David Hendley strives for authenticity, a principle that doesn’t come easily nowadays. Yet, all the pieces he creates at Old Farmhouse Pottery in Maydelle, Texas, is authentic. Using traditional methods and local materials, such as clay from pits near Athens and a hand-built wood firing kiln, he fashions pottery that displays the character of the natural ingredients and process.
The little farmhouse in Maydelle lies four miles east of the Neches River, which forms the line between Cherokee and Anderson counties. Visitors can exit Highway 84 onto County Road 1804 then follow signs to the farmhouse, which serves as a pottery shop and studio.
The little shop displays a variety of decorative vases, bowls, and lamps, as well as mugs, plates, and servingware suitable for the modern table. Couples can register their selections on oldfarmhousepottery.com, and Hendley’s chalices are purchased by churches from around the world.
“Handmade pottery is popular because it’s nostalgic to old times and it’s honest; it’s made by a real person with their own hands,” Hendley says.
Visitors can watch the beginning phase of the process, which usually takes a month from the moment the potter forms new objects on the wheel to the moment they’re added to shelves in the shop.
Before he begins, however, Hendley purchases 2,500 pounds of lead-free clay from pits near Athens, grinds it with feldspar and other materials to strengthen it, then chops, mixes, and compresses it using a hand-operated machine that compresses it into 8 x 8 x 15-inch tubes, then packages and stores them under his work table.
Pulling a chunk from one of the long tubes, Hendley pushes it down on the pottery wheel and sprinkles it with water. The clay forms a glistening mound. The potter’s hands mold a deep well in the clay as it spins, forming it as it grows taller. Hendley adds more water and places his hands inside the tube to make a bulge and gently closes his fingers to form the neck of a jar.
The timeline of hand-making traditional pottery has just begun. After adding decorative touches, Hendley gingerly places each piece on a shelf that rests on a stack of bricks inside the kiln.
Wood firing is a lengthy process. First, Hendley salvages used wood pallets from local businesses. Once lit, fires on each side of the kiln’s base are fed for 10 hours, while the furnace reaches a temperature of 2,300 degrees. The fire is so intense that it rises above the 13-foot chimney.
Not many potters still use a wood-burning kiln because it requires so much work. “It’s hard to take a 5-minute lunch break while I’m feeding the kiln,” Hendley says.
Two and a half days later, the fire dies and the kiln cools. Hendley smooths the bottom of each piece with fine sandpaper before adding it to his shop.
At 2,400 degrees, even the ashes melt to form a layer of specks that hardens as the glaze cools. “The ashes make each piece look more individual and unique; they add extra effect,” Hendley says, picking up a lightly-speckled serving platter.
Some pieces feature intricately-carved designs. Others, a metallic shimmer or bumpy texture. All are carefully, even lovingly, made.
For information about Old Farmhouse Pottery, call 903-795-3779 or visit farmpots.com. The shop is usually open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays; however, if planning a visit, Hendley advises calling in advance to ensure the shop is open.