Potters Brown Celebrates Forty Years in Edom
Potters Doug and Beth Brown show some of their pottery in front of their shop, established in 1971 in downtown Edom.
PHOTO BY TOM GEDDIE
When Doug Brown opened his Potters Brown shop in 1971 in Edom, many long-time residents weren’t sure what to make of the arts and crafts folks beginning to settle in the small, rural community.
It was a quiet place, and many wanted to keep it that way.
The newest person in town was always the most suspect, it seemed. Doug remembers that people wanted to call him a hippie, but he didn’t have long hair and he worked too hard and too long for that label to apply.
He worked his clay into pots, glazed, and fired them and hoped customers would show up to buy some of them.
As he tells it, when people in fancy cars began to stop at the shop and leave with brown paper bags, rumors began. Some people couldn’t figure out how anybody could dig up dirt, spin it into a pot, cook it, and sell it for $20. They thought he was selling LSD.
I still lived in Dallas at the time, and was working for the news service United Press International. Once I drove to Edom to write an article about Potters Brown and the arts community, and saw a dog laying on the center stripe. I slowed down; the dog raised its head, looked at my approaching car, and went back to sleep.
That was then. This is now.
Doug is celebrating Potters Brown’s 40th anniversary this year, although there’s no special celebration involved because “every day is special.”
He said it took a while for people to get used to him and the arts festival he started.
“When I came here, it was a very sleepy little town. They didn’t much like any kind of changes,” he said. “The first year after we had our festival, town council tried to pass a resolution banning any kind of gatherings. I went to council meeting and said that’s an excellent idea, telling people what to do on their own private property because there were some things I’d like to ban on their private property, too.
“A man jumped up and said he couldn’t be told what to do on his property because that was un-American.”
Doug said something to the effect of, “That’s right.”
The motion failed.
Potters Brown earned its place in the community and the Edom Festival of the Arts became one of the most respected specialty festivals in Texas and beyond.
Today, Potters Brown is known for its functional, high-fired stoneware and Doug is recognized as an expert in the sometimes fickle process.
“We make things for people to use every day for cooking, dining, and entertaining,” said Beth Starzell Brown, who came to the festival in 1991 and ended up marrying Doug. “We make things that make it fun to cook, for people who love to cook and love to eat and love to entertain.”
Plates, pots, and platters are among the Potters Brown wares, along with popular specialty items including berry bowls (colander-like constructs with holes in the bottom to let wash water seep into a second bowl underneath), olive oil bottles, butter keepers modeled on pre-refrigeration contraptions, and more.
“We kinda call ourselves potters for the people because we make things for everybody and our prices range from $10 to $300 so there’s something in our shop for everybody to buy. We try to keep it fairly reasonable. We just love what we doing.”
Beth said the glazes on the pottery help set it apart.
“Doug has been to several workshops with some of the top guys to see what they know that he doesn’t know, and he knows more than all of them but he’s not seeking fame. He’s just content to be a studio potter, to make things for people to use.”
Doug mixes the clay and most of the glazes; he and Beth both make the various pots and other items assisted by longtime employee Downey Stephens.
“We make our own clay because we fire so hot that we need a clay body that will withstand the temperature we put it through,” she said. “That makes the pieces very strong; the hotter our fire, the stronger the pot. And the glazes melt much better at a higher temperature.”
All of the pieces are hand painted one at a time. For a dinnerware set of a dozen plates, for example, Beth lines them up and paints them together with the same color and design. Each piece may come out a little different during firing.
Community is important to both Doug and Beth.
“There are some people who have been here from toward the beginning,” Beth said. “These people are our family. Zeke and Marty are our brother and sister; we will always feel that way about them. And everybody else here is our family, too. We all have a common interest. We want our town and businesses to succeed.
Zeke & Marty – no last names, that’s simply what everybody calls them and their art studio – have been on Edom’s main drag for 35 years.
Of Doug and Beth, Zeke said, “They are wonderful folks, dear friends ever since we’ve lived here. If it wasn’t for Doug inviting us to open our studio, we wouldn’t have the life we have now. Neither would anybody else.”
At one time, Doug owned several of the studios and leased them cheaply to other artists; now, he owns only his own studio and the house next door that he and Beth share.
“They are the greatest folks we know. They are good neighbors, great artists,” Zeke said. “Their pottery is superb. We’ve been on the fair circuit for 40 years, and they make some of the best pottery in Texas.”
Ken Carpenter moved to Edom in 1972-73 and opened K.C. Studios in 1990.
“I have always enjoyed Doug’s Zen approach to life,” Ken said. “He seems to be able to identify those things that are beyond his control and focus his energies on making a difference with those things that he can control. He once told me I try to shine m y light as brightly as possible. If others wish to come and shine their light in Edom, so much the better.”
Joe Hopps is a relative newcomer, opening his Arbor Castle Birdhouses down the block about 10 years ago.
“Doug is a saint, an amazing fellow. He has a way of appealing to our better natures, and he’s reasonable and fair,” Joe said.
Deborah Hernandez, who works at Arbor Castle Birdhouses and has been in the area for five years, said Doug is one of the reasons she moved to Edom with her family.
“He was very helpful in finding a home for us, and he’s very professional,” Deborah said. “It’s all about the quality of the work. Anything I would do, he would always compliment me and tell me what I could do better. He’s a great teacher.”
Doug started the Edom Festival of the Arts – scheduled October 15-16 this year – back in the early 1970s.
“It was a labor of love, an opportunity for him to invite his friends and fellow artists to come celebrate their work and sell it,” Beth said.
The festival stopped for a while, but the Chamber of Commerce didn’t want the tradition – one that originally made some of the longtime locals nervous – and started it again.
“We’re so thrilled to have it going, so happy that Mary Wilhite and all the volunteers are doing such a good job with it,” Beth said. “We thank them for bringing it back.”
Potters Brown is open pretty much seven days a week, but Beth cautions, “Call first. We might be out playing golf or running errands.” The number is 903.852.6473.