This American Redware is Made Just Like It Used to Be

wood work
Photography by Mac Jamieson

Text by Bethany Adams

When Greg Shooner started making pottery as a high school freshman, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. But years later, when he answered an ad for a potter in his local paper, that choice led to a number of unexpected changes—including marriage.

“My wife, Mary, was actually who hired me over there,” Greg says of the David T. Smith workshop where he was commissioned to create his first American redware pieces. While the style wasn’t something Greg was used to, he soon found himself fascinated by the history of the process. “From that point, I just dove in headfirst,” he says. “And I’ve never come up for air since then.”

Decades later, the pieces that Mary and Greg make together out of their shop in Ohio are known as faithful reproductions of the style of pottery made by early American colonists. And while many redware potters create pieces designed for function, for the Shooners, it’s all about accuracy.

Photography by Mac Jamieson

“The look just isn’t the same,” Greg says of the functional pieces. “The colors tend to be darker and just generally off from what an antique piece looks like. And I just fell so in love with antique redware that I couldn’t imagine doing anything other than exactly what was being done.”

As a result, the Shooners’ pieces aren’t food-safe, but they feature stunning
historical accuracy. Created either on the wheel or via slab forming, the pieces are decorated either through sgraffito (a process in which a lighter-colored clay slip is applied to the piece and scraped away with a pointed tool) or with various slips colored with substances like copper and manganese—materials that would have been available to early American potters.

Photography by Mac Jamieson

“My theory’s always been, if you do every step of the way as close as you can to how research has told you that it was done, you should end up with a product that’s exactly the same,” Greg says. “And so, we’ve done that—from using clay that we dig to having the wood-fired kiln to having the lead glaze—and that combination is one of the things that has set our pottery apart from everybody else who’s doing it.”

Despite the attention paid to every step of the creation process, the nature of the art form includes a number of variables that make it impossible to know exactly what will come out of the kiln. While many potters might find that truth frustrating, Greg has never minded it. “This is not an exact science, and things just don’t always go as planned,” he says. “And I think that’s great.”

In fact, that element of the unexpected is one of the things that Greg enjoys the most about the process. “If I do get a little blob or an extra drip on the plate, I don’t clean that up,” he says. “That’s all part of the story.”

Photography by Mac Jamieson

To contact the Shooners for more information on their pottery, call 513-897-0488.

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