Painting on 200 Years of Louisville’s History

Free time on my weekends has become a chance to explore. For so long, I’ve been attached to my favorite spots in the Louisville area, but doing a column on so many of our notable locations has broadened my understanding of where I live. Last Saturday, without the time to commit to the Highland’s Saint Patrick’s festivities, I bypassed the closed-off roads, making my way to another special place in this city, which I had never visited.

While it has fallen under different owners and titles over its 200 year history in this city, Louisville Stoneware remains a steadfast producer of our country’s great ceramics, attracting artists and enthusiasts of the craft to indulge in its facilities.

platesIt’s historic significance in the production of containment devices for companies shipping out the vulnerable products from this area, has maintained modern significance in its preservation of fully functional and decorative items made by gifted local artists.

When going through the building’s entrance on Stoneware Alley, I made my way down a ramp into their large store area, which featured gorgeous dining sets, vases, garden decorations and local canned food products. Along with all their merchandise for sale, they do custom work, which I can imagine being a grand gift to anyone desiring objects with a unique touch. They are also prepared to accommodate private and corporate events with catering.

pyoThey offer a factory tour where you can watch all the stages of the stoneware making process. Stoneware is defined by the extreme temperature a kiln reaches to solidify specific regional clay types. I had the opportunity to walk through their museum area, where some of their artist’s finest pieces are featured, including some odds and ends produced over the last two centuries.

At the end of the tour, I took part in their “paint your own pottery” work section. Since I’m about to move into a new home, I took an address plaque and started what I thought would be the quick painting of a four-digit number using the mild calligraphy skills I attained in a letterforms class years ago. It wasn’t so simple.

The “green” paint I used is essentially a fast-drying colorless substance that doesn’t easily allow for long smooth strokes and doesn’t get its color until it’s been fired. I committed myself to achieving something decent, but I won’t know the results until later in the week. I am in awe of the experts who do this for a living, and the children who surrounded me in the workstation who were having a great carefree time with this craft.

David Mahoney, one of Louisville Stoneware’s leading designers in their painted pottery, is responsible for some of the most popular patterns sold in the shop, especially the dark green swirls on the tableware, known as “Graffiti.”

stoneware extWhile there, I was not surprised to learn that lots of people visit after having a little brunch at the excellent restaurant across from the building, known as The Café. If you haven’t been, I recommend it. Their food is delicious and it would be worth including it in your visit to the factory.

I’ve always been artistically inclined, but I have some strange neurosis related to getting my hands dirty. When I was a kid, I liked to paint and draw, but I developed an aversion to sculpture. Just recently, I’ve been getting over this problem by putting my hands in flour when teaching myself how to bake. The same goes for dirt, while learning to garden.

I don’t know if I’m ready for muddy clay yet, but I have a fondness for the work of those who have made it their profession. I think handmade items, ranging from tableware to sculpture, have the character that helps to set the atmosphere when vitalizing a home. And it is important to recognize a local industry, which keeps this alive. VT

To find an extensive history on the factory, a catalog of their merchandise, gift certificates, or to schedule a group visit or event, visit louisvillestoneware.com.