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Two Potters in Remote Roscoe, Montana

Pottery from the studio of Julie Dickinson and Janet Hero Dodge.

10/04/2010

In 2008 Paragon featured Julie Dickinson and Janet Hero Dodge in full-page, color magazine advertisements. The owners of Paragon had found Julie and Janet while on vacation in Roscoe, Montana and discovered that the potters also fired Paragon kilns.

John Burkholder, who retired after 27 years as a cardiac surgeon, was surprised to see the Paragon ad in Pottery Making Illustrated, because he, too, had visited Julie and Janet in their Roscoe studio. Here is a story John wrote for us about the Montana potters. Following his story is the text of the ad that appeared in Pottery Making Illustrated and Ceramics Monthly.

My Trip to Roscoe, Montana

John A. Burkholder

It was in l998 that I made the trip across the Beartooth Highway from Yellowstone National Park to Red Lodge, Montana. It was probably at least late June as Beartooth is one of the last high roads to open after the winter storms. (The Lolo Pass over the Continental Divide and the Crater Lake rim road are two other very late openers that I can think of.)

The scenery was magnificent--peaks topped with glacial ice, unfiltered sun’s rays among fluffy clouds.

After a spectacular thundershower and subsequent flawless rainbow, I arrived safely in Red Lodge, Montana, a cozy town. I parked so I could walk along the storefronts and was soon lured by the smell of fresh baking. I stopped at a bakery and bought something sweet to accompany a coffee. On the way out I noticed a small display case facing the street. The display featured the work of a local pottery, and I was drawn in.

I have always liked pottery. Maybe it is in my genes, as I was told that one of our ancestors crafted salt-glazed crocks in Ohio. But at the time of this trip, I was a full-time surgeon with little spare time. It wouldn’t be until the fall of 2002 that I would be retired and enrolled in my first ceramics class.

The next morning at 9 o’clock, I was on the road again. I recall the dampness from a nighttime rain. Pioneer Pottery of Roscoe, Montana was situated several miles into the country from Red Lodge. When I got to the lane to the pottery, there was a barricade there. So I parked and waited a short time until a woman came down the lane and opened it. She waved me on in.

The lane was fairly long. I remember a big frame house on the right and several cars. The pottery was a good-sized building on the left, not far from the house but on the other side of a rapidly running stream. The place was dimly lit and plain but filled with the warmth of the two women who worked there, Julie Dickinson and Janet Hero Dodge. I learned that they both had MFAs and had taught ceramics. I now know that they were taught by Marguerite Wildenhain.

Their workspace was rather crowded, but it was evident that they were quite productive. A separate, primarily utilitarian room served as a show place for their work. The pottery impressed me with the forms, the excellent carving and other decorative work and with the wonderful, earthy glazes.

I eventually set aside ten pieces for purchase. They assured me that the pieces would be carefully packed and mailed but that I would have to wait awhile as they had pressing demands on their time, like an upcoming show or a huge order that took priority. That was fine with me as I felt so privileged to have found these nice women potters.

The pieces later arrived back in Pittsburgh in excellent condition. They continue to bring me pleasure in their use and cause me to reflect on that trip to Montana and to the serendipitous meeting with those highly skilled potters.

You can imagine my surprise and pleasure upon seeing the Paragon kiln ads in ceramics magazines that featured these splendid potters. It brought back all the great memories, as does writing this letter.

-------------

The Paragon advertisement featuring the Montana potters, published in March, 2008:

Why 2 women in remote Montana have fired only Paragon kilns since 1972

Pioneer Pottery near Roscoe, Montana is so isolated that bears come right up to the studio and smudge the windowpanes with nose prints. The sound of the East Rosebud River flowing past the red two-story building breaks the silence.

Janet Hero Dodge and Julie Dickinson began Pioneer Pottery in 1972. They converted a horse stable built in 1910 into their busy pottery studio.

Janet and Julie planned to fire with propane; in the meantime, they bought a Paragon square K-6H electric kiln. But they were so satisfied with the Paragon that they never converted to propane firing. Over the years they just bought more Paragons and have been firing them ever since.

“The glazes I developed for the electric firings had the softness and subtlety I had hoped for with propane,” said Janet Hero Dodge. “So I never quite got around to building that gas kiln.

“In 1978 we added a Paragon K-6HS square kiln so we could glaze fire back to back when necessary. This allowed us to move pots steadily through the firing cycle and fill special orders quickly. In 1980 we added a square Paragon K-6A to our kiln collection. All the kilns are still functional.”

Janet and Julie fire their glazes to a flattened cone 9. At this temperature, their matte glazes soften and absorb iron from the clay. “Some of the glazes are quite bright for electric firing,” said Janet. “We’ve been real happy with our Paragons. They’ve held up well and produced good results.”

Have they been reliable? “Quite.”

“You can’t deny that gas firing is exciting,” said Janet. “But as a production potter who also does my own specialty pieces, I need the reliability of electric, which is more reliable than gas because you have fewer variables. And I like the fast turnover I can have with the electric kilns. If I get a special order that I have to get out fast, I don’t have to wait to fill up a big gas kiln.

“I use a copper barium glaze,” Janet said, “and part of the reason I started doing that is I had less control over it. So I get some of that same ‘I wonder what I’m going to get when I open it’ feeling.”

The Paragon kilns of today are built with the same dependability as the kilns Janet and Julie are using. Since their Paragon kilns have worked faithfully for so many decades, imagine what your next Paragon will do for you.

We offer a wide selection of top and front loading kilns. Call 800-876-4328 or visit www.paragonweb.com for a free catalog and the name of the Paragon dealer near you.

The Paragon kiln ad that featured Pioneer Pottery.



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