From the outside, you’d never know the red barn tucked behind a grey cape-style home on High Street in Hingham, Mass. is anything but a storage space for gardening tools and car parts. But once past the threshold, a space meant to breed creativity and foster a passion unfolds.
On the back wall, two industrial kilns sit waiting to fire clay shaped on one of several pottery wheels. To the right, rows of well-loved books about glazing sit below several dozen pieces of finished work and cups full of paint brushes sit on a large window sill. On the right wall, bowls, vases and plates in varying stages of done-ness wait to be finished, and all around are signs of a hobby that took Michelle Green’s life by storm.
“I just love it,” she said. “I fell in love with clay. It’s hard to explain.”
After a career teaching special education and social studies on the South Shore, that love of pottery ultimately inspired Green to retire and open High Street Studios. It’s been 11 years since she took the leap, and she can talk for hours about the many ways it changed her day-to-day life, re-sparked her love of teaching and became a therapeutic way to spend her time.
“When you’re throwing, it’s thought provoking, you stop and think, it forces patience,” she said. “The glazing is beautiful and creative and you ultimately figure out what you’re doing and it’s all meditative.”
Green spends eight to 10 hours everyday in her own “pottery barn,” and before the coronavirus pandemic she was not only making her own pieces but teaching class sizes of three to four people at a time. Her studio includes members who can use the equipment to create and she teaches pottery at summer camps and ceramics at Derby Academy.
“I get such an incredible amount of joy from teaching,” she said. “I know so many kids who think they don’t have a creative bone in their body, that it’s just something other people do. But then they pick up a lump of clay and make a flower or a bowl and to them it’s magic. And it is magic. It just is.”
While she’s clearly passionate about teaching the art form to others, Green says she’ll never truly stop being a student herself. She’s quick to admit that her proprietary glaze mixes exist through years of trial and error and she’s dropped still-wet bowls, shattered nearly-finished pieces and had painstaking works of art break during the firing process.
“It’s an amazing thing, and there is always so much to learn,” she said. “I learn something new everyday, and that’s really important to me.”
Not only is Green a passionate potter, but she’s a rabid consumer of other people’s work.
Hand-crafted pottery isn’t the cheapest way to fill a kitchen cabinet or decorate a home, but she says there’s something special about knowing you’re holding in your hand — or eating out of — a true piece of art.
“If you need 10 plates for $10, do that, it’s OK. But then go to a gallery and buy one plate for $40 and use it, look at it, put it in your window,” she said. “Buy something you can look at and enjoy and take pride in owning.”
Creating a functional, beautiful piece of art is not the instantly-satisfying process most of us remember from elementary school. If she works efficiently and nothing goes wrong in the process, it still takes Green more than a week to make a piece. Depending on the weather, freshly-molded wet clay can take anywhere from one to five days to dry. From there, it’s fired overnight in a kiln, glazed and fired for another day or two before it’s ready to go, a process that can easily take 7 to 10 days to complete.
Green has two main pottery lines that are consistent despite her regular experimentation. One is the best-selling ocean blue collection she’s been making for the last five years and she recently started to experiment with a black-and-white “sgraffito” line. Sgraffito pottery is made by scratching through the top layer of clay to reveal a lower layer in a contrasting color, and Green has spent the last year trying out different shapes and designs.
Right now, she’s trying to incorporate a bird pattern and displaying the might-as-well-try-it attitude that she says has led to some of her biggest breakthroughs.
“It’s coming out OK, actually, so we’ll see. If it doesn’t work, that’s why my trash can is so big,” she said with a laugh.
Green sells her work online at thehighstreetstudios.com and at Local Pottery in Norwell. She will soon also sell work at Kindred Lifestyle Boutique in Hingham. Prices vary depending on the piece, but most mugs sell for $28 to $30 and bowls are in the $30 range.
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.