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As treasurer of Wesleyan Potters and a potter himself, Scott Caraway encourages his Guilford and shoreline neighbors to make a holiday shopping (or personal shopping) visit to the non-profit’s annual sale through Sunday, Dec. 9. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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As part of Wesleyan Potters, an organization built on volunteers, Scott Caraway can get pretty hands-on—and not just when he’s throwing pottery.
By this time of the year, the Guilford resident has invested well over 100 hours in sweat equity clearing, cleaning, and prepping the huge pottery studio to make way for Wesleyan Potters beloved annual sale, now in its 63rd year. The two-week sale fills some 7,000 square feet in the school’s converted textile mill. It showcases thousands of artists offering unique gifts, all selected by juried process.
As treasurer for non-profit Wesleyan Potters, Scott’s hoping to see a surge in shoppers right on through to the sale’s final day, this Sunday, Dec, 9. From stocking stuffers to ornaments, teachers’ gifts to treasured works in many mediums, the annual sale is open to the public daily (including Saturday and Sunday) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with extended hours on Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., at 350 South Main Street in Middletown.
“We have over 200 artists and over 10,000 pieces of artwork,” says Scott, who invites everyone to take a peek at just some of the wares by checking out Wesleyan Potters’ Facebook page.
“We have a lot of pieces that make great gifts, and a lot of things that people want to buy for themselves,” notes Scott.
Scott became a member of Wesleyan Potters’ unique co-op organization in 2011 and served as the annual sale chairman in 2017, so he knows a thing or two about the effort packed into creating a venue that’s well worth the visit.
“We have customers that have been coming for 20 and 30 years,” he says. “We have senior citizens’ buses that will bring their residents in for a couple of hours, because you can easily spend a couple of hours just looking at everything on display. Our member that does the set up for the annual sale spends almost the whole month of November there, working on it. She does a fantastic job.”
For his part, in addition to spending more than 100 hours to help mount the show, Scott chips in another 100 to 200 volunteer hours a year as treasurer.
“But we have a lot of people that do that,” Scott says of the invitation-only membership, which currently has a roster of about 90.
“There were six days before Thanksgiving when I was there every day, for five or six hours a day, and I’m not the only one,” he says. “There is a dedicated crew.”
From Air to Earth
Well before he became part of the crew at Wesleyan Potters, Scott was part of a different crew, as a commercial airline pilot based out of New York City.
He and his wife, Laurie, moved to Guilford in the 1980s. Raising their son here, Scott and Laurie got involved with the Guilford Boy Scouts during their son’s time in scouting, from about 2002 through 2009.
“We jumped in at the committee level, troop level, and district level for quite a while,” says Scott, noting Laurie even served as a district advancement chair.
Scott completed his commercial piloting career in 2004. A few years later, in the winter of 2008, he was looking for something interesting to do, he says. As he’s always enjoyed working with his hands, Laurie connected him with a local pottery class. The rest, as they say, is history.
As Scott tells it, “I got a little antsy, so she gave me a class at Guilford Art Center. And after the first class, I got hooked. Clay is something that people just get hooked on. There’s a tactile feel to it—we kind of joke sometimes that it’s cheaper than therapy!”
In casting around for additional area classes, Scott learned of Wesleyan Potters and gave a class a try.
“I just started looking around for different places and I found Wesleyan. We live up in the very north end of town, so really for me, I’m almost half-way there. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to take a class up there just to see what I think of it.’”
After about three years taking classes and pitching in as a volunteer with various programs and other efforts, Scott took up an invitation to become a member, signing on in 2011. Prospective members, sponsored by a member, apply to join in March, and go through a probationary membership during which mentors help them to become more involved in the time and effort it takes to help keep the school and facility thriving. Members also make up the co-op board and staff committees to help run many different areas of the operation.
“One of the things about the school is that we do have a good reputation, and so when people get into it, they tend to stay. We have some people who have been taking classes for 20, 25 years. We run nine classes a semester, with 16 people per class, and except for the summer semester, we’re almost completely full,” says Scott. “And then we run the jewelry [metalsmithing] and the weaving classes, upstairs—my wife has been taking weaving now for three years.”
A Wide Audience
Members tend to stay on board, as well. Like many students, they come from points across the state, and beyond, to be a part of the Wesleyan Potters experience.
“We have people that come from Marlborough; we have one member who comes from Massachusetts; we have one who lives down in Stonington; we have several here in Guilford, a couple over in Clinton and Meriden...They drive from all over to be part of this. And we have students that come from just about as far,” says Scott.
The co-op is always working to increase awareness about Wesleyan Potters, from curating its online and social media presence to bolstering more traditional connections, such as joining Shoreline Arts Alliance this year. Scott would like to help further increase awareness in this area.
“I asked somebody I know from scouts in Guilford to come in for a quote for [Weselyan Potters’] building air conditioning. They have a place in Vermont, and he said, ‘We drive by here almost every weekend, and I never knew you were here!’” says Scott.
“Another interesting thing is to see people who will come when we’re set up for the annual sale, so they come in and see how that looks. But they have no idea of what it’s like as a school, or that we even exist as a school, because we take every potter’s wheel and everything else [out] of the studio for the sale. The only thing we really use for both are the shelving units.”
While Wesleyan Potters was established in 1948 with no academic or other formal connection to the university (its name comes from the original group of Wesleyan professors’ wives who began learning pottery as a group), the non-profit has made several connections with instructors and students at some of the state’s best-known fine arts academic communities, including University of Hartford and Central Connecticut State University, notes Scott.
Through classes he’s enjoyed at Wesleyan Potters, Scott’s expertise as a potter has grown, with many of his unique stoneware bowls, plates, and other pieces accepted as part of the annual sale. He enjoys working out of his home studio combined with having member access to the equipment and materials available in the studio at Wesleyan Potters.
“We have a studio manager, and she fires our big kiln, but one of the benefits of membership is you get to manage a few more things on your own. You can make your own glazes, so you can experiment and come up with different colors and techniques, and you can fire your own work [in the group’s smaller gas reduction kiln], which I like to do,” says Scott.
For Scott, it’s especially fulfilling to be helping out at the annual sale and see a shopper select his pieces for themselves or as a gift.
“It’s satisfying, because sometimes you get to throwing these things over and over, so you really get re-energized when someone says, ‘I love this,’” he says. “I don’t really consider myself an artist, but if an artist is making something that speaks to them, then sort of, I am.”
Of course, Scott’s also pleased because a portion of proceeds from every sale at the annual sale goes toward helping support Wesleyan Potters. Wesleyan Potters also has a dedicated gallery/shop open year-round.
“Our primary fundraisers are the sale, membership dues, and our tuition from classes,” says Scott.
To learn more about Wesleyan Potters, sign up for classes or make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.wesleyanpotters.com or find Wesleyan Potters on Facebook. The 2018 Annual Sale runs through Sunday, Dec. 9 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with extended hours on Friday, Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., at 350 South Main Street in Middletown. For more information, call 860-344-0039.
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