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Local artist takes to the wheel

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By Katie Hogin

When Kingston resident Larry Gabbard sits down at the potter’s wheel, there’s no telling what might come of it.

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Each technique offers something different. Glaze, temperature and clay all play their parts in the methodical and creative process. The possibilities seem endless.

Samples of his creativity are being featured at the Kingston Public Library through the rest of the month.

Gabbard is a retired accountant who worked for The Cincinnati Enquirer for 30 years before relocating to Kingston in 1999. He retired a second time last May from Bechtel Jacobs in Oak Ridge.

He started dabbling in clay in 2004, when a friend encouraged him to take a class at the Oak Ridge Art Center.

“He didn’t know how to play before he came to Tennessee,” his wife, Sandy, said. “He had all this pent-up creativity that he had never, ever tapped into.”

So what’s Gabbard’s preferred technique?

“I enjoy the results of Rakuing,” he said. “It’s more time consuming, but it’s my favorite … I’m more involved in the process.”

In that process, a much coarser clay is used, which Gabbard prefers. The kiln quickly heats the glazed piece at a temperature of 1,800-1,900 degrees.

The more typical bisque firing technique calls for a much lower temperature, but nearly 30 pieces can be fired at once. With Raku, however, the items are more fragile and not food-, microwave- or dishwasher-safe.

“You want it to look old,” he said, adding that he likes its rustic appeal.

Gabbard continues the Raku process rapidly placing the piece in a garbage can filled with dried sawdust or newspaper where glazes crackle and smoke fills the crack. Different chemicals along with organic matter, such as banana peels, sugar and horse hair, can add unique touches to the finished product.

About two weeks ago, he poured a second glaze over the glaze-covered pottery and let it run down the side. Since the second glaze was a lot cooler, it separated and created ripples. The surprise element is all part of the fun.

“I had no idea it was going to do that,” he said.

Squiggly lines on some of his artwork show where horse hair was placed upon the pottery while it was still hot, ingraining its charred ash. With no two pieces ever the same, Raku is ideal for experimentation.

“He enjoys the throwing, and he’s good at the throwing, but that’s just the road to get to the end result,” Sandy said.

Her husband added, “And then sometimes it’ll come out and you’ll think, ‘Oh my gosh, what was I thinking?’”

Those, along with damaged goods, are placed on his “rejects” shelf in his basement studio.

With his hobby, Gabbard also enjoys traveling to sell his work.

“I do a couple of shows a year to pay for my supplies, and that’s about it ... It pays for my classes. It keeps me in the green and it keeps inventory down,” he said. “After awhile, the house gets overflowed.”

What’s he looking forward to now? “I think I’m just going to enjoy my hobby and travel,” he said.