My name is Fred Cook and I am originally from Homer City PA., a small coal mine town northeast of Pittsburgh in Indiana County. We moved to Cleveland, Ohio when I was in the fifth grade. An 11th grade high school art class was my first formal introduction to clay work. We were handbuilding, pinchpots and slabs. I was falling in love with it. In the industrial arts room next door there was a kickwheel underneath a sheet of plywood which was being used as a table. I asked about it and the art teacher said he didn’t know anything about how to use it. So he asked around. He convinced the shop teacher to uncover it and he found the spouse of a teacher who had taken ceramics in college. She agreed to meet with me on a Saturday morning and introduce me to the wheel. It was an incredible moment. There is much I do not remember from those days, but that morning, I remember every detail, which I will spare you. But from that moment on I found a way the rest of my life to work with clay.
In college I was active in a clay arts guild, based out of the college studio. My junior year while studying abroad in Greece, I was able to connect to a local pottery in a suburb of Athens, and worked for a while with the potter there. My formal education there was centered around Ancient Greek Art and Architecture, which included ancient Greek pots. But I confess, working with the folk potter was more seductive, and I barely made it through some of the academic demands.
Though my life path since then has included my vocation as a Lutheran pastor, I have always, everywhere I have been, found a way to make pots. In the 80’s as campus pastor at Miami University in Oxford, I made connections with the ceramics department during a transitional time as Dennis Tobin was taking over as chair. I worked at the Rowan Center with the retiring ceramics professor.
In subsequent years, any formal education was through many workshops and time spent at Arrowmount and Penland. I have been blessed by many mentors and influencers along the way. While all deserve mention, it feels too much like name dropping to me. But obviously, we do not live in isolation or grow without others impacting us, challenging us, supporting us along the way. Thank-you, ALL of you who have been that gift to me. You are still that gift.
I don’t remember when Scott Kelly and I first met, but eventually when went in together and established the O’Bryonville Pottery in Obryonville. I count those years as among my most fulfilling and fun. When did a great variety of clay work there.
After that I had a studio for a while at the Pendleton Art Center. But for the last 15 years or more I have worked out of my basement and most recently my “pottery shed”.
I developed a great interest in wood-fired salt glazed ware. There are many reasons for that, and they are akin to those expressed by others who favor it, but briefly, I celebrate its history, partnership in creating the pots surface, its fickleness, unpredictable predictability. I built a train kiln while living in Northside Cincinnati. Being the great community Northside is, that was not a problem for my neighbors, but the fire department was not so sure. After a couple of visits from them during firings, it seemed more troublesome than it should be.
My wife and I looked around and landed in Oregonia, Ohio where such concerns don’t exist.
It has taken a long time to get the resources back to build another wood/salt kiln, but finally I am on the cusp of realizing that dream of firing a wood/salt kiln again. The kiln is built. The wood shed is built, and I am splitting wood for the second firing of my new kiln.