The Potter’s Garden

A Morgantown artist leads the way through a world of clay and nature.

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Anna Brown leaves a lasting impression—in clay and with people. Her domain: a garden maze lush with greenery, which she uses in the organic designs for her business, Brown’s Creations in Clay.

On one Sunday afternoon, despite rain, the tiny, talented artist leads me in sure, swift steps over round, “tree trunk” pavers, across a small footbridge, and into a gazebo. As we reach the heart of her garden, the cheerful potter drowns out a cloudburst with lively conversation, making an otherwise dreary day pleasant.

All around her, Anna discusses herbs as if they are members of staff. “They’re all working plants,” she says. Every feathery frond, curved seedling, and curly sprig is used to enhance her work: clay wind chimes, cookie presses, pitchers, and dinnerware.

This West Virginia woman has a supportive husband, Lyle, who helps her wash, dry, and dehydrate herbs and ramps to be used in herb vinegars, garlic-infused oils, and pesto, sold along with her pottery. She says she learned early on how to grow her own plants. “My mother was my biggest encourager,” she says. “She led me with praise and constructive criticism. When I was young, I had a plot in her garden, raised my own plants, and I loved them all.”

Little Anna’s hands used to keep busy with tiny potatoes and toothpicks. “That’s how I learned to create sculptures. I would gladly sit and work to avoid naptime,” says the now grown artist.

Self-taught and disciplined, Anna’s hands are seldom still. With her inventory filling orders placed by Tamarack, Old Stone House, The Greenbrier, and other craftsman shops like WV LIVING Marketplace, the potter’s work is renowned. “I’m experimenting now with a Japanese Wu plant,” she says, as if letting me in on a secret.

Inside, Anna shows me the inner-workings of her Morgantown enterprise. She hands me several pieces of pottery—they looked so familiar. One had a holly leaf sketched in the side. Wasn’t that the same treasured soap dish I use at Christmas? Within the well of a plate, Anna rubs her finger over a blackberry impression. “I couldn’t use an actual blackberry in clay to get this effect, so I used a precision tool to duplicate each round indention a blackberry cluster would make.” She demonstrates how a huge Hosta leaf transforms a large platter into a decorative serving vessel. Sweet peas’ curly tendrils create fanciful loops when embedded in the earthenware. Anna makes and sells a variety of cups, mugs, pitchers, and platters, and custom creations are available by commission. Cardboard boxes, stacked floor to ceiling in a corner, are filled and ready to ship.

Small, heart-shaped dishes, square trays, and whimsical chewing-gum holders are popular—The Greenbrier has purchased many as gifts for conventioneers. Anna says figurines such as pigs and chickens were the precursors to “the more utilitarian things I make now.” Iron, cobalt, and chromium are some of the minerals she uses to color her pieces.

 

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