Memories from Graham Stevens

I arrived in Santa Cruz in the summer of 1982 after travelling cross-country on a greyhound bus. It was my first trip to the US. I heard of a pottery school somewhere north of Santa Cruz. I called from a phone box and spoke to a Marcia McDougal. I explained my history as a production potter both in England and France, and also the fact that I was looking for work. Marcia said “Sure we can use you. Come on up”. So I travelled on the Davenport schuttle bus to Big Creek Pottery. Upon my arrival, there was a Karen Karnes workshop in progress and I was invited to join in. I was given a place to stay, and ate some truly tasty meals cooked by Mary Jane Littleton. Wow…I was never treated that good at home! I immediately felt indebted to the McDougals. I had never met such generous people. After the workshop finished and everyone went home, Bruce & Marcia McDougal took some time to look at photos of my work and Bruce said, “make some of those”. Bruce showed me around the kilns. I lied and said that I had fired a gas kiln before. That was the beginning on my 18 months living and working at Big Creek Pottery. I made pottery for the gallery at the Davenport Cash Store and produced mugs, soup bowls, ice buckets and plates for the Cash Store Restaurant in Davenport.

I was left to my own devices. Bruce & Marcia would leave the ranch while I was still in bed contemplating my good fortune. Boy, did I land on my feet! There I was living a dream, with a huge workshop to myself and some 36 kick wheels plus a few electric wheels to choose from.

A few days after my arrival, a freak wind lifted the barn roof and set it down in a mess 30 feet from the grain house where I was living. The only livestock left at the ranch were two pigs named Nancy & Ronald, a few hens and a rooster. The day came when the pigs were butchered for their meat. Gradually, the hens got picked off by coyotes, which left a very territorial rooster. At that time, Holly Bock and her two children (Dove and Zane) lived in the Cheese House. One day I watched in horror as the rooster attacked Zane, who is blind, by jumping on his back. I was so moved by the incident that the next morning, I entered the hencoop and grabbing the rooster by the legs, put him in a sack. I rode on my bike down to Hwy 1 with the sack and let the rooster free on the coastal side of the highway. He was never seen again.

Some months later, I noticed a soil/clay deposit in a bank near the pottery and dug some out. I cleaned out the stone trough down by the barn site, and set up a levigation process. When I had enough clay slip, I spread it out to dry on canvas atop the workshop deck. I made enough pots to fill the wood kiln, which I then fired. It was my first wood firing. It was a lot of work to fire alone and the pots turned out 98% crap. Still, I got the whole process of preparing the clay from scratch out of my system. I will probably never do that again! So glad it comes in bags.

Max (B&M’s German shepherd) and I became constant companions. He was my best buddy. While I was throwing pots, Max would lounge by the door and he would get excited if I walked outside to turn my pots around as they dried in the sun. We would hike out on the “Back Ranch” owned by Helen and John West. The Wests lived just down Swanton Road from Big

Creek Pottery and I would often spend time at their house. One time as I left to go to visit them, I told Max to “STAY” and he would look despondently at me. As I rounded the first bend in the road he was out of my line of sight, and by the time I rounded the second bend, Max was already there at the West’s house waiting for me. He looked so proud of himself. I loved him.

I enjoyed being at the ranch. It was a great place to live. Walking by the Footsteps of Spring as I came up to the Pond, I would see the clouds of Tricolored Blackbirds and hear their “check” call giving way to the Bull Frogs chorus as the evening drew in. Of an evening we would stroll up-hill to enjoy the sun setting and hope this time to see a green flash. At night, I could hear the sounds of the Elephant seals, carried on the wind.

Having grown up in England, the Californian treescape, in comparison, hardly seemed to change, season to season, with few deciduous trees and plants, other than the obvious Buckeye and Poison Oak. Yet come the spring, I saw huge clouds of pollen blown from the Redwoods, leaving the rain puddles dusted yellow. These are images still fresh in my mind.

On my first delivery and payment for the pots made, I went to Santa Cruz and bought my first 35mm camera. I took lots of pics of the countryside around Big Creek Pottery…Greyhound Beach, Swanton, Big Creek, Ano Nuevo, Waddell and Davenport. I would like to share how beautiful it was at Big Creek Pottery and say once again “Thanks Bruce and Marcia. What a wonderful experience”!

Published in: on June 27, 2011 at 7:01 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Anyone know how to reach graham?

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