A Potter’s Paradise

Four artists glaze their own trail with beach-inspired pottery, whimsical and functional pieces, one-of-a-kind hydrangea patterns and simple yet sophisticated scallop designs.

By Marjorie Naylor Pitts | Photography by Julia Cumes

Barn Hill Pottery

Barn Hill owner and potter, Susan Dimm

Tucked off Route 28 in a charming weathered-shingle barn is Barn Hill Pottery, where Susan Dimm makes and sells her products. “It’s my dream studio, full of windows and light,” says Dimm, who specializes in beach-inspired designs. After earning her bachelor of arts degree in ceramics and painting from Bennington College in Vermont, Dimm worked in Manhattan until the lure of Chatham, where her family had a home, drew her in and has kept her hooked—and making pots—for more than 20 years. The enchanting shop at the front of the barn is lined with rustic shelves full of unique and useful pieces, including sponge holders, egg poachers, mugs, and chip and dip platters. “I make everything by hand—hand-thrown on the wheel or hand-built,” says Dimm. “Every piece is touched a gazillion times.” Many of the pieces are decorated with Cape Cod beach finds, such as scallop shells and starfish. “I play with shells, lace, textures,” says Dimm. “I love trying new things.” The studio workroom is organized into several task-specific stations, including the glazing area where Dimm makes her 10 base glazes—soothing and uplifting colors of the surf, sand and sky. Customers especially like the pots fired with recycled crushed sapphire-blue glass, which melts in the kiln, creating a stunning seaglass effect. Select pieces are imprinted with leaves of geraniums, hostas and ferns, capturing their intricate patterns. Dimm also applies her training as a painter to her pottery, creating landscapes within the glaze of platters and decorative pieces. “It’s all chemistry—and there’s a point where you just go for it,” says Dimm. “It’s hard, but it’s fun.”

Barn Hill Pottery, 46 Barn Hill Road, West Chatham, 508-945-1027

Chatham Stoneware

Gill Wilson of Chatham Stoneware

Gill Wilson of Chatham Stoneware got his start as a 20-year-old apprentice in Port Chester, New York, where he developed his aesthetic along with his skill. “It was understood that the Northeast was a better place to be an American craftsman,” says Wilson. In the late 1980s, he moved from the Catskills to Chatham to enjoy the surfing lifestyle he had become used to while growing up in Southern California and had missed during his landlocked years in New York. “It was a lifestyle move,” says Wilson, “but it turned out to be really good professionally, too.” Wilson’s airy and inviting shop is filled with mainly utilitarian stoneware. With a nod to the Shaker “function dictates form” philosophy, Wilson likes to make pieces that can stand up to everyday use: sturdy-handled mugs, generous mixing bowls and deep baking pans. “A lot of what I do is functional pottery,” says Wilson, “but I also like to make whimsical things, too.” Function and whimsy come together with the popular mermaid design, while function and nature fuse in the designs featuring whales, sea turtles, sharks and shells. Outside, between the shop and the barn studio, recently thrown pots dry in the sun, nestled beside brightly colored finished pieces. In the studio, Wilson makes every piece by hand and uses five Cape-inspired glazes that he developed himself (check out the matte blue glaze, an exquisite rich sapphire). Nearly 30 years and tons of clay later, Wilson has no regrets for having made Chatham his potter’s home. “To be able to take a walk around Morris Island, or go out surfing, this part of the Cape is such an absolutely gorgeous place,” says Wilson says. “What more could you want?” Maybe a hand-crafted sea turtle mug in matte blue?

Chatham Stoneware, 1550 Main St., Chatham, 508-348-5389

Chatham Pottery

Jade and Paul Schuyler, seen here, co-own Chatham Pottery with Margaret Grey, Jade’s mother.

For close to three decades, the owners of Chatham Pottery have been firing up their kilns to produce Cape-inspired stoneware treasures for visitors and locals alike. Using three methods of production—hand thrown, slip cast and ram pressed—the studio, located in the same building as the retail shop, is abuzz with activity, transforming clay into magnificent mugs, wine caddies and platters for its bustling store and online shop, as well as for numerous wholesale partners throughout New England. Margaret Grey, who co-owns the business with her daughter and son-in-law, Jade and Paul Schuyler, created the shop’s signature hydrangea pattern, which she hand paints using a sponge-painting technique she developed. “Everyone knows my mom’s hydrangea pattern,” says Jade Schuyler. “It’s very popular.” Among the many other designs, standout favorites include duotone color combinations, as well as the cheerful beach rose and the dreamy white floral patterns. Jade, who grew up working in the family business, explains that they use eight glazes, with some variations. Recently, they added a unique seafoam pattern to their collection, available in stunning deep blue or green with a frothy cream trim effect. During a recent visit to Chatham Pottery’s studio, Jade offered a close-but-not-too-close look at their enormous gas-fired kiln, which was in the process of cooling from its peak temperature of 2,300 degrees, a temperature that ensures strong, durable stoneware.  “Every time you open a kiln, especially a glaze kiln—full of recently glazed pieces—it’s like Christmas,” says Jade. “It’s always exciting to see how things turn out.”

Chatham Pottery, 2058 Main St., Chatham, 508-430-2191

Main Street Pottery

Barbara Parent in her studio and retail shop, Main Street Pottery.

With her combined studio and shop located in the Colonial Building in downtown Chatham, Barbara Parent of Main Street Pottery offers customers the unique opportunity to witness artistry at work as she throws pots on her wheel in full view of shoppers. Adding to the experience and the allure of the shop and its handsome stoneware pieces, Parent’s handcrafted potter’s wheel is an attraction unto itself. “This is my prized possession,” says Parent. “It’s unusual, because no companies make them.” Parent, who opened her shop in 1994, demonstrates how she uses her leg and foot to manually power the historical “Leach” treadle wheel, keeping her upper body still, while simultaneously working the clay with her hands. “I feel like I’m part of the machine,” says Parent, “which gives the whole process more life. I just love it.” Behind a partition in the back of the shop, Parent’s compact studio space is carefully arranged to accommodate her one-woman production, including a well-insulated electric kiln that she fires to 2,300 degrees to achieve the lasting durability that are hallmarks of her artisanal stoneware. Parent uses three glazes, a palette of blue, gray and white, and produces hearty but surprisingly lightweight pieces, many decorated with a simple yet sophisticated scallop design. Customer favorites include patterned wine caddies, mugs, berry bowls and chowder bowls (available in two sizes—with handles, of course!). “Looking at a chowder bowl, people will say ‘Oh, my—it’s so big—who would need that?’” Parent recalls with a giggle. “And in their next breath: ‘We’ll take two!’”

Main Street Pottery, 645C Main St., Chatham, 508-945-0128