Susan Horowitz shapes a vase. She bought her vest in 1975 at Pennell’s Clothing Store in Brunswick, and recently found it buried away. She now refers to it as her “Mister Rogers’ wool.” Every day, she comes into the studio, puts it on and goes to work. (KELLI PARK PHOTO)
There is magic in the motion that spins the wheel at Ash Cove Pottery in Harpswell, where lifelong potter Susan Horowitz builds more than just clay pots. She builds connections and community, near and far, with her foot on the pedal and her kiln fired up.
Horowitz is one of 60 Maine artists who will open their doors for the Maine Pottery Tour on Saturday, April 30, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, May 1, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pottery wheel demonstrations at Ash Cove Pottery are scheduled for 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Horowitz throws pots with an ease that suggests an extension of her being, having mastered her craft through 50 years of experience.
“What does it take to be an expert? It’s knowing what you have to be attentive to and what you can let go,” said Horowitz. “If you’re really good at something, you don’t have to focus on every part the same way. If you’re not an expert, then you don’t know what the most important parts are. An expert can let things fly.”
“The Japanese said that it takes seven years to learn how to center clay. Your body is said to regenerate every seven years. I think it takes that time to inhabit your head, your body,” said Horowitz. “To do it without consciously having to pay attention is like not thinking about your foot on the pedal when you’re driving. It’s ingrained in me. It’s a matter of time and repetition more than anything else.”
Five years ago, Horowitz experienced a surge of success at her studio on the shore of Ash Point Cove, where she’s been throwing pots for the past 37 years, after a brief mention of her clay dinghies in Coastal Living magazine. She received 200 orders for dinghies in the first eight days, which launched the phase she now refers to as “dinghy mania.”
Within one year, she sold 600 dinghies from her website alone. She now sells an average of 800-900 dinghies each year. With the initial funds from “dinghy mania,” Horowitz indulged in the purchase of a generator, a long-overdue replacement for a broken glass door, and a new roof. She also contributed to the town’s heating assistance fund, one of many causes she supports.
Horowitz attributes much of her creative success to timing. “One of the threads that seems to be running through (creative success) is that somebody met somebody at just the right time in some unprovoked, unplanned event that turned things around,” said Horowitz, who recently received a phone call from a major insurance company ordering 35 dinghies for gift baskets at a corporate retreat in Maine this summer. “A lot of it comes down to luck and chance and seizing the moment.”
Horowitz’s definition of success, however, is more than just “dinghy mania.” She hopes the Maine Pottery Tour will bring more recognition to the presence of craftspeople in Maine and present opportunities to educate the public about the role of clay throughout human civilization.
“Almost everything that we know about old civilizations comes from clay. Once it’s fired, it’s there!” said Horowitz. She has a collection of clay handle fragments with fingerprints on them. The pieces come from Caesarea, Israel, and are more than 1,000 years old. “People who make things show the continuity between the ancient and the present. People have been doing this since the beginning of time.”
Susan Horowitz displays a bowl next to her kiln. (KELLI PARK PHOTO)
Horowitz takes pride in bringing the past into the present in ways that resonate with individuals of all ages seeking connection.
“Look at what’s happened with Maine Maple Sunday!’ said Horowitz, who sees the Maine Pottery Tour as a similar educational experience for children and adults. “I remember going to Maine Maple Sunday with my daughter 20 years ago, trying to find some little shack in someone’s yard, and there were like four or five people. And now it’s huge!”
“I’ve had people who have been my friends for years and have never seen what I do and they’re amazed. It’s like magic,” said Horowitz. “You’re taking a lump of dirt and transforming it. How did that happen?”
“People have lost a lot of touch with how things are made. When you make something with your hands, it’s very obvious,” said Horowitz. “It’s important to see that these things in our lives are not anonymous. They speak to some part of you. There’s a connection between me and my hands and my being and whoever uses the object.”
That connection extends beyond the walls of the studio to the far reaches of the globe, from farms in developing countries to orphanages in China to legal aid for immigrants to meals for Ukrainian refugees. Horowitz said that she was inspired years ago by the Portland woman who introduced the AIDS quilt. She realized that, while she couldn’t stop working, she could make contributions and educate people while working.
A display of clay dishes at Ash Cove Pottery. (KELLI PARK PHOTO)
Defying a stereotype of craftspeople as “old hippies out in the woods not contributing to society,” Horowitz has, over the years, contributed to a variety of local and global organizations with donations of pottery and a percentage of sales from her Pots for a Cause initiative. She also devotes time and energy to community efforts.
In honor of the 36th anniversary of Ash Cove Pottery in 2021, Horowitz raised $1,200 for the Portland-based Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project by creating and selling 36 pots featuring the number 36, which is significant in Judaism.
The benefit “was right around when the boosters were coming out and Passover. The story of Passover is, remember, you were strangers in a strange land, and be good to the stranger, and I felt like we were coming out of this crisis,” said Horowitz. “Part of Passover is to celebrate this rebirth. The number 18 is the number of life, and 36 is double life.”
This year, Horowitz will create sunflower bowls to benefit World Central Kitchen, which is feeding refugees in and around Ukraine.
While visiting a relative who was working for the Peace Corps in Dominica, an island nation in the Caribbean Sea, Horowitz met with one of the last members of the Carib Indians, who told her that creativity must be taught in order to foster resilience and innovation. That sentiment has long since come to define the emphasis on education at Ash Cove.
“You have to be inspired to use your head and your hands to make something. What’s going to solve all of the problems in the world doesn’t exist yet. If we’re going to come up with solutions, we’re going to need to be creative,” said Horowitz. “If a kid comes here and says, ‘I can make that,’ then that’s a step toward inspiring people to become part of the solution.”
“It’s not just about making pots,” said Horowitz. “It’s about making connections with people.”
Freelance journalist Kelli Park has contributed to The Times Record, The Working Waterfront, Edible Maine and The Coastal Journal. A part-time college instructor and teacher of English to speakers of other languages, she lives in Cundy’s Harbor with her son, Kieran.