Studio visit: Hugh Bridgeford
Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, a visit with potter Hugh Bridgeford
Q: So you store your moonshine jugs and flasks outside on your deck?
A: As long as you don't let the moisture get inside of them it's OK because the moisture will freeze them and then they pop. As long as the corks are tight they're OK. Leaving them outside ages the corks. I want them to have a little more sense of time.
Q: When did you start making pottery?
A: I moved back to Champaign in 2000 and pretty shortly after that I joined the C-U Potters' Club. I was in it about three years, and that really wetted my whistle. I will tell you this is a hobby that got totally out of hand. Now it's all I do.
Q: What's your background?
A: I have an undergraduate degree from Evergreen College in print making, and then I went up to the University of Illinois-Chicago to get into computer graphics. I did that professionally for 10 years in the Bay Area, and then I taught for four years in the Bay Area at what's now called Berkeley City College. Then I came back here.
A: I couldn't survive the tech bubble in California. I couldn't find an affordable place to live on a teacher's salary.
Q: When did you start focusing on moonshine jugs and flasks?
A: A year and a half ago. I really wanted to make sales, so I took a look at my sales on Etsy and what separated me out. I was selling more of these moonshine jugs and flasks than anything else, like tea kettles, bowls, vases. The other things I do right now are French butter keepers and cookie jars.
So this is the thing. (He points to a flask decorated with a skull.) It's instantly recognizable as a moonshine jug but it's kind of playful at the same time. People respond to them.
Then I started wanting to tell stories with the jugs and flasks. I was thinking about what they represent. To us it's the outlaw secret, and no taxes. So I started thinking about paying tribute to people who exist in this world, like Willie Nelson. The kind of outlaw character, like this punk rocker from the Pogues or the writer, (Ernest) Hemingway.
Q: How did these later jugs and flasks go over with the public?
A: They don't sell at the same rate as the other ones but they're more fun for me.
Q: I see you have one on Junior Johnson. Wasn't he a race car driver?
A: Yes. He's interesting because his family made moonshine in North Carolina, and he learned to drive because he was driving the liquor to market. The story behind this one is he eventually ends up being pardoned by Reagan so he got his life back, after being a felon. He is more than a race car driver. He also owns a race car team and a legal moonshine company he calls Moonshine.
Q: What do you call your pottery business?
A: MudBugs Pottery.
Q: How much do you sell your jugs and flasks for?
A: From $26 to $32. I'm going to start doing a new tier of jugs and flasks that have more time and effort in them, and those will be more expensive. I'm also asked to do short runs of custom flasks. I did one for Sleepy Creek Vineyards (near Fairmount).
Q: Do you sell your moonshine jugs and flasks at any distilleries?
A: I've had two inquiries about that, one yesterday from a place in Great Britain called Kent. They said they want a run of jugs with their logo on them for a particular bar. And a brewing company in Boston that is doing mead, which is a beer made from honey, called.
I have jugs and flasks in some shops as well: Vintage Karma in Tuscola, Sugar Creek Boutique in Homer, 6Pence in Carbondale and a place called Homespun: Modern Handmade on the east side of Indy.
Q: How do you feel about Prohibition?
A: I have very little opinion about alcohol. To me all I care about are the moonshine jugs and flasks. They represent getting drunk and crazy, being outside the normal realm.
I don't drink — every once in a while you catch me drinking, but I just don't have a taste for it.