Where pots (and a cat) are thrown: The Flying Cat Studio is one of 20 Haywood County art studios that will host open house events this weekend

By Michael Beadle

If you’re lucky enough to visit the Flying Cat Studio just off U.S. 276 in Jonathan Creek, you might get a glimpse of Spike, the mischievous mixed breed cat who’s been known to paw on the switch that starts the potter’s wheel. Stepping on the spinning wheel, he’ll go flying into the air like a dizzy kid exiting a merry-go-round. Hence, the name of the studio.

This weekend as part of the 2nd Annual Haywood Open Studios Tour, Flying Cat Studio will be showcasing more than its feline version of the next “America’s Got Talent.” The working studio is home to four talented local potters — Susan Phillips, Kim Dryden, Kristen Wineland and J.R. Page — who are all graduates of Haywood Community College’s Production and Crafts program.

Phillips and Dryden started in the studio in the fall of 2002 after graduating from HCC, and took over a converted horse barn after a previous potter moved out of the space. Wineland, who graduated in ’05, and Page, who graduated in ’07, came along recently.

“Got new blood coming in all the time,” said Phillips, a former English teacher who took to pottery in retirement.

You might imagine cramped quarters and occasional spats with four potters working under the same roof, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. The Flying Cat Studio is an easy-going rustic haven in a countryside setting away from modern distractions where time seems meaningless and each potter creates at his or her own pace.

While some studios feature a single artist, who usually works in isolation, Phillips and her fellow potters at Fly Cat Studio enjoy the camaraderie and the chance to ask questions, offer suggestions, and think with others about which techniques work and which don’t.

“It’s really, really important to have somebody with you,” Phillips said.

“We never get bored,” says Page. “We’re always experimenting and doing things.”

Phillips, who lives in Dillsboro, comes in the morning and might leave by mid-afternoon while Wineland and Page live just down the road, so they might come in late in the mornings and stay into the evening. Dryden, meanwhile, lives and also works in Asheville, and comes in certain days of the week. In fact, there are no set hours, but there’s plenty of time to share stories and offer advice as they shape new pieces that will become distinctive plates, bowls, cups, jugs, mugs and teapots. They sell their work in local and regional galleries and use Web sites to showcase their pottery — www.pagepottery.com and www.kimdrydenpottery.com. The studio is also listed in the Craft Heritage Trails book put out by Handmade in America.

While they are all potters, each has his or her own style. Dryden, who is known for having a loose figurative form and rich earthy tones, uses three to four glazes to establish both a focal point and a glossy shine on her work.

In some of Page’s pieces, there’s a pronounced line that diagonally divides a plate or bowl into two distinct colors. Originally a graphic designer, he says he’s intrigued with the duality.

“I like to play with that and see what comes of it,” he adds.

Some of Wineland’s work takes on a whimsical nature inspired by the dancing teapots of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

Wineland likes to give each piece a little attitude.

“I don’t want them to be too much alike,” she says.

She’ll also add textures to a vase — a puzzle piece, a leaf, a shell impression or other found items.

Originally from Kentucky, Wineland grew up with horses and when one of her favorites died, she burned its hair onto one of her pots as a gesture of love and memory. This artistic expression turned into a business of creating urns for families, and now she and Page both create urns as part of their work with the studio.

Page, who grew up all over as part of a military family, came to HCC after graduating from Appalachian State University with a degree in graphic arts. He’d taken a pottery course as an elective in college and decided he loved getting his hands dirty.

Phillips, who taught for 30 years in Louisiana middle and high schools, came to pottery much later than her studio mates.

“Thank goodness for HCC,” she said. “I think it’s a true treasure for western North Carolina. That place is wonderful.”

Although originally waitlisted to get into the program, Phillips was amazed to find gracious, talented and caring instructors as well as a well-proven business approach woven into the artistic training.

“It was like a whole new vision of what college could be,” Phillips said.

She wound up teaching some classes and even served as an instructor for Page and Wineland.

Phillips is excited about becoming part of the countywide studios tour sponsored by the Haywood County Arts Council.

“We want to keep doing it if it really works out,” she said.

While working studios tend to be inherently messy places and pottery studios have their share of floor scraps and globs of clay here and there, the idea of the tour is for the public to see how art is created.

“There’ll be a working mess here,” Phillips joked.

The Haywood Open Studios Tour provides an opportunity for artists to educate the public about what it takes to produce a piece of artwork. In today’s gotta-have-now mentality, many people think a piece of handmade pottery can be designed, created and ready to order immediately.

“I think it’s a Wal-Mart mentality,” Phillips said. “It’s mass production, that’s what it is.”

And while a piece of pottery can be thrown and shaped in an hour, some clays need to sit for days in order to dry. Then, depending on the type of kiln size at a given studio, it could take a week or more to fill the kiln with pieces for firing. After that, the piece needs proper time for glazing and re-firing. Even then, slight variations in atmosphere or temperature within a kiln could cause a piece to explode or come out with a color or design much different than originally expected. Phillips calls those “happy surprises.” Glazes may not be consistent, she explains, since mining companies may get their minerals from different mines or from different veins in the earth. Thus, it’s virtually impossible to have two identical pieces of handmade pottery.

To visit the Flying Cat Studio, take U.S. 276 north on Jonathan Creek Road in Haywood County and turn right on Utah Mountain Road. About a half-mile down this road, take a left on Windy Hill Road. The studio will be the first right up a hill. For more information, call 828.507.1305.

Participating artists

Downtown/Western Loop

Gallery 86, Haywood County Arts Council

Grace Cathey, Sculpture Garden & Gallery

Diannah Beauregard, Studio Thirty Three

Dianne Lee, The Stained Glass Bungalow

Dodi Lovett, Studio D

Steve & Sandy Lampl, Lampl Home Studio


Lilian Parks, Lil Parks Studio

Rebecca Owen, Jennye Rebecca Studio

Desmond Saurez, Sabbath Day Woods

Karen Bell, Great Silkie Design

Production Crafts Dept., Haywood Community College


Terance Painter, Different Drummer

Dennis Pitter, Pitter the Potter

Susan Phillips, Kim Dryden, Kristen Wineland, & J.R. Page, Flying Cat Studio

Mari Conneen, Mari Conneen Studio

Sheree Sorrells, Whitewoven Studio

Kaaren Stoner, Kaaren Stoner Design Studio

Roy DuVerger, Roy DuVerger Furniture

Gregory Paolini

For maps and more information, pick up a Studio Tour brochure at Gallery 86 on Main St., Waynesville.

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