Have you seen the small while signs advertising local pottery northbound on Route 15? Well those local potters are David Young, his wife Junko and their four boys. David and Junko have been working in Gettysburg for the past seven years, making about 30 pieces of pottery a day. Their home, studio, gallery, and kiln (used to fire, or “cook” the pottery so it hardens) are all located off Taneytown road. Recently I had the privilege of talking with David about his pottery and his life. From the first moment I spoke with David, as he showed me around his gallery and pointed out certain pieces, it was obvious that he was passionate about pottery.
When I arrived, David was busy throwing mugs. A quick pottery lesson here: pottery can either be “thrown” on a wheel which spins around quickly with a lump of clay at the center. As the wheel spins, the potter shapes it with his or her hands, creating a mug, vase, or other object. Or, clay can be hand-crafted by the artist, formed and shaped by hand. After the clay is shaped and dries, it is fired in a kiln. A kiln essentially heats the clay and bakes it so that it hardens and cannot be destroyed with water. After the piece is fired, glaze can be applied to it so that it is colored, decorated, strengthened, or waterproofed.
While I talked with David he was throwing mugs to be used at “The Pub” in downtown Gettysburg. This project was commissioned and is a joint effort for the husband/wife duo. David throws pottery, so he makes the basic shape of the mug, while Junko focuses on hand-built pieces. She is making the handle and the little plaque bearing The Pub’s logo.
David did not find his passion for pottery in Gettysburg, though. He became interested in pottery while at Glenelg High School in Howard County, Maryland. As a sophomore David was having a difficult time in school
largely because he was dyslexic and couldn’t read. He was illiterate until the age of 22 or 23. One day David overheard a conversation between two teachers concerning a student who was having a really hard time. David came around the corner, and one of them said, “David, we were just talking about you.” This teacher had taken a pottery class, and the school had recently acquired the materials and equipment to teach students how to make pottery. David sat down at the wheel and “it was like magic.” His passion for art--and pottery specifically-- was immediate and powerful.
Within a week he had mastered everything his high school art teacher could offer him. Because David didn’t like or excel in any of his other subjects, his teacher felt obligated to find a way for David to keep making pottery. So as a seventeen year old high school student, he enrolled in a graduate program at Antioch College in Columbia, Maryland. David studied under Richard Lafean, who built on the foundation David had begun at Glenelg. While David was enrolled in graduate school, Glenelg High School asked him to teach two pottery classes, essentially as a high school student himself. He was so passionate and talented as a pottery teacher, that students “began skipping other classes to come to [his] class.” David studied for a total of ten years under Richard, who eventually encouraged him to spend time studying pottery in Japan in order to take his craft to the next level.
David went to Japan for a summer to travel between different kiln sites. Each kiln site uses a certain and often different kind of clay; some types of clay are “pure” meaning the clay is made of finely ground minerals, making it very smooth as a raw material and once it is fired. Other types are “natural” and have small chunks of various minerals. When fired, David explained, these pieces of mineral can pop due to the extreme heat, making a blemish and a drip down the side of the pot, like “a pimple on skin,” David says. “While that sort of flaw is unattractive on a face, it’s really neat on a piece of pottery!” While in Japan, he traveled between the different sites getting a feel for which types of clay and resulting pottery appealed to him most. He settled on the pottery of the town Shigaraki and worked for the summer with Sawa Kiyotsugu.
When David returned to the States, he apprenticed with Rebecca Moy, another potter, and later became her partner. David’s wife, Junko, a Japanese native, ended up apprenticing with him. The two began dating and eventually married; now they work as partners.
David and Junko work together as a team, each complementing the other in style and in theme. The duo is inspired by nature and functionality in creating their pottery. They are both heavily influenced by Eastern ways of thinking, and that comes through in the creation and purpose of their work. David said, “In the West we look at the outside of a pot and ask ourselves questions about its appearance. In the East, in Japan and China, they look at the inside of the pot. If the pot if made well, if it serves its function well, then it is beautiful. Practical is beautiful.&rdquo David’s example of this practical beauty comes from his observations in Africa. There, he saw women carrying pots of water on their heads for long distances and noticed they had ridges and patterns on them that were quite beautiful. The ridges and patterns helped the women to keep a hold of the pot and catch it in case it slipped. The pots were also light so the women could carry them easily. Following his African influence, David’s thrown pottery is surprisingly light. The outer surfaces are also covered in beautiful patterns which serve their functionality. David and Junko create practical, everyday items--such as teapots, mugs, plates, vases, and bowls--based on their philosophy of functionality of items. This is one of the reasons David is inclined to pottery, referring to it as the “king of art,” though art is in everything and everywhere. David also loves pottery because it lasts forever: in a museum, a house, or a landfill. It leaves a record on this earth of who we were for generations to come.
Their philosophy of beauty coming from the inside is not just limited to pottery. David spoke of his (and our!) purpose as artists and believers as making beauty shine from the inside of our work and ourselves. We must always tell the truth, and we do that by being genuine. Being fake as an artist or as a person does no good for our art or for God’s. As a result, we must always ask, is our beauty coming from the inside? And so, David and Junko do not design things as “pretty” but as functional pieces possessing inner beauty.
It is much easier to create a functional piece of pottery, something that is to be used each day, than it is to create a functional painting.
David and Junko’s pottery is functional, and so it is genuinely beautiful.
Visit their website at thelionpotter.com or head North on Rt. 15 to the Taneytown exit, make a left and follow the white signs about a mile down the road to 855 Taneytown Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325, where you’ll find their gallery, workshop, home, as well as their beautiful pottery and fresh Pennsylvania-grown fruits. David and Junko are wonderful, hardworking, and inspirational people. A handmade piece of pottery would make the perfect Christmas gift this year, no matter whom you are buying for!