For years, Liz Vigoda had a pottery studio in downtown Albany where she would regularly host open houses for customers and the curious alike to check out her work.
But the building was eventually sold, and Vigoda now works out of her home in Delmar. She doesn’t have room for a showroom there, so she decided to take some of her pieces to her friend Ulla Sattinger’s studio in Slingerlands, which is one of the featured stops on this year’s Albany Saratoga Pottery Trail.
The trail is really open year round; anyone is welcome to visit any of the studios on the trail whenever time permits. But for the last five years, the potters who take part have come together on a common weekend to showcase their pottery and offer demonstrations and refreshments, all for free.
We want people to stay and talk and look around, said Nancy Niefield, who owns Two Spruce Pottery on Jay Street in Schenectady.
The studios will be open on Saturday and Sunday, April 26 and 27, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. There are seven stops in total, ranging as far north as Schuylerville and including two studios in Troy. A map and directions are available on www.albanysaratogapotterytrail.com; visitors can also download a coupon to use at the studios during the weekend.
Niefield has been part of the trail since its inception and said she and the other potters who founded it wanted to grow it slowly. For the first three years, they offered a studio `passport` that visitors could have stamped at each of the five studios taking part. Those who visited every studio were entered into a raffle, with the potters supplying pieces and prizes.
`There were more than 100 people who did all five stops,` Nieman said.
Because the trail has expanded, organizers opted for the coupon this year instead of a raffle, thinking it might be tough (although certainly not impossible) for people to visit all of the stops. Each studio determined how much the coupon would be worth and to what it would apply.
Vigoda likes the idea of the coupon and the trail attracting new people to see her pieces. At her studio downtown, she had a `big group of loyal followers,` but she didn’t often see new faces at her open house.
`That’s one of the reasons we joined,` she said.
Jim Sankowski, who owns Ballston Lake Pottery and like Niefield has been part of the trail since it began, thinks newcomers will be surprised at the quality and quantity available in the area.
`Everyone is talking about buying locally,` he said. `This is a way to get people to come out and see what’s in their area.`
He said the trail highlights the `personal connection` that the local potters offer, as opposed to shopping at nationwide chains.
`We’re trying to bring back the joy of shopping,` he said. `People get to see right where the work is being done.`
Sankowski, who has entertained visitors from as far away as North Carolina and Boston in years past, has been making pottery for more than 30 years. He went to art school and did studio work in clay, which turned into a lifelong passion.
He’s grateful for the chance to share that passion with the other potters on the trail and said they’re not a competitive bunch. They figure that sharing exposure and visitors is only going to pay off for everyone in the end, he said.
Niefield and Vigoda embrace that community spirit, too. Vigoda teaches classes at her studio in Delmar, including classes geared to kids. Niefield teaches at Union College, where she enjoys offering students the kind of respite she felt when she was in school and got to spend time working on pottery instead of writing papers.
`I find it very relaxing,` she said.
The funny thing is, Niefield balked when told she had to take a pottery class in college, noting that she’d already taken one in high school. But soon she was a regular in the pottery studio.
`I just fell in love with it and spent all my time there,` she said.
She’s eager to share that love with visitors this weekend, showcasing her functional (dinnerware, lamps, mugs) pottery as well as decorative pieces known as Raku. She’s also looking forward to introducing people to the guest potter at her studio, a Swiss man named Juergen Meier who now lives in Schenectady and builds vessels that stand several feet high.
`He’ll be making some vessels here in my window,` she said.
Other studios will also host guest potters for the weekend. Details can be found on the Web site.“