Penoach Winery in Adel hosted the fifth annual Iowa Clay Festival on Saturday and Sunday, May 13-14. Stan and Joanie Olson, who run the winery, said that they had 17 potters this year, including a few new ones.
Joanie said that they try to limit the event to no more than 20 potters because they want the potters to do well at the event. Stan said that they do vet those who want to participate as vendors, to make sure that they are selling quality products.
Mothers Day weekend brought out mothers with their significant others and their children. Jenny Cisar was out at the event on Sunday, Mothers Day, with her mother, Donna Harris for the third year in a row.
“It’s just a beautiful scenery,” Cisar said. “(It’s) Generally a pretty day, and just the chance to see a lot of different types of pottery in one spot. We don’t have a lot of that in this area.”
Cisar said that pottery is something that she and her mother are both interested in and that she has been collecting for a long time. They said that they were finding some things that they wanted to purchase and add to their collections, but that they also wanted to make their way around the whole festival before making decisions.
“It’s so hard to decide,” Harris said. “(There’s) So many beautiful things.”
Emily MacFarland, a potter from Des Moines, was one of the 17 potters to show off her work at the festival. It was her second year participating in the event.
People are usually drawn to her booth by the unique bright colors that are shown through her work. She said she decided to participate once again because she likes the atmosphere of the event.
“It’s real laid back, it’s fun,” MacFarland said. “It’s nice to talk to the other potters. It’s a real community feel.”
MacFarland said that all of her work is “thrown on the wheel,” before being decorated using a process that she calls “sgraffito.” She said it’s an Italian method where slip or underglaze is applied to the piece and then carved through to reveal the clay beneath.
MacFarland described her work as “contemporary.”
“I think it’s kind of a more artistic, kind of fusing fine art and pottery together,” MacFarland said.
Rooted in tradition
The Iowa Clay Festival is run by Penoach Winery and based off of an older event that used to be called the “Kiln Opening,” that was run by acquaintances of the Olsons. The “Kiln Opening” was run each year by David and Miriam Dunlap, who owned Atherton House on the Boulevard, which used to be a gift shop in Adel that sold, among other things, pottery from all over the United States.
Stan estimates that the event happened for about 15 years and was held for the final time about seven or eight years ago.
The Kiln Opening when it was run by the Dunlaps, also happened each May, on the same weekend as Mothers Day. They would hold the event in Adel and, just like today, allowed potters to come to town and show off their work.
“It was huge,” Stan said. “They would probably bring… a couple thousand people to town in a weekend. They would do it Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and they would bring all these people to town.”
Eventually, Stan and Joanie were invited to the event to sell wine.
Years ago, David was critically injured in a skid loader accident and was paralyzed from the neck down. However, through surgeries and physical therapy, David beat the odds and was able to recover from the injury.
After trying to continue to run the business for a while, David and Miriam decided that he couldn’t do it any longer and they sold the business, which was eventually moved to Valley Junction in West Des Moines and eventually went out of business, according to Stan.
After a few years, Stan and Joanie got a hold of David and Miriam to discuss getting a new event started each year at the winery. Along with Russ Leckband, owner of New Harmony Pottery in Earlham, they all helped create the event that happens each year today.
The Dunlaps and Leckband are not currently involved with the event. Leckband currently participates at the State Fair each year.