Paul Herman Pottery
“Watch for snakes,” said my wife’s uncle Jon. “If you see one, drive around it….unless it’s a rattlesnake. You can run over those.”
We were driving down a small dirt road off of Hwy 395 a half hour or so northwest of Reno, NV. Our destination was a potter’s studio in the middle of the High Sierra desert, a couple of hundred yards off of the two lane highway that crosses into California outside of “The Biggest Little City In The World.”
“How in the world did y’all ever find this place?,” asked my wife.
“We saw the sign that says ‘Pottery’ one day as we were driving down 395,” Jon responded. “Didn’t you see the yellow and black ‘Pottery’ sign?”
We hadn’t. Truth be told, we probably could have driven down that stretch of highway several times before we saw the fading hand painted sign that did indeed read, “Pottery.” It stood just in front of a small group of wooden buildings, and all of it blended perfectly into the tans and yellows of the High Sierra hillside.
The small group of buildings, and the “Pottery” sign, belong to Paul Herman, an artist that has been living on and working with the earth of the High Sierras all his life. Herman has been a full-time potter since 1974, and has been living and working on this particular piece of ground off of Highway 395 since 1983. Scattered across the property are a studio that contains his pottery wheels and finished items waiting to be fired, a hot spring whose water heats the studio, a vegetable garden, a two-seater outhouse, and two structures that house hand-built kilns (one gas, and one wood based).
What you’ll notice is missing from that list is a gallery space–somewhere to show the pottery for sale. That’s because there isn’t one. Instead, the finished pottery is scattered among shelves that line the outside of the buildings and the paths between them. One shelf might be full of pitchers, dishes, and vases, while another might contain an assortment of bowls, jars, tea pots, and mugs. The random placement of each finished piece gives the feel that each item was pulled directly from Herman’s imagination one by one, instead of them coming from the kilns in large batches. Each piece is unique in its design, glaze, or size, and the ones that Herman finds especially unique are easy to spot: “I give them a slightly higher price if I really like them,” he says with a chuckle.
For some, the thought of pottery sitting out in the elements year round might seem odd–especially in the dramatic swings of the High Sierra desert. I certainly thought so as we first pulled up and began brushing aside fallen leaves, dust, and cobwebs in order to examine some of the pieces. My mind quickly changed however, as the presentation gave rise to the realization that pottery is in its very essence a product of the environment around it. To display the pottery like this allows it to stand in contrast with the stark landscape from which it came, highlighting the ability of the potter to bring beauty and richness out of that landscape.
After talking with Paul for a while inside of his studio, and then taking one last look at all of the possibilities, we decided on two pieces to purchase. These two pieces now sit inside our Seattle home, but they carry with them an image of the High Sierras and a potter who calls that place home. And so, if you ever find yourself traveling northwest on Hwy 395 outside of Reno, NV, keep an eye out for a black and yellow “Pottery” sign on a hillside to your left. There you’ll find this potter who pulls beauty from the rocks and mud of the ground around him.
(You can also visit Paul’s website: http://www.greatbasinpottery.com/index.html for more details on Paul, his work, his location, and the wood-burning kiln he uses.)