Studio Visit: Don Archer

Studio Visit: Don Archer

Staff writer Melissa Merli visits with Don Archer, 72, of Newtown, the PGA golf pro at Blue Needles Golf Course in Fairmount and the owner of Kickapoo Pottery near Kickapoo State Park.

When did you take up pottery?

I started 25 years ago. Barb (wife Barb Delanois) and I always loved pottery, and when we were on vacation we'd stop at potters' shops, and Barb would always buy a piece. Then we decided we wanted to learn so we took a Champaign Park District class. Her pieces came up and fell apart. She said, "I quit but you have to keep going." So I took a couple more classes and joined the C-U Potters' Club.

Are you still a member?

I was a member 10 or 12 years and am now an associate member. The Potters' Club was here last week. I host a raku firing twice a year, and the members come over for it.

What is raku?

It's an ancient Japanese process of firing pottery with an open flame. You heat the piece of pottery in a special kiln to 1,850 degrees and then you take the kiln off and set it aside. The pieces are glowing bright red. Then you take these great big steel tongs and lift the piece off and drop it into a metal can filled with leaves or newspaper or even sawdust. The stuff catches fire, and flames shoot up. You put the lid on the can while the stuff burns away and the burning is what brings out the metallics in the glaze. The newspaper or other burning stuff produces carbon that adheres to the pottery and eventually causes the fine cracking in the glaze.

What kind of pottery do you make?

The majority is functional. Pieces that people can use every day and eat or drink out of or cook or bake in. All of my pottery is wheel-thrown. I do no what's considered to be hand-built pottery. I do have a slab builder and I'll roll out clay sometimes.

Most of what I make are cups, bowls, pie plates, baking dishes. I even make salt crocks and knitting bowls, and I make a lot of bread crocks. The crocks are multi-use and can be used for baked beans, mac 'n' cheese, green-bean casserole.

Tell me about these Civil War cups you make?

I first saw them made by potters in Seagrove, N.C., "The Handmade Pottery Capital of the United States." During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers were not supplied enough lead to make bullets so they had to melt down their tin plates and cups to make bullets. So the potters in the region made them cups they could eat and drink out of. What makes them different from most mugs is their shape and their form. It's a wide-rim cup that would hold more soup or stew than a normal mug and has a flared top and more of an angle on the sidewalls.

Where do you sell your pottery? Do you do art fairs?

The only place you can buy a piece of Kickapoo pottery is here in my building. I do not do art fairs, and I do not put my pieces on commission in boutiques or shops. I'm open the first weekend of each month April through December and an extra weekend in November as part of a Christmas tour with other shops. I'm also open by appointment or catch me as you can.

What do you like about making pottery?

I like the satisfaction of making a piece and especially with functional pottery knowing that people use it on an everyday basis, that they get pleasure from using something I've made with my hands. And I hope my pieces will be around years after I'm gone.

Topics (2):Art, People

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