Late on a Sunday afternoon, John Glick is in the middle of a lively conversation about his nearly 50 years as a professional potter - and even as he speaks, he's hard at work.
"I wish you could look through the telephone right now," he says. "I'm decorating a set of dinnerware that I'm making." Glick has been working out of his Farmington studio, Plum Tree Pottery
, since 1965, and at age 74 he still works 50-60 hours a week.
"It does not feel tiring," Glick says. "I will wake up at four in the morning to draw things that my mind is worked up about. Yes, there's some physical fatigue, but the mind is going all the time."
Growing up in Detroit, Glick's can't recall a time when he didn't have his hands in clay. He remembers playing with clay as a child in the foundations of new houses on his block. Developing a more technical appreciation for crafts in high school, he earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts as a ceramics major at Wayne State University
in 1960. He continued to study ceramics at Cranbrook Art Academy
, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts in 1962.
After Glick completed his graduate studies, he was drafted into the Army, an experience that would only strengthen his passion for his craft. As a radio operator in West Germany, he found himself stationed about two hours away from the town of Höhr-Grenzhausen, the traditional center of German craft pottery. Glick visited the town regularly during his two years in the Army, learning from the potters, photographing their work, and then trying new techniques on a pottery wheel he'd built from old auto parts.
"My two years in the Army were not wasted at all," he says. "I'm sure that made my resolve to come back and start a pottery studio that much more concrete. I spent those two years doing what amounted to post-graduate work."
Glick began working as a potter in Farmington upon his return home in 1964, establishing his current studio location a year and a half later. The blossoming trend of art fairs at the time gave the first decade of Glick's career a crucial boost. In the early '70s he says he first began to realize that his work was attracting a major following.
"There was interest coming from galleries, who would see my work at an art fair or in the home of a collector," he says. "I began to see my work showing up in art exhibitions, occasionally an invitational. Maybe once a year, a piece was being purchased for a museum collection."
As Glick's reputation grew, he refocused his business. He quit the art-fair circuit in the early '80s and has since focused on selling out of his own showroom. Over the years, his work has appeared in numerous galleries and exhibitions, and he's sold pieces to museums from the Cranbrook Art Academy Museum
to the Smithsonian American Art Museum (http://americanart.si.edu/). But Glick says the most satisfying part of his business is his connection with individual supporters and collectors, many of whom have passed his work on to a new generation.
"I have works in museums, and that's wonderful," he says. "But my gratitude goes to that family connection, that family support. It makes me feel like being part of the craft movement is exactly where I need to be, and exactly where that dream as a young potter eventually took me."
Glick's work itself is utilitarian, but with a strong creative flair. Tableware - including plates, dishes, and a broad variety of drinking vessels - predominates among his work. His inventive use of glazing results in rich, earthy colors with an eye-catching shimmer. And unlike the uniformity of a traditional dinnerware set, each piece is truly one of a kind, warm and organic in its imperfection.
Laura Berkowitz of Fairbanks, Alaska, has amassed a collection of nearly 100 Glick pieces, which she's dubbed "The Far North Family."
"I've gotten quite a bit of pottery over my life, and his work - it is alive, it's a dance, it's harmony, it's rhythm, it's movement," she says. "It's sort of a symphony on your table. It's different from just pulling a CorningWare plate out. It's a connection with another human being."
In the studio, Glick designs and works with numerous custom-built tools to realize the unique look of each piece. And while he may wake up at late hours of the night drawing ideas that have sprung to mind, he says that such notes are usually more of a creative outlet than a concrete plan for new work.
"It's not a predetermined, sketched, imagined kind of experience," he says. "It's a day-to-day unfolding that is probably more exciting for the unknown nature it provides me. I've learned to trust that. I trust the instinct of playfulness."
Glick works to instill that instinct in the next generation of potters through Plum Tree's artist in residency program, which offers a young potter the opportunity to work alongside Glick for a year. The resident makes his or her own work, and neither pays Glick nor receives payment. Current resident Julia Walther says both the program, and Glick's philosophy itself, are rather unconventional in the contemporary world of ceramics.
"There are quite a few people in the field who really make the same thing over and over and over again, but there's always a freshness in John's work," Walther says. "You can try anything and it's going to be okay. You don't have to be afraid of the results."
And it's that spirit that keeps Glick himself going, Sunday afternoons included. Asked what he has yet to accomplish in his career, he says he just wants "to keep going on as long as I possibly can."
"The word 'bored' and the words 'tired of' never enter my vocabulary or my dialogue," he says. "My outlook on what I do and what I want to make are informed by the excitement of daily playfulness and experimentation. And it has been this way for well over 40 years."
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer and contributor to Metromode and Concentrate.
If you're interested to learn more about John Glick's work, check out this video interview.
Plum Tree Pottery from Bert Calderwood on Vimeo.