Local handcrafted art in high demand at Cowee Mountain gallery

Cowee Mountain Clay Gallery & Studio.

Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer

For centuries, the Appalachian Mountains region has been synonymous with arts and crafts. Mostly out of necessity, skills such as pottery and soap-making were commonplace during Colonial times. But expressions in art as well have conveyed the spirit and beauty of the mountain ranges, distinct seasons, and indigenous birds, plants, and animals. 

Brian Davenport, Poané, and Jennifer Andersen all bring various talents to display at Cowee Mountain Clay Gallery & Studio on Sylva Road and at Poané Gallery Art Bath & Candle, located just behind Cowee Mountain Clay.

“Heritage arts in some ways have disappeared,” said Davenport, a potter. “But people are always seeking handmade goods because they appreciate the workmanship. And especially since COVID and the quarantine, people are wanting handmade items more than ever … nicer things to appreciate since they are home so much more.” 

Potter’s hobby becomes full-fledged pursuit

Brian Davenport

Davenport, whose pottery studio is on-site of the gallery, presents regularly at least 1,000 pieces of inventory – everything from small sponge holders to bird houses to lamp bases to dinnerware, and much more. His distinct glazed or low-fire burnished pottery is mostly utilitarian, such as vases and platters, but some pieces are purely artistic and have been purchased as décor for numerous local and regional homes as well as commercially, for such clients as Mission Health. The gallery, in fact, has become not only a place to seek unique gifts for holidays and special occasions, but a destination spot for vacationers who desire to add to their pottery collections during annual visits to the area.

He said an art class in high school in the mid 1970s turned him onto pottery. He was not adept at painting and drawing, but a pottery wheel beckoned him and he found he was a natural at shaping clay. He took another pottery class in college, but put the hobby aside until many years – and various careers – later he moved to the Franklin area and took a pottery course at Southwestern Community College. That was about a decade ago and Davenport said he has been feverishly “throwing pots” ever since. 

About nine years ago he moved his work into the building on Sylva Road, just outside of Franklin, that was once a gem shop. Even though he said his pottery was basic in appearance when he first started, every piece sold. 

“The only way to become a good potter is to spend time making pots … at the wheel,” said Davenport. “The wheel is the greatest teacher. My love of doing it got me to another level, and I’ve been able to come up with a lot of distinct techniques along the way.”

One unique technique involves applying horse hair to a pot after it has been taken out of the kiln. The carbon from the hair absorbs into the pot and results in dark, decorative lines against a white background. 

Davenport goes through upwards of 2,000 pounds of clay each month. He stacks as many as 300 pottery pieces at a time into his 20-cubic-foot kiln. His studio resembles a factory, with stations that include a multitude of pots in various stages of the process. He might spend five hours at the wheel one day, but then takes care of the more tedious, and “less enjoyable” work of trimming and glazing another day. 

“I might throw 24 mugs one day, but then those 24 mugs have to have 24 handles the next day,” he said. “I look at the whole thing as part of the process.

Davenport is often consulted to assist in decorating homes with pottery due to the “warmth” and “beauty” pottery brings to an interior. And a few years ago, he aligned with artist Poané (PO-Nay) to provide people who shop in the gallery and ones who want decorating advice with a cohesive look that involves both the art and the pottery. Davenport’s own Cowee home, in fact, is replete with the synergy of his pottery complemented by countless Poané paintings.

Potter Brian Davenport employs a technique involving applying horse hair to a pot after it has been fired in a kiln. The carbon from the hair absorbs into the pot and results in dark, decorative lines. Poané’s paintings make an attractive backdrop for the pottery.

Poané’s paintings capture the ‘spirit’ of the subject

Multi-media artist Poané

When Poané met Davenport five years ago, it was to assist in the pottery studio. However, after Davenport learned of the extent of Poané’s artistic prowess, he began to ask him to paint pieces that would complement the pottery. Poané, a professional portrait artist and more, obliged and has been painting everything from mountain scenes, birds, and fish to pieces with Native American and Southwestern themes. He also occasionally paints on some of Davenport’s pots. 

“I’ve always pursued things that are artistic,” said Poané, who worked in Atlanta, Ga., for many years as a photographer, makeup artist, and hair stylist. 

He is often found seated in a corner of the Cowee Mountain Clay gallery, where light streams in, working on a commission piece or one that he hopes to sell. His paintings balance the hues of the pottery pieces throughout the gallery. Poané said he loves to paint so much that he will often leave the gallery and paint more when he returns to his home. 

“It’s a good pairing,” said Poané of the pottery/paintings décor; he also makes for the gallery charcuterie boards out of such woods as black walnut, cedar, and pine. 

Behind Cowee Mountain Clay is Poané’s own gallery space that he shares with Andersen, his long-time girlfriend. Her talents include candle and soap making. In the Poané Gallery, the artist shares his breadth of talents: animal portraits, equine paintings, celebrity publicity paintings – including a Charlie Daniels’ commissioned piece – and various, large-scale oil-on-canvas paintings of famous masterpieces.

“I’m his biggest fan,” said Andersen, “because his range is so wide. When he paints an animal, he paints the spirit of that animal. And his attention to detail … I love his work.”

Multi-media artist Poané

Putting a creative spin on soaps and candles

Crafter Jennifer Anderson

Andersen may not consider herself an artist, but her decorative soaps are especially creative. For example, she has soaps shaped like teeth or an individual tooth with a minty scent so that dentists might enjoy them for their offices or to give to patients. Her realistic rose-shaped soaps are in various shades and packaged in such a way as to appear as a dozen real roses. 

Candles are often in heart-shaped or wooden reusable dishes, or she is experimenting with candles poured in empty, topless soda cans. Her soy jar candles are available in bright rainbow colors and a plethora of scents. She hand makes and mixes essential oils with wax and coloring in an organized craft space at the back of the Poané Gallery space. Yet, Andersen’s creations on display in the retail portion of the gallery complement some of Poané’s more modernistic artwork in the same way that his natural-themed works complement Davenport’s pottery. 

The potter, the artist, and the soap/candle maker all have experienced increased public interest in the fruits of their labor during the past two years. As Davenport pointed out, “We’ve sold so much and keep working, doing the things we enjoy. Everything we do is the real thing, and the feedback we hear from people is that they want real … things that draw the eye, that have the distinction of being hand made.” 

Knowing that people desire their created items is what motivates them day after day, he added.

Candles fashioned to look like desserts are among the designs Jennifer Andersen creates at the Cowee Gallery.