Glenelg Artist Finds There's Gold In The Pots She Makes

After 22 Years, Tatiana Discovers Acclaim And Profits

July 21, 1991|By Patrick L. Hickerson | Patrick L. Hickerson,Staff writer

The exterior of the former Providence Methodist Church in Glenelg isa picture of 19th-century rural America that belies contemporary artistic endeavors inside.

This white American Gothic structure serves as the gallery, studio and home for Tatiana Seelinger's pottery making and sales. And after 22 years of throwing pots and turning lumps of clay into dinner sets, her works are in high demand.

She also uses the gallery in her home to showcase local artists.

The enterprise has brought the 47-year-old artist a profit as wellas artistic acclaim.

When entering the church from the facade, one steps into the nave that is the gallery. Here is the only place where you can buy Tatiana's pottery in person, although she has a representative in New York City and her works are sold nationwide. She doesn't sell her work to other shops. The church building is the sole distributor and retailer.

Her most major recent work on display is a circular flower vase 15 inches high and 22 inches in circumference atits fattest.

Tatiana, who is known by her first name, has glazed the urn with precious metals -- gold, silver and platinum -- to give it a timeless quality while retaining its earthen style. Price: $350.

"One of the wonderful things about using gold on stoneware pottery is that gold comes from the earth, and when it's applied to stoneware it's not a gilded affectation, a la Las Vegas, but it becomes something that is part of our earth. People who have been uneasy to see gold on pottery are really shocked. They say, 'This is part of our earth. This is not Las Vegas. This is something I can live with,' " the artist said.

A dark-haired, slender woman, Tatiana refuses to define her artistic style, which often combines stoneware with glazes such as 24-karat gold or pastels.

But it has been described in "Ceramics Monthly," a trade magazine, as "influenced by Finnish folk tradition with its clean, simple shapes, and sometimes rough-textured, sometimes partially glazed exteriors."

The one quality Tatiana wishes for all of her work is an inherent strength: "The strength comes through stoneware pottery, but also in the shapes that I throw. Stonewarepottery is wonderful material for this because it fires to such a high temperature (2,300 degrees Fahrenheit) that it is, in fact, strong. It is part of its nature."

Tatiana keeps a year-round three-weekwork cycle, devoting the first two weeks to throwing and trimming, then the rest of the time to firing and glazing wares. She puts in 14-hour days, and takes off a few weeks a year.

Assistance comes fromher husband, Joe, who puts in a few hours every week updating a 4,000-name mailing list and maintaining the kilns. In addition, one studio manager helps her load and unload the kilns, mix glazes and manage the studio.

Although the gallery showcases her pottery exclusively, Tatiana also selects artwork from hundreds of artists across the nation for her gallery's exhibits. She displays jewelry, glassware, paintings and photographs.

"I try not to buy for me. I try to buy forany customer that has a love of collecting, has a pretty good eye and wants to add something truly lovely to their environment," she said.

Glenelg -- and Howard County -- was a different place when Tatiana and her first husband, William Potts, purchased the church at the intersection of Triadelphia and Sharp roads 19 years ago.

The areawas strictly rural; the county had 130,000 fewer people.

The couple, then living in Columbia, chose the church because it could accommodate her 3-year-old pottery career and his architecture practice. Potts died in 1979.

"The local residents were grateful that we were going to restore it rather than transform it," she recalled.

The restoration included the addition of electricity and plumbing and a living room on the west side. A second level was placed above the altararea for three bedrooms for her four children, who are now grown.

Three rooms that surround the altar area were remodeled into a kitchen, studio, and glazing and packaging room.

Life in the arts has been a constant for this Long Island native who has played the cello since childhood and performed professionally in symphonies in Tucson and Seattle.

Her love of pottery began when she studied as an art history major at the University of Arizona.

"My training as a musician has really helped in my acceptance of the need for discipline andacceptance of a need for a certain degree of routine to develop a craft. I never feel free to reflect my artistry alone. It always had tobe in concert with a degree of sheer technical ability," Tatiana said.

Her gallery is midway through "Innuendo," a collection of paintings, photographs and mixed-media by area artists including Stuart Stein, a Towson State University art professor; Peggy Fox, a Baltimore photographer; and Felicia Belair-Rigdon, a Columbia painter. The exhibit will end Aug. 31.

"I focus on local artists -- not only for myown comfort, because, after all, I'm working as a potter -- but these are a lot of my friends, and it's really enjoyable to deal with people that you know well," she said.

Tatiana says that each artwork featured in "Innuendo" contains the literal definition of the title. "There are subtle messages in each of the pieces, nothing necessarilyprofound, obscure and confounding, but certainly enlivening," she said.

Beginning Sept. 1, her gallery will display the collection "Homework: Master-pieces," for which she is compiling the artworks.

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