Hitting the ceramic circuit: Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail turns 20 years old, April 27-28

Tiffany Hilton works in her Florence studio, where she also teaches courses. She’s one of eight regional pottery hosts, and 21 visiting artists, who will be part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail April 27-28.

Tiffany Hilton works in her Florence studio, where she also teaches courses. She’s one of eight regional pottery hosts, and 21 visiting artists, who will be part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail April 27-28. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Shelburne Falls potter Mary Barringer, seen in her studio, is one of the eight host artists for this year’s Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail April 27-28. She’s hosting three guest artists, including two from Minnesota.

Shelburne Falls potter Mary Barringer, seen in her studio, is one of the eight host artists for this year’s Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail April 27-28. She’s hosting three guest artists, including two from Minnesota. Staff photo/Carol Lollis

He builds them big: Vermont potter Stephen Procter, a guest artist at this year’s Asparagus Valley Pottery Festival, has also shown his work at the Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton.

He builds them big: Vermont potter Stephen Procter, a guest artist at this year’s Asparagus Valley Pottery Festival, has also shown his work at the Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton. Image from Stephen Procter website

Lucy Fagella, a co-founder of the Pottery Trail, works on her pottery in her Greenfield studio.

Lucy Fagella, a co-founder of the Pottery Trail, works on her pottery in her Greenfield studio. Staff photo/Paul Franz

Lucy Fagella, of Lucy Fagella Pottery in Greenfield, is a co-founder of the Pottery Trail, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Lucy Fagella, of Lucy Fagella Pottery in Greenfield, is a co-founder of the Pottery Trail, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Staff photo/Paul Franz

Tiffany Hilton in her Florence studio. She is one of eight regional pottery hosts and 21 visiting artists taking part April 27-28 in Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Tiffany Hilton in her Florence studio. She is one of eight regional pottery hosts and 21 visiting artists taking part April 27-28 in Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Tiffany Hilton works in her Florence studio, where she also teaches courses. She’s one of eight regional pottery hosts, and 21 visiting artists, who will be part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail April 27-28.

Tiffany Hilton works in her Florence studio, where she also teaches courses. She’s one of eight regional pottery hosts, and 21 visiting artists, who will be part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail April 27-28. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Work by Florence potter Tiffany Hilton. She and other artists who are part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail say a big attraction of the event is to have customers see the potters in the spaces where they create their work: “It makes it more personal.”

Work by Florence potter Tiffany Hilton. She and other artists who are part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail say a big attraction of the event is to have customers see the potters in the spaces where they create their work: “It makes it more personal.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Tiffany Hilton in her Florence studio. She is one of eight regional pottery hosts and 21 visiting artists taking part April 27-28 in Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Tiffany Hilton in her Florence studio. She is one of eight regional pottery hosts and 21 visiting artists taking part April 27-28 in Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Tiffany Hilton in her Florence studio. She and other artists who are part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail say a big attraction of the event is to have customers see the potters in the spaces where they create their work: “It makes it more personal.”

Tiffany Hilton in her Florence studio. She and other artists who are part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail say a big attraction of the event is to have customers see the potters in the spaces where they create their work: “It makes it more personal.” STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Florence potter Steve Théberge in his studio. He’s hosting two guest artists from North Carolina as part of this year’s Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail; their work, he says, helps give him “a real creative shot in the arm.”

Florence potter Steve Théberge in his studio. He’s hosting two guest artists from North Carolina as part of this year’s Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail; their work, he says, helps give him “a real creative shot in the arm.” Image courtesy Steve Théberge

Work by Florence potter James Guggina will be part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail April 27-28. This is the 20th anniversary of the event.

Work by Florence potter James Guggina will be part of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail April 27-28. This is the 20th anniversary of the event. Photo by John Polak/courtesy Tiffany Hilton

Work by Greenfield potter Lucy Fagella, one of the founders of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, will be part of the this year’s tour on April 27-28. 

Work by Greenfield potter Lucy Fagella, one of the founders of the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail, will be part of the this year’s tour on April 27-28.  Photo by John Polak/courtesy Tiffany Hilton

By STEVE PFARRER

Staff Writer

Published: 04-19-2024 11:32 AM

Modified: 04-19-2024 1:55 PM


A lot can change in 20 years: Presidents and other politicians come and go, new cultural fads and technologies emerge, clothing styles morph, and music and movies take on different dimensions.

In these parts, one tradition hasn’t changed. Since 2005, the Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail has seen visitors take a winding tour to the open studios of multiple potters in the region, seeing firsthand where the artists work, while the potters get to make a personal connection with potential customers.

The free event returns April 27-28, as four potters in Hampshire County and four in Franklin County will open their doors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Joining them in these studios will be 21 guest artists, including some from the region and others from states as far flung as Arkansas, North Carolina, Illinois and Minnesota.

All will have a wide variety of items for sale, from functional and more decorative tableware to large, sculptural pieces for gardens and other outdoor spaces.

Guest artists at the event have learned “it’s worth their while to make the trip here,” said Tiffany Hilton, a Florence artist who’s been part of the Pottery Trail for all but its first year. “We get a good turnout [of visitors] who appreciate our work and like seeing the area, and artists can make some pretty good sales.”

Hilton, whose studio is in the Arts & Industry Building on Pine Street, said some Pottery Trail participants have changed over the years, as previous artists have retired and new ones have joined.

What they all have in common, she added, is a love of the region and a sense that it fosters creativity and community, which in turn attracts visitors to the tour, including a good number who return year after year.

“I’ve been making pottery for 30 years,” said Hilton, who makes a range of serving pieces, planters, vases, bowls and other work, including custom dinnerware. “People who come to my studio have seen me grow up, they’ve seen my work change before their eyes.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Elements Massage studio in Hadley abruptly closes after state order
Music in the sky: Summit House Sunset Concert Series returns to its 173-year-old home
Hadley Route 9 project finish expected in spring 2026
Oliveira, Carey demand state probe into conditions at South Hadley nursing home
Inspector promoted to lead Northampton Building Department
Two months into his golf career, Northampton’s Claudio Guerra cards hole-in-one

“I think it makes the work more personal when you can show the space an artist works in and get to know that artist,” she noted. “We get to talk about our work, and it’s great for us to see some familiar faces each year and kind of renew those connections.”

Steve Théberge, who also works in Florence, became a Pottery Trail host three years ago after previously being a guest artist at other studios during past tours. For him, taking part in the tour seems an extension of the community he’s already discovered from working in the region.

“It’s a really supportive environment here,” said Théberge, who grew up in Amherst but moved away from the Valley for a time before returning about 11 years ago. “We’re not competing with each other.”

Théberge will be sharing his studio with two North Carolina potters, Bill Jones and Jason Hartsoe, friends he first met when he was an artist in residence at a North Carolina ceramic center. The three share the same basic background and process in their pottery making, he noted, but their art arrives “in different ways,” he said with a laugh.

To have Jones and Hartsoe showcasing their work alongside him, Théberge said, “is a real creative shot in the arm for me.”

And Stephen Earp, a Shelburne Falls potter who’s been a part of the tour since 2007, will be joined by two friends from Arkansas, Joe Jostes and Sue Skinner, who he calls “major lights and leading figures in traditional redware, mocha, and salt fired stoneware”; Earp has spent much of his own career as a practitioner of traditional decorative arts pottery.

But being part of the Pottery Trail, he added in an email, “keeps another foot solidly in the contemporary ceramic art community and where it all is heading to in the future.”

Time to visit

The Asparagus Valley Pottery Trail is arranged, Hilton noted, to try and minimize the drive time between studios. She, Théberge, and a third potter, James Guggina, are grouped pretty closely in Florence, while a fourth Hampshire County artist, Donna McGee, is in Hadley.

In Franklin County, Earp and two other potters, Mary Barringer and Molly Cantor, are located near each other in Shelburne Falls, and a fourth, Lucy Fagella, is in Greenfield.

“We want visitors to be able to spend a good amount of time in each studio if they want to linger, and not have to do a ton of driving,” said Hilton. (Though she added that the drives can certainly be scenic on a nice day.)

Fagella, one of the founders of the pottery tour, told the Gazette last year that a big impetus for creating the event was to have regional potters pool their resources for a combined show and not have to pack up their work individually and haul it to craft fairs.

“It worked out great,” Fagella added. “It created a community among the potters. Each year it just kept growing, and more potters joined us.”

Hilton agrees, saying visitation appears to have increased in the last few years following the pandemic, with word of the tour spreading a little further. Last year the Boston Globe put a preview story of the tour on its front page, she said.

“That was a real boost for us,” she noted.

Théberge, who makes functional stoneware pieces for dinner tables, as well as ceremonial vessels for religious rituals or spiritual practice, estimates “at least a couple thousand people” have turned up along the Pottery Trail the last few years.

“I’ll typically have 20 or so people in my studio all day long as people come and go,” he said. “I like that contact … it’s a window into how artists work and use their space.”

Since the potters are celebrating their 20th anniversary of the tour, Hilton said they’ve pooled some money and charted a bus that will take all 29 artists to each studio on the tour on April 26, the Friday before the Pottery Trail weekend.

“It’s our little treat to each other,” she said.

Meantime, visitors who hit each studio and get a special “tour passport” stamped will be registered for a raffle to win a free piece of pottery, with all 29 participating artists contributing one work to the ceramic grab bag.

More details are available at asparagusvalleypotterytrail.com.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.