Henry Hibbert has been thinking about pottery since he was a child and his father took him to the Piedmont Arts Festival. He remembers being gobsmacked by a potter’s artistry and, in particular, the pulling of handles, which has become an obsession for Hibbert. A lawyer by day, Hibbert is good at many things, photography and playing guitar for starters, but he loves nothing better than sinking his hands into clay and the alchemy of mixing glazes.
Hibbert has an electric kiln in his studio where he produces a variety of vessels, including what he calls his “atomic cups.” He is a disciple of master potter Roger Jamison and helps Jamison attend to his Anagama kiln in Juliette, GA where ceramic miracles and disasters occur. Hibbert will have his own show at Atlanta Clay Works in Kirkwood, one of Atlanta’s premier ceramic galleries, will feature both studio fired cups and saucers and Anagama kiln fired vases. The show opens Saturday, March 23, with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m.
INtown caught up with Hibbert and asked what inspires him and how he translates that into pottery.
What inspired you to become a potter?
Our household was noisy with music, literature, and art from the day I was born. One story I love to tell is watching Georgia’s beloved potter, Bill Gordy, demonstrate pottery skills to onlookers at Piedmont Park’s Spring Arts Festival when I was 7 years old. Dad leaned over and said, “he’s pulling a handle!” And even at that young age, I “got it.” Watching Bill Gordy pull a handle was the best lesson I ever had in how to make handles. On family trips to visit mother’s relatives in Alabama, Dad always insisted that we stop at Gordy’s shop in Cartersville to buy cups. Perhaps that explains part of the story.
Pottery is about the meeting of earth, wind and fire. Talk about what that means to you.
Earth, wind, and fire owe their existence to one mysterious element – oxygen. I was astonished to learn recently that half the planet’s crust is made up oxygen. Who knew? Every mineral is usually found as an oxide, right? Think about that for a minute. Anyway, I’ve been extremely fortunate to run my “experiments” in clay over the last 15 years with Roger Jamison and a community of very fine potters every Spring and Fall at the Anagama. The Anagama kiln is a single chambered tunnel kiln which attempts to tame forces at once destructive and constructive – earth, wind, and fire. The results are never quite what you plan, and that’s the point. Visit Roger’s website, RogerJamison.com to see this thing we call Anagama.
Your pottery is fired in both ancient and modern ways. What is the difference?
Simply put, electric kilns are convenient and offer extraordinary control, which is itself an important end. Careful considerations of clay and glaze chemistry are exactly the same with gas, electric, and wood firing. However, the vapors and hot flying ash interacting with the vitrified clay creates surprising and beautiful glaze effects found only in wood firing. Wood firing is the hardest damn work imaginable. Cut the wood. Stack the Wood. Stoke the fire! No sleep! Around the clock shifts stoking the fire without let up. Is it worth it? I try not to ask that question when I’m in a rational state of mind. The results are so magical, I can’t resist. #cone13chaos – check it out on FB and Instagram.
You make “atomic” cups. Would you talk about that?
The Atomic Bomb Diner Cup is a whimsical homage to America’s own, big, fat, diner cup. You know it was invented in New York? Victor, New York. In the nation’s build up to World War II, the military demanded a cup that wouldn’t break when it fell off a table, in rocking seas and in mess halls. Victor Insulator Company, number one in the world for flawless porcelain insulators, won the contract. All they had to do was take their indestructible telephone insulators and turn them into cups. And they did just that. They filled orders for millions of cups for the Armed Forces beginning in the 30’s and 40’s, and production continued into the 80’s. The cup was so successful it quickly spread to diners all across the country. I simply have a love affair for that cup, its use, and its place in our history, born out of the misery of war and the atomic age.
Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist, poet and musician.