’t throw clay over the summer because that’s when he works as the golf pro at Blue Needles Golf Course.
“I need to be able to sell something to buy more clay and glaze,” he joked.
“Right now, I don’t plan to be open more than one weekend a month,” he added.
A large inventory of plates, bowls, platters, cups, mugs, trivets, bread crocks, wine chillers, berry bowl colanders, casseroles, juicers, apple bakers and other types of finished pottery will be for sale at the studio.
“I like throwing everything, but I’m into functional ware,” he said.
Archer has more than a dozen colors of glazes but specializes in a blue glaze, which he hand mixes.
The current inventory, however, includes finished pottery in eggshell, turquoise, firebrick red, ancient jasper, white, black and several combinations of colors.
At the grand opening there also will be a limited number of small bowls filled with candles poured by a local candle maker for sale, and Archer will have a “kiln opening” at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10.
“I’m going to load the kiln with pieces, and people will draw numbers,” he said.
Visitors will then take turns selecting a piece from the kiln that they can purchase for $10.
A natural potter
Archer said he and his wife, Barbara Delanois, have always enjoyed looking at pottery during their travels, so about 15 years ago they decided they would take a basic pottery class through the Champaign Park District.
While Archer discovered he was a natural at throwing clay on a potter’s wheel, Delanois couldn’t quite get the knack of it.
He credited his talent with clay to years of working with his hands as a building contractor and as a woodworker.
Delanois can still be found in the studio with Archer, carving designs into the clay and glazing objects to be fired in the kiln.
“She still enjoys helping me,” he said.
Depending on the size of the piece, it could take as long as two weeks or as little as five days until a piece is finished.
“It’s about at two-week process for larger pieces, but little bowls take five days,” he said.
Archer said throwing the clay only takes 10-15 minutes, but then the piece has to dry anywhere from overnight to up to two days.
After that, Archer puts a foot at the bottom of the piece and then places all of his pieces in the kiln to be fired at 1,800 to 1,900 degrees.
“You fire them for 24 hours until they’re hard but still porous enough to take the glaze,” he said, adding that the dry pieces will break easily until they are fired in the kiln.
Next, Archer glazes the fired pieces with glazes he’s hand mixed.
“After the glaze is on, you fire the pieces again at 2,200 degrees,” he said.
Besides creating wares to sell in his studio, Archer also has been making pieces for his 14 grandchildren. It is his hope that someday those pieces will become family heirlooms that are passed down to other generations.
Archer recently spent three days in Seagrove, N.C., which is known for its pottery, and visited 40 studios there to gather ideas.
He said his pottery studio is “a great thing to do for a retirement job. It’s a relaxing thing to do.”