When Lightning Struck: Larry Allen '78Larry Allen '78 vividly remembers the first time he saw a potter throwing on a wheel. He said, "I watched him throw that jar from a distance. By the time he finished, lightning struck..." After serving as a potter's apprentice for three years at Berea, Larry went on to have a 30-year career as a successful potter.
When Lightning Struck
Larry Allen is a Guild member of the Southern Highlands in Asheville, N.C. and an Alabama Designer Craftsman. He has won numerous awards including Best in Show at many art shows, and his work is represented in several art galleries across the U.S. Allen and his wife, Linda Gassett Allen ’76, reside in Leeds, Ala.
In his own words: I became interested in art in middle school. I always liked
to draw. I remember looking at the Saturday Evening Post when Norman Rockwell’s illustrations were pretty big. I loved those everyday illustrations and how well he did them. They really excited me, and it was something I could see myself doing one day.
In junior college, my studio art teacher was Mrs. Collinson—a petite, German lady who had a thick German accent. She was walking around the room telling students what she thought they should do as a career. When she came to me she said, ‘Larry you should become a potter.’ I said, ‘What? Come again?’ I was thinking to myself, ‘There is no such thing as a potter. She’s making this up.’ So, I quickly threw that idea out the window.
Because I was a transfer student when I came to Berea, they gave me the option of where I wanted to work. I chose the Art Department and imagined working with professors and picking up tips and ideas. But when I got there, it was sweeping and cleaning. That was not for me. I asked my supervisor for another job. She said there was an opening in pottery.
I walked across the campus, and before I got in door, one of the apprentices, Andy, was throwing a cider jar on the wheel. I stopped in my tracks. I had never seen anyone throw pottery on the wheel. I watched him throw that jar from a distance. By the time he finished, lightning struck and I said, ‘I’m taking that job. I don’t know what they want, but I’m taking it.’
They needed a gopher—someone to clean the studio and mix clay and glazes. So, I got my foot in the door. Then I asked about how to get into the pottery program. Gary Gogerty (the resident potter) said, ‘You have to take my class, and if you successfully complete it, then you’ll be enrolled as an apprentice.’ It was a thrill a minute after that. That’s what I was meant to be. Plus all the camaraderie of the apprentices working there—I loved it.
For me, the work helped the academics make sense. When you find yourself on a track you want to go down, then the academic side makes sense as to how this is going to help you get there.
When I first started my career, I was just cranking out pieces. The more I made, the more I could sell. Design was a process. The crafts side of me just wanted to make nice things, but the art side wanted to make a statement. I gradually started picking up on things I wanted to make a statement about, so my designs started to move in those directions.
September 11, 2001 was significant for me, design wise. I saw 9/11 as a unifying moment. I watched Tom Brokaw on the news showing blue-collar and white-collar workers—people who would never come in contact on a given day—working for a common cause. Even Congress was out on the Capitol steps singing ‘God Bless America’ and ‘We are the World.’ I thought, ‘Now they get it; there is strength and harmony in unity.’ So I decided I should etch it in stone because it won’t last. I designed a unity motif with people hand in hand linked around the vessel, and the vessel represented the world. It is a motif I work into every piece I do.
It is a given that without Berea I would not be a potter. There is no question about that. There is nowhere else I could have gone that would have taken me in that direction.