I have been making pots for 40 years. I am self-taught, leaving me to wonder on occasion whether I have a genius or an idiot for a teacher. I have learned that being a potter requires optimism and the subtle art of persuasion. My formal education is Anthropological Linguistics (PhD, The American University 1988.) I work in my home studio, Pig Pen Pottery, on my family farm, Hidden Springs Farm, in Great Falls, Va. I make functional terra cotta and stoneware pieces, stoneware lamps, fountains and masks. The stoneware is fired in a reduction gas kiln.
My goal is to make a pot that is pleasing to the eye, to the hands and to the purpose for which it is intended. The measure of success for me is hearing that someone uses my mug exclusively for hot chocolate, for instance, or my bowl especially for ice cream. We are so accustomed to having all matching plates, bowls and cups that we risk becoming insensitive to our tableware. I also make decorative Raku vessels. Making pottery is an exercise in letting go. Rarely does a pot come out as expected. The best you can do is combine shape, texture and color according to your muse, and then give it over to the fire. Firing Raku is the essence of this truth. What the fire gives you is what you get!
I teach classes in my studio. For more information please email me through the contact me page.
Pig Pen Pottery is open year round. Please contact Laura to find a good time to visit.
Laura also sells her pots at Norfolk Artisans Guild in Norfolk, Connecticut, Roots 657 in Leesburg, and frequently shows at Scope Gallery at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Va
About the Kiln
I built this kiln in 2002. I modified plans given to me by my friend John Fulwood of Kissimmee Pottery. I built it quite small for several reasons. First, a big kiln takes big shelves. Big shelves can get awkward and heavy, especially when you are building the top of the stack. The second reason is that with a small kiln, I can fire quite frequently, and thereby see the results of experiments before I forget what I have...
Unloading the Kiln
Here is the kiln bricked up and cooling off. It takes between 9 and 11 hours to fire it up to cone 6, about 2300 degrees F. The black soot on the top of the kiln is the result of reducing the atmosphere in the kiln to achieve color changing and softening effects in the clay and the glazes. See the Kiln unload itself! Unloading the Kiln from Laura Nichols on...
Since 1988, Pig Pen Pottery has been in the lower level of Orchard House, one of the buildings on Hidden Springs Farm in Great Falls, Virginia. Hidden Springs Farm, in our family since 1939, is a pre-revolutionary farmstead, formerly known as “Montpelier of Fairfax”, and before that as “Mount Pleasant.” Orchard House is a cinder block replica of a Jamestown House. At one time this was the family gathering place for Hidden Springs Farm. There is a large fireplace which is kept burning most of the winter...