When you take a drink of your steamy hot coffee in the morning, pay special attention to the mug you’re drinking from. Chances are if the mug is handmade, it is made with creativity, love and a unique set of steps that takes many years to master.
Cumberland Gap resident Jim Thompson has been working with pottery since 2000 and is still perfecting his art.
Thompson is originally from upstate New York and moved to Kentucky to study elementary education at Union College. He graduated in 1973 and took a job teaching in Harlan for 31 years.
While in Harlan, he became friends with a woman who had a studio at her home including a kiln and a pottery wheel. He learned from instructional videos and help from her while using her studio as his work space.
After his first experience throwing clay, he was hooked.
“When you first start and you get the clay on the wheel, as it’s spinning and you’re working it, it kind of just rises up and starts to form into what you want it to be. I really like that part because it’s almost like magic,” said Thompson.
He has also learned a Japanese technique called Raku from a potter in Asheville, North Carolina.
“It’s important to have a support system, people who are encouraging and learning together,” said Thompson. “It helps because it’s hard and when you start, you start small — very small and have to work your way up from there, so don’t expect to be throwing great big vases or beautiful bowls or anything like that at the beginning.”
Thompson begins by throwing a lump of clay onto a flat wheel which he spins. While it is spinning, he uses his hands to form the clay into the desired shape — bowl, mug, vase. It is then put into a kiln which is fired to a temperature between 1400 and 2300 degrees. This is called bisque pottery. After cooling, it is painted with a glaze and reheated to seal the glaze. After the final firing and cooling, it is ready to use.
His studio, One OAK Pottery is named for “One Of A Kind.” He said he chose this name because it’s difficult to make two of the same.
“There’s a sense of accomplishment when you finish a piece. It took me a long time to actually make something that was worth anything —lots of trial and error, finding out what I did and didn’t like,” said Thompson.
His pottery is now given to winners of local marathons and races.
He also enjoys reading in his free time.
Reach Kelsey Gerhardt at 606-302-9093 or on Twitter @kgerhardtmbdn.