Orwell artist Stacey Stanhope goes from ‘perking’ to ‘potting’

ORWELL — Do you remember puff paint? Come on, be honest. It was a horribly, wonderful craze in the ’90s, where we’d attack shirts, pants, bags — pretty much anything — with the small plastic bottles of “puffy” paint. We endlessly squeezed bright colors through pinpoint nozzles to create oh, so glamorous decorations on our garments. Ah, the ’90s…
Stacey Stanhope is an unashamed puff-paint lover. It started out as a hobby: painting elaborate hunt scenes with foxes and horses on shirts.
“Oh my God were they tacky,” said the artist in her Orwell studio. “But man was it fun!”
Stanhope got comfortable using the tubes to paint, and she translated the same technique to her pottery — technically it’s called slip trailing. (Watch her demostrate the technique below.)
First she sketches her design — usually some type of farm animal — with a graphite pencil on her hand-thrown bisque pottery. Then she washes it off so all that remains is a faint outline. Next she picks up her tube of “puff paint” (really it’s a watered down clay tinted either cobalt blue or black), and traces her pencil marks.
“It goes on just like puff paint,” said Stanhope, who’s been at this since 1995.
Once she has enough pieces to fill her reduction gas kiln, in they go. Her work is fired to over 2,000 degrees, and then she does something unique.
“I add in salt at the end,” she said.
The Sodium Chloride apparently helps the pieces vitrify — melt together to form an impenetrable seal like glass — which makes all Stanhope’s dinnerware food safe and functional.
The effect is stunning.
The pieces at the outer edge of the kiln — that take the brunt of the flame and salt — emerge with an “orange peel” glaze. Literally the surface of the ceramics have tiny round puckers all over the surface, just like an orange peel.
“Most people want the orange peel effect,” said Stanhope.
But some pieces take the salty heat better than others.
“I put the blue slip trailing work around the outsides to act as a buffer for my wax resist pieces,” explained Stanhope. “If the the wax resist images get hit with too much salt the images become blurry.”
It’s a good combo.
A BOWL BY Stacey Stanhope
Stanhope describes her pottery as “functional and decorative.” When you look around her studio you’ll see all sorts of dinnerware — plates, mugs, bowls and serve ware — as well as decorative vases, cake plates, backsplash tiles and teapots. Then you’ll stumble on a ceramic fish, or rooster piggy bank, or massive horse head… yes, a horse head. They’re amazing.
Stanhope also has several of her paintings — not on ceramic but on OSB board (a.k.a. oriented strand board or plywood) — on display in her Orwell gallery, including a large horse.
“I’ve always drawn horses… I’m a horse freak,” explained Stanhope, who was raised in Georgia and grew up showing horses. “If you own a horse guaranteed you’re also at a barn with a goat and chickens.”
And that’s how her designs developed — equestrian barn companions. These days you can find donkeys, cats, sheep, roosters, pigs, goats and other guest stars on her pottery.
Stanhope moved up to Orwell full-time in 2010 and opened her pottery studio just south of the blinking light on Route 22A. Before moving to Vermont she and her business partner had a pottery business in Georgia called “The Clay Fettish.”
A MUG BY Stacey Stanhope
The pair graduated Wichita State University in Kansas in 1995 with their MFAs in ceramics, worked for Stanhope’s father (a civil engineer) doing percolation soil testing for septic sites.
“During the day we’d dig in the clay and during nights and weekends we threw clay,” Stanhope laughed. “We called it perking and potting.”
When her dad retired at age 80 and moved up to Orwell, where their family has had a property since the 1940s, Stanhope decided to stop “perking” and focus on the “potting.” Plus she met and married her husband, Chris Dundon of Dundon Plumbing and Heating in Orwell.
After nine years in Orwell, Stanhope has settled into a comfortable spot. But working in the studio all day by yourself can get lonely. So, Stanhope joined the Brandon Artist Guild and Orwell Artist Group. This summer she’s hoping to host some of the other Orwell artists work in her studio. Stay tuned.
To learn more about Stacey Stanhope’s art email her at [email protected] or find her on Facebook.

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