Dick Hotchkiss


"To create one piece is enough, the rest is process."


If you live in Nevada County and have anything to do with ceramic arts, have attended Sierra College or Nevada Union (where I first encountered him as a teen), you know Dick Hotchkiss. He's been here since the 70's. The land where he has lived since then was first inhabited by his parents in 1947 who "chopped down the trees to build this house and garden." Jessica Agnew, who's interview we posted recently, currently lives here as an apprentice of sorts. They are both iconic figures in the Sierra Foothills, one already established, one in the making.

We talked a lot about being an artist as a livelihood while we visited his property and how this particular piece of land and the structures on it all have their roots in artistic endeavoring. The salvaged wood structures, made from defunct Gold Rush mining flumes,  were part of an artist residency that was dreamed up in 1976 called the Winter Term. Fifteen students came from college in Wisconsin to learn Primitive Pottery. Some of them, Kirk Mangus, Annie Zimmerman, Chris Smith, went on to be successful potters. The studio where Dick still works was built in 1975 and has posters from that time on the wall exactly as they were placed 40 years ago, amongst a hefty population of abandoned pieces.

One of the truly incredible things on this land is a Japanese Anagama ("one house") kiln from a 2000 year old tradition, that was built in 2006, each brick handmade and able to withstand 2500 degree temperatures. It looks a little like a giant clay dragon, spanning a whole hillside. It transfers heat throughout a long chamber of hand made bricks. The wind and the accompanying wood ash that settles on the pieces are what creates the distinguished look of the glazes from this type of firing. Given the time consuming nature of these firings, requiring many hands, round the clock attentiveness, and many cords of wood, they are more of special occurrence. It's only happened twice in this kiln, the first one resulting in a small structure fire and a roof collapse. His regular firings are done in a gas kiln also on the property. Since the 70's Dick has been an integral  part of the annual community winter firing at John Woolman quaker school and has facilitated 125 firings total out there. 

 He is relying more and more on local minerals for glazes, though he has been digging clay from the local area for most of his career as a potter. He has a deep sense of place and home, and wants that to be reflected in the pottery and for the pottery to be representative of the elements specific to this place. He referenced poet Gary Snyder's sentiments around "sense of place" and art coming from that. You can see it in his pieces. They are not trendy, exceedingly bright and flashy. They are earthen. Solid. Indicative of the foothill elements, they are from this place. You can see it in the colors and in the feel of his pots.

Dick is someone who requires little recognition for his work as an artist in the egoic sense. His pieces are not fetching the prices of most of his contemporaries, though the quality of the craftsmanship and the enduring aesthetic rival anything being produced in today's maker world. He's not looking for personal acknowledgment as an artist, though is a staunch believer is claiming art as a way of life. He is drawn to it for the process, and the results make that obvious.

<< All photos by Kat Alves >>