My name’s Carter Holliday, and I’m 58 years old, and I’m living in Floyd, Va. on a beautiful mountaintop, with a beautiful meadow, and, uh, on kinda a warm, humid day.
…Well, tell me about this land. You said you bought it in ’92?
Yeah, I started coming up here in 1990, when I saw an article in Ceramics Monthly about Donna Polseno, who was a potter who was going to Kansas City Art Institute while I was there, but I graduated a couple years ahead of them, her and her husband Rick, and I saw this article that they were living in Floyd County.
And just so happens that my wife was traveling through Floyd County as I was reading the article as I was in Europe on a work trip, and she told me she found a really beautiful little town in the mountains. And I said, “Oh, what was the name of it?” She said, “Well, it’s Floyd, I think. It had one light. We were on our way to the Blue Ridge Parkway and all these homes had bales of hay or straw out in front, with pumpkins and gourds and mums and some scarecrows,” and she said it was just, you know, enchanting.
And I said, “well, I just read an article on my friend Donna Polseno, and they have a pottery there,” and I said we should go visit. My wife and I would always leave Florida in the spring and the fall in order to keep our kind of time clock going of spring and fall because that’s endless summer in Florida. And so we would always come and camp in the mountains. And ironically we had passed by Rick and Donna’s place at least two or three times on the parkway but never was a proper time to either stop in – we were either in a hurry to get somewhere, or the time was late.
So we made a special trip and the trip was kinda funny in itself in the fact that it was on a business trip and it was in North Carolina and I was lookin’ at some property over there and I thought, “well, I’ll just go over to Floyd and see if I can find Rick and Donna.” So I drove and got here rather late, and the first place that I saw open was the Napa dealership, was Thomas’s Napa dealership and so I pulled in and the man said, “Can I help you?” and I said “well, this is gonna be a strange request, but yes, I’m lookin’ for Donna Polseno and Rick Hensley.” He says, “well, you’re strangely in the right place because they’re my neighbors and I can tell you exactly how to get to their house.” So I lucked out and went directly to their farm, and it was very dark and nobody appeared to be there and I went around to the studio and I could see there was a glow in the dark, and it appeared that a kiln was being fired, and sure enough I looked through the door and all’s I could see was this kiln but then there was a rocking chair facing me, and I looked and I pecked on the door and the rocking chair moved and Rick was in it and so from that point on I had discovered Floyd. [laughs] In the most odd way!
A rocking chair sitting next to pottery kiln – actually, it kinda makes sense…
Well, if you’re sitting waiting for it to reduce, you know, it’s certain things where you want to impose a certain amount of carbon into the body or in the glaze, you kinda have to babysit it in order to you know, not overdo it…
I’m thinking in some ways, though, it’s a little bit symbolic – I mean, you’ve got the old-fashioned rocking chair, and you’ve got the artist’s kiln.
Well, Rick, uh, I think Rick was sleepin’ at the time – he’d been busy workin’ and, well, they were doin’ an art fair, Donna was down in Roanoke and he’d come home to finish firin’ the kiln. So, just thinking about art fairs and all the work and preparation it takes to go to one of those and set up, that, firing and getting additional ware, you know, for a show, he was probably pretty tired, so…
Well, Donna and Rick are members of 16 Hands pottery, and I’ve heard from a lot of people – that was my first introduction to Floyd, and a lot of people say they really started the idea of marketing artists and marketing Floyd as a destination, I guess, in terms – you know, instead of going out to shows, they’re bringing people in. Do you feel like they were pretty significant in starting that trend?
I would say so. I don’t know that they were the first to start it, because I had knowledge of others place that would have studio open houses, where they would try to get the public in the area to come and shop for Christmas, or…
Not in Floyd, per se, but other potters, this is kinda something that is done around the U.S.
I guess I meant specifically to Floyd, not entirely the first.
Right, to Floyd, absolutely, without a doubt. It was ripe for the sowing, and they’ve done an excellent job. In some respects, it’s really good for them as a group, because in terms of marketing, the more people you have to spread the expense, therefore you can get maybe better market penetration and more notoriety with less money per person. With that said, as an individual artist trying to get known or be exposed in Floyd County, it makes it tougher for me as an individual, in a sense. There’s some – luckily, I live on the road between two of them, so, you know, I do get some residual traffic during those periods of time.
You live between Sylvie Granatelli and Ellen Shankin – and Brad Warstler?
That is correct, yeah. Good neighbors. I have lots of good neighbors on this road, actually. We’re really lucky to have, I mean, believe it or not, can you say “neighborhood” when you live in the country? [laughs] We all have 25 or 30 acres, but we still – it’s still a neighborhood, you know.
Why is it – wait, Thunder Ridge Road? Did I get…
Thunderstruck, that’s right.
Thunderstruck. And Ima Jean Sours told me that the history of that was there’s on the river, there’s a large rock where the swimming hole is, and the folklore behind that is that there’s a big crack in that rock and it was caused by being struck by lightning, that they said that the rock was thunderstruck, so. But that was the swimming hole was where they would meet to go at Thunderstruck, the rock would be the swimming hole. [You] probably went by it on the way here.
I think I did. I saw some big rocks – they were beautiful.
The ones with the names – the kids paint their names on it, unfortunately.
Do you go swimming in the swimming hole?
I haven’t in quite a while. You know. My neighbors take their dogs, and a lot of canoers, and a lot of trout fisherman, and things like that, but I don’t know, I just haven’t made the time. Certainly been hot enough.
Well, you’ve been busy enough, so… you started as a potter, and that’s what you did for a long time – and then have kind of gone into woodworking – could you talk about that evolution?
Yeah, that all started – I made pottery, I built my own shop in southern Ohio after I graduated from Ohio University in 1972, and made pots and did some of the beginning art shows, if you will, or sidewalk art festivals and that type of thing. And after about eight years I decided that there was more – that I could make pottery later in my life – that there was more for me to learn about ceramics and more to do in ceramics than make pots. And so at that point in time I went back to school – there was a local school that had technical ceramics, that taught mathematics in terms of the physics and chemistry about glaze, glaze development and combustion engineering and things like that, that after eight years I began to see that I didn’t really know as much about firing a kiln or why, or how much air you really needed to combust the fuel that you were putting there, and things like that, and having glazes that were reliable, and how did you make ‘em reliable – I really got more into the scientific part of it, you know, of why it happens, so I was kind of past the one-of-a-kind phenomena in a sense when I had to start reproducing pieces for sale. So, uh, upon that, I started going to school during the day, and in the evenings I ended up working for a neighbor of mine who made rustic handmade furniture, so in the evenings I would do a lot of his basic cut-out work, in terms of making legs, spindles, chair backs, chair bottoms, blanket box pieces, sanding, staining, finishing, all kinds of things.
What are the commonalities between those two art forms?
Between ceramics and…? Well, the first thing is your hands. I mean, it’s contact with the material, and not only is it a physical contact, but it’s a visual contact. I mean you’re still, you know, with the clay, it has a certain give and take, and so does wood – it’s a different, has a different property, of course. And then you look at your end produce, or what is most significant – for wood, it’s the type of grain, and what kind of colors you can produce out of it naturally, or enhance, and of course clay is you know, a lot larger in terms of plasticity, malleability, what you can do with it, and coloration also. So each medium has its limitations and its wide characteristics of being able to play with it. So I use the wood as a, as a structural element, uh, kind of my hard edge, and I use the clay in terms of the more fluid properties that it has that I can play with or carve or manipulate.
Looking at your gallery, and that’s what I saw when I walked in trying to figure out where you were, and you do combine those two media – could you talk, or maybe describe, a few of the examples I’ve seen up on your walls?
All right, then, the one piece that you’re looking at is a cherry clock, and it’s predominantly wood, and the basic design is inspired through the mission style, or the art/craft movement, the triangular style, that type of thing, and it has a carved ceramic face. And it was really – I really designed it with that market in mind, that style of home and furniture that’s in it and that type of thing.
And then the latest clock that I’ve designed, behind you, which has more clay, it’s more mosaic, it’s tiles that have been cut and it has Italian glass tiles in it, so it’s more of a mixture, a lot of negative space with the grout in between the mosaic tiles and that type of thing.
And then in both the face of the clock is clay, and then whereas in the second clock you describe, the structure itself is not just wood, it incorporates the mosaic, so.
The mosaic, right.
There’s a bench underneath the mission-style clock.
Well, that was like a two-year project. I found the headboard – we were having a recycled show at the Jacksonville Center, and of course it was real nice, the wood was nice and had a nice patina, and the paint was starting to crack off it in a couple different colors and…
Where did you find that?
Well, when you live in the country, you have to make trips to the green boxes to get rid of all your trash…
The big metal – yes –
By the sides of the roads –
Yes. So sometimes you come back with a few more pieces than you went with [laughs].
And one of them was, what, half a bench, or…?
Yeah, half a bench – it was just the headboard. I was tryin’ to think of what I could make with it for the recycle show and I didn’t have any other pieces of things around, and I ran out of time, so last year, knowing that the show was a couple weeks away, I had picked up a couple of these posts and we had redone the Oak Grove Pavilion behind the Zion church and these posts came out of the church, and they were going to toss them away, because we had to redo the entire pavilion, and me being the good person that I am, I said, “well, I could – I think I’ll take those. I think I could use them.” And eventually I did find a place for ‘em. I cut them and made legs [for the bench] and cut some in half and that’s how the armrests came about, and the styles for the armrests are mop-handles and broom handles. I’ve always kept those – a lot of times they make good file handles and things like that. You don’t want to be too much a hurry to throw stuff away, you know.
The exhibit – that’s a wonderful thing – and it almost seems to be a little bit of the philosophy up here, which is that creative and environmentally conscious – I mean, those are two big attitudes in the Floyd area, among people living up here.
Well, if you look at the people who were able to come here in the ‘70s or early ‘80s, they came out of our first global understanding of hey, the resources aren’t gonna last forever, and we just can’t be plundering everything and be trying to get rid of all our trash, so some 30 years later we kinda refind it again, so the newer generation has an awareness to it, but it really never went away, and that’s kind of this bevy of people who came from Tech, or generally the college atmosphere, just like around Athens, Ohio was the same thing. You’ll find a lot of the artists in that area still have a green idea, you know, and they try to do as much green as they possibly can.
What is it about Floyd, and I think everyone has a different answer for this, but what is it about this area that draws creative people?
Gotta be the countryside, to start with. I mean, as an artist, you’re always lookin’ at color, you’re always lookin’ at design, I mean, Mother Nature, they – she did it right to start with, and you can’t improve on it, so the only thing you can do is look at it, and look at it, and look at it, and try and you know, reproduce it, or emulate it, or express your love or your admiration for it, what you see at the time. Just like in the spring, when we finally get that awesome green that comes on with all the new leaves, I mean, it’s so inspirational, you know, the new life, and the pullin’ up the water through the tree – it’s just an unbelievable time. I find it the most creative time is in that early spring when the leaves come out.
Do you spend all of your year in Floyd now?
Oh yeah. That was the main objective was to get up here and take the last part of my life for doin’ my own gig, instead of working for somebody else. But you always end up working for somebody else, somehow or another – I don’t, I haven’t figured that one out!
Well, it sounds like you have marketing in your mind even while you’re creating inspired pieces.
Yeah, and I’m not sure where it all started, other than just the need to make something useful. You know, I think you can create a lot of things, but sometimes they don’t have much purpose – and that age-old thing, if it evokes some emotion, you know, be it good or bad, it could be art, but for me, I have a practical, utilitarian strain in me, or purpose, and it must be German-Scotch heritage in me that keeps, that kinda keeps me grounded, you know, that way, for making something with some purpose to it.
Given all that, the artists’ community in Floyd seems close-knit, cooperative – there’s no sense of competition, I don’t think.
Well, I don’t know. Competition, hmm. I think it’s, for me, just the environment – I’m looking for community, that’s why I cam here – I wanted a community to participate in, and be a part of. And I lived in a suburban neighborhood where, you know, occasionally you waved at your neighbors, or honked at ‘em as their garage door went down behind them, no front porches, and really not much time. I could go to the local mall 10 minutes away, be there two or three hours and not even run into anybody I knew. And I can go this mall, 30 miles away, and I’ll run into three, four, five, six people that I know. And they’re generally from Floyd, so figure that out! [laughs]
But anyway, just in terms of the artists, the connection, that you have somebody that, that sees life in a similar manner as you do, and that they’re looking – the competition is probably within ourselves to make, I would say, desirable art or craft, you know, to make something nice and pleasant and useful, to ourselves and to somebody else who would like to own it and help sustain our own, you know, our own lives.
Well, tell me about your studio and your gallery space and how that evolved.
All right. Well, I like to draw a lot, so I visioned my studio, and I had it drawn up, and I still hadn’t moved here but I knew I was moving here so I contracted to have a pole structure put in the ground and the roof put on, and when I got here I would go ahead and put in the walls and the insulation and drywall, etcetera, etcetera. And my initial plan was just to have my woodworking and my clay all in one area. And seeing how I hadn’t really done much clay or woodworking in the last 20 years, you know, I figured that that would be ample enough room. The basic footprint of the building was 40 feet by 40 feet and a third of it was going to be the working area for clay and wood and then the center section was more or less garage and tractor storage and then the outer third was bays, open bays for all my implements, be it a tiller, and bush hog, and snowplow, and all that stuff, implements for my tractor and mower and stuff like that.
Well, a friend of mine from southern Ohio came to visit, and was eyeing out my situation and everything, and this particular person, I’d helped him build his house and his studio, back in I believe in the ‘70s, so he started asking me a lot of poignant questions that nobody else had thought to ask, and well, “why are you going to have your ceramic clay and your wood together?” And I said, “well, it’s the work area, and it should be okay.” And he goes, “well, you know, I’m making wood now, and I’m not making ceramics full-time, and I go back and forth,” and he goes, “the problem is, you’ll be halfway through a pottery project and you’ll get an idea or an order for some wood, and then you’ve gotta uncover half of your wood stuff in order to do that, and then you end up getting sawdust in your clay, and then when you go to finish your wood, then you have dusty hands from your clay, and then you have moisture from your clay that your wood can absorb,” and he goes, “just take it from me – you want to separate your areas.”
So, at that time I had gravel floor in two thirds of it, just in my wood/ceramic area was cement, and my friend Ed started waving his arms around and saying, “you know, Carter, you’re going to have half of this already heated, you know – why don’t you rethink this over” and he goes, “I think you have plenty of room out here for a ceramics studio.”
Well, knowing that I had to get busy and try to make something to, you know, contribute to my financial success, I was a little reluctant, but he was making more sense, and then he went on to ask, “well, how are you going to sell your work?” I responded in terms of, “well, a gallery, and I’ll probably do a couple art shows, art fairs, and then I may build a little gallery or something down by the road, just kind of a back woods shop kind of a thing that kind of has this impish look, and maybe people will be interested to stop.”
And he said, “well, that’s really cool.” But he goes, “who’s gonna watch the shop while you’re up here making the stuff?” And I say, “well, I’ll just put a cigar box down there – a lot of people do it in Floyd, you know – they walk in, and they just put money in a box.” And he goes “well, that’s okay, but” he goes “you know, you miss an opportunity to talk with the people. They want to see you work, they want, you know, they want to meet the artist,” and he says, “and then you have an opportunity to sell.” He said, “they may come in and decide that they really don’t need it as much as they thought, or it’s too expensive, or they don’t know what goes into it, but if you’re there, you can explain to them your process and how long it takes to get there.” And he goes, “you know, you better think that one through.” He says, “do you have money to pay someone to sit down there?” And I said, “of course not!” [laughs]
So my friend left, you know, left me with the huge question mark branded in my forehead, you know, okay…
How nice of him.
Yeah, it was very nice. But it was really good. And thank God that I was just able to step back and go, “you know, truth is truth and you know, he’s got some good points and you know, adjust to it.” And I did. And as you see, I’ve got a nice 14 by 16 gallery space, and beyond that I have another 14 by 16 or so ceramic area that goes into the garage. My ceramics is not in my wood and my wood’s not in my ceramics although I do have some wood frames out there for drying.
Well, how much foot traffic do you get out here? Do most people call you first, or do you get some drive-bys?
We do get some – I do get some drive-by, occasionally on Saturdays, to my surprise, while I’m deep working, the door pops open and somebody’s in the neighborhood and they wanted to see what’s going on. You know, “I’ve been by umpteen times and I’d wanted to stop and I just decided to do it” and that type of thing, or a neighbor has a wedding to go to, and they’ll stop by, and pick up an item, so that helps.
So who are your neighbors – three of them are artists – Ellen Shankin, Brad Warstler, her husband, and Sylvie Granatelli – who else are your neighbors?
We have Jim and Mary Callahan, and Jim has a, I believe he calls it Highland Hardwood – nope, I take that back – Highland Timberframe. Highland Hardwood is in Floyd. Highland Timberframe – Jim worked for Blue Ridge Timberframe, he worked some for Dreaming Creek, decided to start his own business and uh, he’s probably my closest neighbor, and does beautiful work – it’s nice, he does everything, does it right, big timbers and all that kind of stuff, cut by hand. Have another neighbor, um, Mr. Baum, and he lives in Sarasota Florida in the winters and comes up here in the summer, and I did have Breck and Cory Avalar, but they’ve since moved on – they needed more pasture for horses – and we have a new family I believe from West Palm Beach, Florida, he’s a retired fireman – I haven’t had a chance to meet him yet. Kevin up on the hill has a family from Raleigh, N.C. and that’s Joe and Wanda Wilkerson, and Julie Hancock is the next neighbor, and she’s involved in Floyd Historical Society and she does a lot of programming, computer programming, as her employement, and then there’s a retired couple in their original farm that went to that whole property, that’s Bob and Cathy – I can’t remember their last name right off the bat. And then, uh, Gary and that’s about all I know – there’s about two more houses out the road but I can’t say I could give you their names.
A bit of a mix, but a nice mix. And you lived – where you live was a farm, at one point.
I mean here – I mean, a long time ago.
Yes, this they tell me, was the Jones farm. The two-story house that sat right on the road was the farmhouse. And there was a little over 100 acres and they cut it up into four parcels – the Callahans, the Baums, the Hollidays and the past Avalars and I don’t know the new people’s name, but that was the main farm.
What traces have you found as you’ve lived here and built here, from its former identity?
Huge piles of quartz rocks. They tell me, and there’s still some terracing left in the meadow, when you cut it down low at the end of the summer, there’s different levels, and they tell me that they used to grow tobacco here. And so as they used to cut it with the horse and everything in terms of plowing – I don’t know if it was ever plowed with a tractor, so to speak, but you can still see the terraces as they would plow down the meadow, down the hillside – and different locations from those terraces is where they would pile up the rocks. When I moved here I had a man with a backhoe, a loader, pick up all the piles and put ‘em in one big pile, so I have hopeful vision of using those some day.
When do you do most of your work, and how many hours a day or a week do you do your work?
Well, that’s a good question. I give a lot of time away to the Jacksonville Center – I’m on the Hayloft Gallery committee.
Do you teach there, also?
I’ve taught one course, and I’m considering doing another, doing a mosaic course this time – the first one was tile making and this next one I may do as mosaics. And I’d like to teach more, but it’s – it’s very, it takes a lot of time to prepare and takes a lot out of me, but I give time to the center, and I give time to the Oak Grove Pavilion that we host Saturday night music there, and implementing that, help doing the marketing, and the setting up and the taking down, and, um – there were some other things in Floyd in terms of some planning, community planning for the old cemetery, the Jacksonville cemetery, and things that – how we would like to see Floyd downtown kinda develop. I was kinda in on the brainstorming of maybe a new vision for downtown Floyd.
What is that new vision?
Well, it’s come along rather nicely – I pulled out after you know, after six months or so – I think it was called the Partnership of Floyd. And it’s developed very nicely – mostly the people in the town who own buildings really got more involved, and now they’ve gone on to getting grants from the state and from the federal government and stuff like that in terms of façade development. But my main thing was, um, there was a place between Wintersun and Angels in the Attic that was really conducive to making into a park, and my vision was to have different levels of decking to pull the crowds on Friday night and would give other places for people to have pickup bands, which I think is probably the neater thing of the Friday night jamboree is the pickup, because the musicians, they just gather, and it’s a kinetic kind of a… a coming together and sharing their knowledge and making music together. To me, that’s the true art form. And in some ways, I think we’re doing it with our visual arts, you know, in a lot of ways, and maybe we haven’t totally resolved it yet, but I think in some respects we’ll do more as artists and collaborate more to make art for Floyd, maybe.
Which of the media that you work in do you feel most at home?
Hmph. As long as I’m working, and making, and thinking about what I’m making and how it ends up, I think that’s when I feel at home. Just how successful I am at my finished product, at my idea – that’s probably the most important thing. I mean, when I worked at the corporate level for designing and things like that and I had a lot of people to orchestrate, to decorate tile, my art was my landscaping at my house, and I was dealing with color and texture and size and things like that, and so that was my art. So I just go back to a design, and an idea, and how well I can execute it, and then the final product or final outcome of that idea, and the design, and that can be, you know, gardening and landscaping, or building the building, I mean just building this place, you know. It’s all – it’s all the same to me, and so some things are more familiar, and some things are new, and they all share, they all have their importance at different times, you know, yeah. So I can’t pick one! [laughs] It’s too difficult, you know? Why limit your possibilities? Even, you know, when I look at my friends who stayed with their mediums and things like that, potters and sculptors, or whatever, um, you know – I went to work for a corporation, and it was no longer all about me, it was, you know, the corporation – they wanted certain things, they wanted to develop a design line, they wanted more design and decoration and color to their work, so it was finding people with certain knowledges to get to the final product, and so I did a lot of collaboration. And you know there’s something to that, working with other people, and everybody has good ideas, and if you can arrive at a, at a common ground and a decision and come up with a final end product or resolution, that can be just as gratifying as doing it yourself. Maybe more, in a sense, you know, to work with a group of people and come up with something that’s worthwhile.
It’s a different kind of creativity.
It is – it really is. Yeah, it really is. You have to give and take more, you know? And listen to other people’s ideas, and look at what they’re saying in terms of artistic people – what is their design? What is their color sense? You know, what is their vision? You know, it’s pretty easy for you to understand your vision, pretty much so, until it’s finally realized, but other people have different ideas and different visions, and then how – and it’s important to understand that and then how can you put the two together, or do they go together, or is, maybe their vision is better, and you just go, okay, let’s do your thing. You know, it’s – that was a good test, good test. Now it’s me makin’ the decisions [laughing].