Greg Allen is pictured in his West End Studios gallery in downtown Buchanan. Photo by Kathee Kiesselbach

Archived Story

Artist finds his own path

Published 7:22pm Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Born and raised in Port Huron, Mich., Greg Allen ended up in South Bend, Ind. when his father took a position with Bendix Corp. He always had a strong interest in art and aspired to attend Kendall School of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, Mich. Instead, upon graduating from Clay High School, as a young, talented man hungry for a paycheck, he ended up taking a job as a draftsman at Torrington. That led him to making a move to Torrington Bearing Co. in arts-rich North Carolina.

From this pivotal move his interest in pottery began. Allen smiled as he described attending a kiln opening and pottery sale for the late Burlon Craig in Vale, N.C. Standing behind a roped arena for hours among avid art collectors and dealers, he watched as Craig carefully set his pottery out in the grassy yard. Then, at exactly 10 a.m., Craig dropped the rope. Chaos broke loose as the mass made a mad dash to snatch up whatever pottery they could get their hands on. Dealers, collectors and customers alike surged their way forward.

“In less than one minute, several months of intense work was gone,” he said. “I stood there, open mouthed and empty handed, wondering what had just happened.”

That’s when he spotted a small pitcher hidden in a tiny patch of tall, untrampled grass. That event marked the beginning of his love of pottery and since 1994, primarily self-taught, he has developed his own style based on Appalachian folk art pottery.

Shortly thereafter, Allen quit Torrington to move back to South Bend, as his father was in ill health. He stated how he felt: “I had this spiritual sense of what a grandfather is and what he knows that needs to be passed down to his grandchildren.” It was important to him that his children should get to know their grandparents. He knows he made the right decision.

Back in South Bend, he took a position as a design engineer with Robert Bosch Corp.

He continued to hone his skill in pottery when in May 2009 his company sold the automotive brake division to a Japanese company and Allen was laid off. That is when Allen and his wife, Rebecca, decided to renovate an old doctor’s office in Buchanan and open their own studio and art gallery. Labor Day weekend of 2010 was the grand opening.

I interviewed Allen at West End Studios in Buchanan and the first thing I noticed was how meticulously clean and airy the space is. Allen has completely renovated each room and filled them with his own pottery as well as featuring the work of other local artists. The spacious gallery is filled with watercolors, oil paintings, sculpture and other hand made items — as well as open studio space for rent. To come full circle to that day when he fell in love with pottery, Greg has plans to build his own wood fired kiln outside as he witnessed years ago in North Carolina.

“Working with clay is more than creating pots; it’s about finding your own creative path, sharing ideas and bringing joy to people we meet in our day-to-day life,” Allen said.

Allen seems to have found his own path. I looked over his work covering the shelves of the studio: wonderful face jugs, wall snakes, snake jugs, spirit balls, folksy rattles, whistles and functional things like beautifully glazed bowls, plates, pitchers and wine coolers. I was immediately attracted to those wonderful glazes and large green ware face jugs — originally made to hold moonshine — waiting to be glazed. It reminded me of a trip I had taken to my great grandparents’ farm in South Whitley, Ind., where I discovered old pottery in an outbuilding that was as perfect as the day it was created — yet it lay there in the hay. It is a passionate thing, to take clay from the earth, to pass it through the hands of a potter, and then on to someone who will take it home, cherish it and use it.

You can see Greg Allen’s work and purchase one of a kind art and gifts at West End Studios and Art Gallery at 999 West Front St., Buchanan. He is located 1.2 miles west of Red Bud Trail in Buchanan. He also has an Etsy site (West End Studios), where his work is offered for purchase. He will soon be introducing a new website. For now, you can reach him at gregallen719@yahoo.com.

Kathee Kiesselbach loves hearing your comments about these articles at katheek@comcast.net.

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