McDonald fashions handcrafted pottery

Published 11:40 am Tuesday, March 1, 2011

By KENNEDY TOLBERT / Community Columnist

Sylvia McDonald is a retired English teacher who lives in Wilsonville. After retiring, she decided she wanted to pursue her artistic talent and began taking pottery classes from The Shelby County Art Council and the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina.

“When I was studying pottery in college, I never realized how much was actually involved. The instructors chose the clay body, made the glazes and fired the pottery. All we did was make the pots. When I decided to take up pottery again, I had to learn all the basics that I had not learned in college,” she said.

Along with learning from her instructors, fellow potters, books and online sources were other resourses she used to get started.

“Now I know enough to get by in the world of electric-fired stoneware. Finally I was able to convert my basement into a pottery studio and have just recently begun to vend my pottery at local arts and crafts shows.  I have named my studio Sweetgum Pottery, and I am working on establishing a web site,” she said.

Sylvia McDonald stands surrounded by her unique handmade and hand painted pottery. (Contributed)

Sylvia has always enjoyed pottery, but because of the expense of the equipment and work space needed, it did not become a true outlet for her creative energy until after she had retired. She explained, “as an art major at the University of Montevallo, I studied art history, drawing, painting, sculpture and pottery. I enjoyed all of these, and I still draw and paint, but I was most passionate about pottery. Now, I spend every free moment I can get playing in the mud.”

When she first started her studio, it was a hobby. She would give her pottery to family and friends as gifts for birthdays and Christmas.

Then people began ordering similar pieces from her to give as wedding gifts and such. With encouragement from these people, she began to go to arts and crafts shows.

One of her signature styles is her personalized pieces.

“I make decorative and functional wheel-thrown and hand-built stoneware pottery. The stoneware pottery is food, microwave, dishwasher and oven safe. This Christmas, I made a two-piece African violet self-watering pot with a decorative band that had the recipient’s initials on the band. Another order was a large serving platter with a monogram. It takes about three weeks to complete a typical personalized or special order item,” she said.

Serving bowls, coffee mugs, casserole dishes, platters, plates and vases are a few of the items she makes regularly.

“I really enjoy hand-building more than throwing on the wheel. When I throw on the wheel, more likely than not, I end up either altering the form or adding some element of hand building to the piece. I do like to make special orders because the hardest part, deciding what to make, has already been done!”

Sylvia said, “I am ready now to expand my pottery to include alternative firing methods such as raku, smoke-fired, saggar-fired and terra sigillata.” She can be reached at
Kennedy Tolbert, the community columnist for Wilsonville, can be reached at