By Todd Fiorento
In a land of tableware, one could easily see how an overzealous kitty cat could be trouble. And this seemed to be the case at Bennington Potters when I toured the facility and passed by “bad boy,” a jet black cat sleeping in his cage. Manager Joyce Hall gave me some history: Founded by David Gil, each piece is handmade in a production facility behind the retail store. Designers craft bakeware, dinnerware, bowls and mugs that are functional, rugged and aesthetically pleasing. They are oven, dishwasher and microwave safe. In some ways, it’s a statement and backlash against cheap mass produced products without character.
When I asked Joyce about her competition, she said just one word, “China.” But the recent move towards buying American has helped their business. I also asked her about an outfit called Bennington Pottery in Troy, NY, which she lamented, perhaps pointing towards the need for name protection among businesses. It reminded me of a restaurant called Three Cheers in Boston, which even used the font of the authentic Cheers and put the “Three” in micro-letters. Who knows how many tourists returned to their country to brag about their visit to the famous “Cheers.” But make no mistake, Bennington Potters is the real thing! There is also a second location in Burlington, VT, a thriving online website for sales and a tourism component in their factory tours.
The gift shop offers excellent ideas and pairing of local New England products with bakeware. For instance, you can pick up a box of pancake mix, pure Vermont maple syrup and their famous batter bowl for a gift. They have trigger mugs that would go well with a bag of coffee or durable pie pans that could be paired with fresh berries. The dinnerware collections range from blue agate (blues are selling well this year, says Joyce) to plain white for showcasing the food to my personal favorite—tavern-ware, a soft warm orange yellow. The Mount Equinox line is also a fantastic blend of color and design.
For the thrifty shopper, there are “seconds,” which are pieces that did not meet the stringent quality control standards of Bennington Potters, while still being quite nice. You also receive discounts when buying sets.
While touring the pottery factory, I met designer Julie Butkis and Chris DuFresne, the kiln operator who they jokingly refer to as “Kiln Master.” The kiln itself is a huge walk-in style oven/vault essentially that reaches 2,200 degrees and takes a full day, if you count cooling time, to run one trolley load of products. Bennington Potters is producing between 1,500-2,000 pieces per month—high volume for a hand-made product. We also met Karen Wellspeak, a potter who was glazing, dipping and slushing their “original mug.” Number 1365B was produced before our very eyes! The kiln master also took a blow torch to his hand, with only a one inch piece of the kiln insulation on top of it, to demonstrate the heat resistance of the material used. It’s the same material used by NASA.
In the past, I had only wandered up to Bennington, VT for events like the Garlic Fest to sample some garlic ice cream and other novelties. But I can see how a trip to Bennington Potters could make for a fun and educational day while perhaps getting some gift ideas or revamping the kitchen. Click here to watch the art of glazing pottery in action at Bennington Potters.
It is springtime, which means the barbecues will be firing up and the lawn parties will begin, so make sure you’re prepared. Local meat and homemade sausages can be found at the Meat Market. For spices and a host of other products, check out Berkshire Naturals; pick up some extracts, oils, syrup and more at Charles Baldwin’s in West Stockbridge; for a new take on pottery, try Hoffman Pottery also in West Stockbridge; or paint your own pottery at Bisque, Beads and Beyond.
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Todd Fiorentino is a freelance writer for the Berkshire Visitor’s Bureau and a grant writing consultant. He holds a degree in professional writing from UMASS, Boston and has written extensively on health and wellness topics. Todd also runs Energy Rising Massage Therapy on North Street in Pittsfield.