Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pennsylvania Road Trip - Eldreth Pottery Factory Tour

Entrance to the Eldreth gift store and factory
The next stop on our Pennsylvania Road Trip was a visit to the Oxford, Pennsylvania location of Eldreth Pottery.  This required a drive of only a few miles from our last stop at Herr's Snack Foods, in Nottingham, PA.

 Our family's retail pretzel store sells various stoneware pieces having pretzel artwork on them, made for us by the folks here at Eldreth, so I was interested to see this place and meet these artists.

A very unique little shop, it's located in rural Amish farm country and is surrounded by panoramic views of rolling farmland, tilled by teams of horses.

Eldreth Pottery produces traditional and contemporary salt-glazed stoneware and redware pottery, which the store clerk explained to us upon our arrival.  She showed us finished pieces of both types and explained the difference in the processes.  We learned that in addition to being food safe, each piece is safe for use in the microwave, oven and dishwasher.

Our "tour" was self guided and very pleasant and laid back.  The clerk started it by taking us to meet the potter who was forming crocks on the turning potter's wheel.  We watched him working, and he very kindly explained what he was doing and how his various tools were used.

He showed us some crocks he had already formed that morning that were on the shelves, waiting to be baked.  He also told us what remained on his work list for the rest of that day.

After watching the potter for a while, we were free to look at any of the pieces on the racks in that area.  Most of those pieces were hand turned or hand built, had been baked, and were ready to be painted.  We saw quite a variety of pieces.

Nearby we visited and chatted with three painters.  We watched as these skilled artists hand painted decorative designs on the pieces.  Watching them work, it was easy to see how each piece has a unique, one of a kind character.  This girl is applying a winter pattern that she designed to this item.  The paint she is using resembles a brown pudding.  When it is baked and glazed, it will look like the small sample in the lower left of the photo.

Many of the Eldreth Pottery pieces are made by another process called slip casting.  Clay is put into molds to make this type of pottery instead of using the pottery wheel.  In the next room, we saw many holiday pieces that have been made using molds and slip casting.

This photo of four Santa pieces shows the progression of how the pieces are made.  The second Santa from the left has just been formed and the clay is still wet.  The next Santa has been baked, and the two end pieces are painted and ready for sale.

When I mentioned to the slip casting artists my surprise at how many holiday pieces were on their shelves, they said they are working on them throughout the entire year.  Here are some more Santa pieces, some dried, and some painted.

Here are some smaller molds we saw in the slip casting area:

Other unique items in the factory are simply built from scratch by hand, or use a combination of processes.  I think these mugs are amusing.

Interestingly enough, while we were there, the artists were drying some of the pottery pretzels they make for us to sell in our retail store at Christmas.  Customers purchase them as Christmas tree ornaments/souvenirs.  Also, I met Rose, the artist who has painted many of the pretzel designs on the gray and blue stoneware bowls we sell in our pretzel retail store.  Every piece of Eldreth stoneware is signed by the artist who paints the design on it.

Next, the kiln operator took us to see the three large kilns.  He explained how he tries to maximize each bake, by fitting as many pieces in at one time as possible.

One of the three Eldreth kilns
In addition to loading and unloading the kilns for baking, the kiln operator has the task of completing any necessary repairs to these very old ovens.

I must remark here that I was so impressed by the friendliness of the employees there at Eldreth.  They were all very willing to share their areas of expertise, and to ensure we had a pleasant visit throughout their facility.  It seems, and they said as much, that they all enjoy their work, and other than one new artist who was only there on his second day, they've all been working there for many years.

Finally, we made our way back to the gift shop where we had started our tour.  My photos just show a very small sampling of the many beautiful pieces we saw.

I could have spent a lot of money in this shop, but that would've defeated our plan for this Pennsylvania Road Trip to be a cheap vacation.  So, I kept my wallet shut.

I make no promises, though, that I won't be checking the Eldreth Pottery website at some point in the future for a little shopping.  Our pleasant tour was an enjoyable and eye-opening experience.

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