- Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

KENDALLVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Deb Walterhouse’s interest in art dates back before she opened her own pottery studio in downtown Kendallville, before she started showing her work at art fairs, before she started taking classes at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, before she was even a student studying biology and psychology at IU.

She had a grandfather who was a woodworker and metal smith; her grandmother taught her to knit and paint, and make crafts. The two served as an inspiration to create.

But it wasn’t until after - after she had graduated from IU, after she had worked as a marine mammal trainer at the Indianapolis Zoo, after she had married - that Walterhouse was able to connect with her calling.

The calling didn’t come easy, at least not initially. In 1996, Walterhouse began taking a continuing-education pottery class at IPFW taught by Jaleh Fazel.

“At first, I sat next to this dentist,” the Kendallville native told The News Sun (https://bit.ly/1w6tLin ). “Our first lesson was four cups to match, and I’m like, ‘You know, this is really hard. It’s a lot harder than it looks.’

“And I look over at him and he’s got these four cups that match, and I’m like, ‘How long have you been doing this?’ And he said, ‘Oh, I just started.’ And I said, ‘Aw, man, it’s going to be a while.’ “

Walterhouse proved to be a quick study, and Fazel became a friend and mentor - in life and pottery.

“The minute I met her, I thought, ‘Oh, she’s cool. I’ve got to get to know her.’ And we just clicked,” Walterhouse said.

“Our friendship kind of led me to continue down the road.”

The road consisted of more pottery classes. Walterhouse eventually set up her own studio, but she liked the camaraderie and interaction that classes afforded. She developed friendships with other potters, who occasionally would come together as a group where they would offer encouragement and push each other to continue to learn and make things out of their comfort zones.

After a time, the hobby became something more. Walterhouse had put together a collection.

“I think what pushed me is after I got started building an inventory from taking all these classes, I’m like, ‘What am I going to do with all this stuff?’ You can only pawn so much stuff on your relatives,” she said.

So beginning in 1998, Walterhouse packed up her pottery and started selling it at art fairs - a weekend here, a weekend there. Her circle of potter friends continued to grow, stretching from Fort Wayne to Goshen.

She’s dabbled in selling her pottery online, but each piece she makes is unique. It has its own story, and it’s hard to share that story with someone who can’t hold it, see it and feel it.

“I’d rather sell to people face-on because you can have a conversation about it,” Walterhouse said. “When people pick up my coffee mugs, they’ll say, ‘Oh, I like this one because of the way it feels in my hand, but this one handle fits my hand better.’ “

A few years ago, Walterhouse and her husband, Tom, ran across the 950-square-foot space at 115 E. William St. in downtown Kendallville. It was owned by LaGrange County Prosecutor Jeff Wible, who had intended on renovating it for his law practice. Even though the building, which dates back to about 1920, needed a lot of work, Walterhouse thought it would be a great spot for opening a pottery studio. On her birthday, her husband surprised her by handing over the keys.

Turning the building into a pottery studio has taken about two years of on-again, off-again work. The upstairs contains a small gallery in the front and a work space for Walterhouse in the back. Her electric kilns are sequestered in a side room. (A 2,000-pound, gas-fired kiln will stay at her home studio.)

The downstairs has been repurposed and offers a salon-like feel - ideal for the types of social gatherings with friends and fellow potters that Walterhouse enjoys. She plans on holding classes at the studio.

“That’s one reason I wanted a cool, funky space is because I want it to be inviting for people to want to come and hang out,” she said.

Walterhouse makes a lot of wheel pottery; she envisions her next project as she wedges balls of clay at her wedging table. But she also makes slab and extruded pieces. She gets so many requests for coffee mugs it’s hard to keep them in stock, and her wheel-thrown birdhouses and Japanese ikebana vases have proved popular.

A busy mother of two girls, Lydia, 17, and Abigail, 14, Walterhouse said Midtown Potter’s hours for now will remain informal. She has a large flag that she unfurls out front when she’s working in the studio.

“When the flag’s up, the potter’s in. That’s kind of my motto,” she said.

Beyond opening her own studio, this potter’s real joy comes after the piece has been thrown, after it’s dried, after it’s been tooled, after it’s been fired, after it’s been glazed and after it’s been fired again.

Because even after all those hours and hours of work, the story about that particular piece has not yet been completely written.

“I think that’s one thing that all potters love is that surprise factor when you open that kiln,” Walterhouse said. “You never know what you’re going to get.”


Information from: The News-Sun, https://www.kpcnews.com

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