A Weekend in Milheim

Leach Pottery

I’ve been watching pottery videos since last fall. Yup, pottery videos. That may sound quite boring to some, but I am fascinated by the whole process.

There’s one potter whose videos I’ve watched more than others because the narrative is easy to relate to and the process is easy to see. So I signed up for a weekend workshop at Simon Leach Pottery… and this post is about my experience there.

As a beginning potter, I had to read the workshop information several times (“all skill levels welcome”) before deciding I was qualified to attend! I’m happy to say that Simon is a patient guy, working with me, the beginner, as well as my much more experienced fellow students who made some really nice pieces while we were there. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Main Street, Milheim

The pottery studio is next to Simon’s home, located in Milheim, PA, which is in “Amish country” and probably about a 30 minute drive from the college town of State College, PA. While the town is small, I must say it’s larger than my hometown because Milheim has a stop light on Main Street, a grocery store, a hardware store, an art gallery, and a few different restaurant options.

The studio is full of interesting things for a new potter like me — a glazing area with a big table and lots of glazes, a very large and wonderful wedging table at perfect height, a workbench full of tools, coffee and tea pots, several different kind of wheels, bags of new clay and pans of recycled clay, and numerous ware board shelves scattered around the wheel throwing and glazing rooms.

IngleBean Coffee House

There were 5 of us, and I enjoyed spending time with them, including a few meals together. (My favorite restaurant was the IngleBean Coffee House where we had lunch on Sunday.) I’ve enjoyed meeting potters at every pottery experience because we all seem to want to talk about pottery! That’s good for me because I’ve got so much to learn. Dan and Joan came from New Jersey to stay at a local B&B, and Marie and Sondra drove over the mountain from a nearby town each day. I stayed at the nearest B&B in town (The Three Porches, which I highly recommend, BTW).

After a round of introductions, Simon walked us around the room, describing each wheel type, and asked us to each pick the wheel we prefer. I picked a small Speedball Artisan wheel, probably because it just looked pretty straightforward, and it was a brand that I’d not yet seen in my past 2 studio experiences. Simon offered that if anyone wanted to try his treadle wheel (powered by your foot instead of electricity), they could do so. I decided that if I had a decent pottery day on Saturday, I might be brave enough to try it on Sunday. Having to concentrate on keeping the wheel moving while trying to pull the clay would be too much for my brain on the first day!

my workshop corner
My workshop corner

According to Simon, if you can throw a good cylinder, you can throw anything. Thus, we all started off creating some cylinders. My first several attempts flopped, but I eventually got the hang of it and came home with a few cylinders. Since it was only a 2 day workshop, we didn’t have time to create bisque ware, glaze them, and fire them in the kiln, but we did bring home what we wanted to keep of our creations.

Leach Treadle Wheel

By Sunday I was ready to try the treadle wheel (which you can buy from Simon, BTW). OMG I love it! Someday I’d love to have one when I’ve got the right space to put it in. Experiencing the movement of your leg on the treadle wheel is kind of like a bonus to the movement of the wheel with your hands on the clay. It feels like a meditative state once you get going and the leg action recedes into your subconscious.

On Sunday we each kind of branched out to practice whatever we needed or wanted to. I stuck with cylinders because that’s what I still need. I’m in no hurry because I’ve got a day job! This is a healing practice for me. Simon pointed out that the wheel I’d been working on the day before was quite portable and not too pricey. That planted a seed in my brain to find out where I could fire clay pieces if I had a wheel at home… because there’s no point in making pottery if I can’t complete the process. And of course, I had to figure out if it was really feasible to put a wheel in my tiny house and not end up with clay everywhere!

Stay tuned for the rest of the story…

Postscript… here’s a fun discovery to hear Simon mention our workshop in his 4/2/19 video before he demonstrates how to create some mugs.