Talking Rock Pottery owners Heather and Jason Poole crack open the mold of a steer skull made from liquid clay. The Pooles offer paint-your-own bisque pottery, wheel-throwing and sculpting supplies, birthday parties and kiln rental.
We’ve all seen them at grandma’s house; the painted ceramic Christmas trees with the illuminated plastic pegs, or the flour and sugar canisters that resemble giant mushrooms, embellished in rusty oranges and browns.
Prior to glazing and firing, these potent memories many of us have are called “bisque,” or stark-white, unglazed pottery.
Heather and Jason Poole, owners of Talking Rock Pottery, are tapping into those memories with their house-made cornucopia of white bisque wear, from giant German steins to frolicking dolphins and miniature gnomes that line shelves in the front of their store off Hwy 515 just north of Walmart.
But the Pooles are taking their pottery business beyond the paint-your-own model, where they invite children for birthday parties or individuals who want to try their hand at glazing, to a multi-faceted operation that services the dabbler, the crafter, and the fine arts potter and sculptor as well.
“As we started researching this I didn’t realize the history,” Jason said, who explained that his wife Heather is a wheel-throwing potter with a dream of making her passion a full-time gig. “As we started looking we saw that there were many who were into bisque. Then we found out this was an older business model. It became really popular in the 70s and 80s. I can’t tell you how many people have walked in and said this is like being at grandma’s house; a walk down memory lane.
The pottery shop the Pooles purchased their inventory from was a few decades old, so many of their molds are called “legacy” molds, which bisque companies don’t produce anymore.
“But we’re buying newer things as well,” Jason said, “including things that boys would like too, like trucks or dragons. A lot of what we purchased, we found, is really kind of girly.”
One shelf in the back is home to pottery lamp kits, other kits that transform fired pieces into music boxes, over 30 years worth of glazes, and boxes upon boxes of other pottery accoutrements.
Jason walked me back to the workshop, where four kilns stand waiting to fire “green” molded plaster into its final form before glaze can be applied. Liquid clay called “slip” is poured into molds and left to set up.
“It’s kind of the consistency of a milkshake,” Jason said as he opened one of over 500 molds in his and his wife’s inventory.
After letting the piece sit, he said, you open the mold and let it air dry for a few days.
“When it first comes out it’s still soft,” Jason said, demonstrating how easy a green piece of pottery is to break by cracking off an edge. “You can still scratch it with a nail, and the color is much darker.”
After firing at well over 1,000 degrees the piece turns almost glass-like and is ready for glazing.
For birthday parties kids select a piece of bisque to paint, and are given plenty of time to flex their creative muscles. Individuals can purchase bisque and paint at the studio or take the piece home to paint. Heather said you can purchase bisque online, but that much of the ware sold on the Internet comes from China and oftentimes has impurities that will ruin a piece during firing.
“I remember an aunt of mine was real big into bisque,” Heather said, who was introduced to wheel-thrown pottery in college while she and Jason were dating. “It was real big starting in the 70s, but then it was more like a class structure, where you’d do start to finish, including the molding and firing. Here the grunt work is done. You just sit down and paint it.”
But if you’re like Heather and just need materials for your own wheel-thrown pottery, the Pooles say they can accommodate, and any potter or sculptor in the area knows that the closest retail shop is down in Atlanta or north to Knoxville.
“The wheel-thrown and sculpting side of my store came out of my own needs, really,” Heather said. “I had to drive so far to get my materials, or order them and pay so much for shiping clay that it was just crazy.”
So the Pooles sell clay, of which they now have 6,000 pounds in stock, glazes, Stroke & Coat, and Kimper tools.
“We’ve got the supplies for what I guess you would call more fine arts pottery, but I think the bisque and craft is every bit as important,” Heather said. “That’s the nice thing about having it as a resource because you can test the waters without having to buy everything.
“An artistic outlet is very important, too. It’s therapeutic to sit down and work on something and get lost in the creative process.”
The Pooles are also offering their kiln space for rental to local potters and are considering renting out studio space at their store.
“We’ve got two sons, seven and nine, and we’re working full time jobs outside of this,” Jason said. “Our sons come here in the evenings, which is what the ping pong table is for, so we can have some time to think, but they are very excited about starting a family business.”
Talking Rock Pottery is located at 35 Hidden Creek Road - Suite 109, one mile north of Walmart on Hwy 515.
You can also follow them on Facebook.