When the owner of a Farmville pottery studio had a problem with one of her glazes recently, all it took to fix it was a comment to a friend.
The problem solving resulted from an already close collaboration between Pam Butler at Mainly Clay and Longwood University art professor Adam Paulek and his students. The students and Paulek, through trial and error, found the right formula for the troublesome glaze, one of many that Butler uses in the classes she teaches at her downtown Farmville studio.
Now the Longwood ceramicists are taking the challenge to the next level.
Pick out six other colors you want, Paulek told Butler, and we’ll develop glazes for them as well. This will save a lot of money for Butler, who either mixes glazes from a formula she buys for each one or purchases them pre-mixed.
"This is like a dream come true. This is like Christmas. I’m just in heaven," said Butler. "A lot of people wouldn’t have done what Adam and his students have done. Adam has expertise that I don’t have and is willing to share it."
Students in two sections of Paulek’s advanced ceramics class are developing formulas for the six other colors—"my wish list," Butler calls them—through a process called glaze chemistry or glaze calculation. The work, taking place in Bedford Hall’s ceramics studio, involves combining various ingredients. Using 50 pounds of clay provided by Butler, the students are making test plates in which they’re trying different glaze combinations.
"My students make glazes for themselves in class; now they’re doing it for someone else," said Paulek. "We’re making all of Pam’s studio glazes so she can make large quantities for her classes. We’re making big batches of glaze that she’ll use in a five-gallon bucket. The goal is to come up with glazes that will work well together."
The two ceramic artist/educators certainly work well together—an example of the kind of close "town-gown" relationship Longwood President W. Taylor Reveley IV has made a priority for the university in recent years.
Butler, a board member of the Farmville Downtown Partnership, took up pottery only six years ago and opened her studio in June 2011. Two months later, Paulek, who once ran a pottery studio in Knoxville, Tenn., joined the Longwood faculty.
"Adam has opened his arms to us and has always been very generous with his time," said Butler. "His students buy their supplies in here. They’re in here all the time. I love interacting with them and having them in the shop. It’s almost like I’m their mother. This is a great partnership."
Paulek is equally happy. "It’s fun working with Pam, who is warm and welcoming to the students," he said. "We do a lot together. I check with her from time to time, to make sure students are stopping by and everything’s OK.
"It’s really unusual for a town this size to have a nice clay distributor, which means my students don’t have to go to Richmond or Lynchburg, or buy their supplies online," he added. "I encourage students to buy all of their supplies from Pam; if they don’t, I give them a hard time. She’s just the best."