Saturday, July 20, 2019

the old red, Eureka part II

The old red school house in Eureka Springs had served as the one and only public school in Eureka Springs until the1950s. It was a three story brick building tucked away on Kansas St. and when I moved to Eureka it was owned by Frank and Hazel Cox. They had established a small pottery in the basement of what had been the school's administration building that had been converted to apartments. Frank and Hazel had moved to Eureka from Texas and they had made the old red school house their home.

The old red school house had been saved from complete demolition a few years earlier, by a woman who stepped in as it was being torn down. She refused to let it be completely destroyed, bought it and then put on a new roof. The top floor was gone but most of it was saved by a person concerned about the preservation of our local culture.

During my early years in Eureka Springs the old red school house had been sold by Frank and Hazel to be a Swami Satchidananda ashram. In any case, it became a gathering point for hippies from all over and served as such for many years. Many young folks came to town wondering how to find the old red school house. Events of interest were held there. Even Clear Spring School used a classroom  there for a short time. It was an out of the way landmark that played an important part in a resurgence of local culture, particularly for the hippies that came to town in the 70's. At one point a fellow set up a wood shop in the  cramped space of the old boiler room below the building. Classrooms became residences. When it burned and was lost to our community, it was like a death suffered in the family.

Finding my way to the Eureka Pottery Coop, and being welcomed like a lost soul, I landed at just the right time. Jim Harrell, a friend of Frank and Hazel's from Dallas had been the center of the operation. He was just leaving to go back to Texas and I fell right in, even taking over his small basement apartment across the street. The rent was $25.00 per month. Finding the apartment had been turned over to a new renter the landlord raised the rent to $40.00 but offered the use of the leaky roofed garage for free but for a closet reserved for the upstairs tenant.

Here's the local cast of characters. Talina was a bit round and with a lovely smile and soft in her ways. She radiated warmth. Her area of work was in making small hand-built clay boxes that were fired in the raku kiln. Rusty was a tall red haired woman who specialized in wheel thrown functional stoneware and skinny dipping. She was always trying to lure me away from my work for a quick trip to Hog Scald, and I suspected she always had something more in mind than sitting naked on the shores of Beaver Lake. Talina was partnered with a man named "Blue" whom I remember best for his hand-rolled bugle boy smokes. Rusty was partnered with whomever as near as I could tell. I never asked. And being located at the old red school house brought a constant stream of guests.

With a Randall wheel that I brought from Memphis, a brick floor that was impervious to the splashes of clay that fell upon it, shelves for drying pots, and kilns in a shed outside the front door, I set to work. We mixed  our own glazes and bought clay from L&R Specialties in Nixa, Missouri by the by 1/2 ton (what my Toyota pick up could carry). I was grateful that I'd saved a bit of money, as it would soon run out. The last straw was when Rusty and friends headed off to the Jazz Festival in New Orleans with our pots to sell and came back having spent all the money, hers and ours as well. The whole operation had been easy come and easy go, almost socialistic, and when my money was finally gone, so, too was the Eureka Pottery Coop.

I had learned to do a few things quite well. I could turn vases on the wheel as tall as twenty inches or more before shrinkage. They were tall enough that my elbow would disappear in the mouth of the vessel, and I was turning things thin enough to require little trimming. I always sought perfection in form (whatever that meant).  I would fire the large vessels in the raku kiln splashed with glazes to resemble pots I saw in the pottery magazines of the time. I also made mugs, one of which is still on my desk holding pencils, it being better at that than for allowing sips of morning coffee. I felt great pride in my work which I'll talk about another time. I was attempting to develop my own style of work.

In the meantime, I was learning a lot about my newly adopted community of Eureka Springs.

I'll not tell at this at a single sit. If you have recollections from those times, please feel free to comment.

Make, fix and create...

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