In his second year of competition at the U.S. Pottery Games, Parker Anderson won first place.
Anderson, a junior at New London High School, was among 10 high school students competing at the games, part of the Cambridge Pottery Festival held June 8 and 9 at Cambridge, Wis.
New London had a good showing at the event.
Ceramics teacher Robert Smith took first place in the professional heavyweight division; and 2013 graduate Megan Anderson (who is not related to Parker) placed second in the high school competition. Trista Schultz, another 2013 grad, also competed.
The games challenge potters to throw pieces of a certain shape on the wheel under time constraints.
High school students had 15 minutes to throw the tallest cylinder they could on the wheel from five pounds of clay; 15 minutes to throw the largest plate from five pounds of clay; and 15 minutes to make the largest sphere from 10 pounds of clay.
A speed competition allowed potters 2 minutes to make a cylinder from three pounds of clay.
Finally, the aesthetic portion gave potters 30 minutes to create whatever they liked on the wheel, and another 30 minutes to detail or embellish it. The aesthetic piece was worth up to 500 points, awarded by judges.
Each of the other pieces received points based on size – a cylinder 400 millimeters tall was worth 400 points, for example. Judges measured the height and width of the sphere; the potter received points equal to the lesser dimension.
Anderson said he didn’t know his total score.
But finishing first was especially sweet for Anderson, who placed second in 2012 behind Eric Worm, also from New London.
“It wasn’t fun for me, because I had been practicing,” Anderson said of his first year. “I believe I took second place by seven points – in the span of millimeters, it is a very, very small portion.”
Throwing Pots in Public
Unlike the comparative quiet of the school pottery studio, the Pottery Games puts six artists at wheels on a flatbed trailer stage at one time while festival visitors watch or wander the sales and concessions booths on the grounds.
“It was very fun,” Parker Anderson said. “I’m pretty focused on what I’m doing, but I’m more aware of the other students than the crowd.”
Smith said both the weight of the clay – in class, students generally work with one to three pounds – and the forms of the competition are challenging.
“Five pounds of clay is a pretty solid chunk,” Smith said. “I don’t have too many kids that will grab that much in class.”
Platters “like to fall down on the edges,” he said. Spheres tend to buckle at top or bottom. And 10 pounds of clay, “that gets really challenging really fast,” Smith said.
He advises students to keep it simple for their aesthetic piece.
It’s not easy advice to heed. The festival offers an array of professional potters’ work, Smith noted. Students get bombarded with new ideas and tend to attempt an extravagant piece.
Keep it simple, clean, not too frilly, Smith said he told his students.
“It paid off for him,” he said of Anderson, who took second place in the aesthetics event.
Anderson’s vase, a larger sphere on the bottom and narrower concave cylinder on top, has two handles curving down from the top, mirroring the spherical shape. The base, rimmed top and rows of etchings on the sphere add texture to the piece.
Prizes and Sales
Anderson received a $250 college scholarship for his first place finish, and the school gets a Shimpo Whisper pottery wheel. The wheel is powerful, starts and stops quickly, and unlike many others, is not driven by noisy belts, Anderson said. It retails for about $1,100, according to the Shimpo website,
Worm’s first place last year gave this year’s New London team a free booth at the festival. Anderson said he brought 100 to 125 pieces and sold about 40 mugs, pitchers and bowls.
Looking ahead to next year, he’s working on prototypes for egg separators and sponge holders. He’s enrolled in an Advance Placement three-dimensional art course, for college credit, although he’s leaning toward an engineering degree or music business and sound engineering in college.
Another piece of Anderson’s pottery recently caught a different judge’s eye. It was among five student artworks chosen this spring for the New London School District art collection.
Anderson is the son of Jim and Jody Anderson of New London.
The winning pieces from the aesthetic portion of the contest will be glazed and fired and auctioned next year to raise scholarship funds.
The Cambridge Pottery Festival, in its 22nd year, draws professional potters from across the Midwest. The non-profit festival is run by two sisters, according to its website, cambridgepotteryfestival.org.