WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTOS | OTIS POTTERY
Otis Pottery is a mainstay in the art community of East Jordan – and to think it came to be because of an ad in a magazine read on the other side of the world almost 29 years ago!
David and June Otis were living and teaching in Germany while raising their three children. They had been toying with the idea of returning to the US to create art. Having spent 20 years in Germany, many of those spent developing a love of pottery, they worked to create their personal styles. As it happened, David was thumbing through an issue of Ceramics Monthly magazine and came across an ad that read “Farmhouse, 30 acres, pottery studio, good area for art fairs. East Jordan, Michigan.” He made a call requesting photos, which led to discussions, and before they knew it, the family was on the move. The Otis family arrived in Michigan in January 1988 for their first look at the property and decided to make it permanent in March. Neither David nor June had ever even been to Michigan before that first look, but they felt an immediate connection to the artists of the area and saw the potential for the property, studio, Otis Pottery and surrounding community. Twenty-nine years later, they both agree it was a wonderful decision. “We feel so fortunate to have been able to spend our lives doing the thing we love—creating art,” said David. “The early years were hard, and it hasn’t been easy, but we count it a privilege, and we are so grateful to this community that has made it possible for us to continue our work.”
David and June’s youngest son, Andrew, was drawn to follow in his parents’ footsteps. After graduating from Hope College with majors in German and art, he decided to return home and study as an apprentice under his father’s watchful eye. David says it was immediately obvious that Andrew had a talent for pottery and could throw pots just as well as he threw a basketball in high school.
Each of the artists possesses a captivating individual style. June, a first-generation Japanese-American, brings a strong Asian influence to her work; her love of kimono fabric designs is creatively woven into her hand-built wall hangings and framed pieces. David enjoys the “production” line of pottery that he has developed over the years, which includes mainstays such as berry bowls, pie plates, casseroles, mugs, and teapots. He also enjoys painting on pieces to give them a unique look. Each year, they strive to add interesting new pieces for those annual visitors who walk in saying “What do you have new for us this year?”
While Andrew brings new forms and surface treatments into the production line, he also focuses on large vessels. Stunningly large, I might add. The vessels range from three to six feet tall. These decorative vessels, or vases, are made to be displayed inside or out. His work is used as everything from fully functioning water features to the focal point in a great room or grand foyer. These impressive vessels are created in Andrew’s favorite earth tones, with his mother’s Asian influence being very apparent. They are a definite must-see to appreciate this kind of artwork.
All of the pottery at the gallery is fired at stoneware temperatures, which allows for full functionality. The pieces are microwave, oven, and dishwasher safe.
One of their most popular products, standing the test of time, is the teapot. David truly enjoys creating pots of all sizes, shapes, and colors. From the spout to the handle to the pot itself, he savors the process from start to finish, allowing the clay to emerge into its final form. Another steadfast piece is the bowl. Yes, the bowl. David often says “everyone has room for another bowl,” and the gallery has a large collection to choose from.
The Otis family welcomes guests to their studio and retail gallery space all year long, seven days a week. You can also view many of their pieces online, at their Facebook page or on their website.