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ARTIST PROFILE: Cheri Cross, potter

September 11, 2014
By MARTHA ALLEN - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

JAY - The Jay Craft Center, across Route 9N from the village green, is sporting a highly visible banner announcing its 40th anniversary.

Forty years making pottery - that is something to be proud of. The time has gone by surprisingly quickly, said Cheri Cross. She and her husband, Lee Kazanas, began by renting part of the old grange hall building from Louis Vincent around 1974, she remembers. They set up a pottery studio; Vincent had his furniture-making shop upstairs.

"The Land of Makebelieve (Arto Monaco's amusement park in Upper Jay) was still in operation then," she said.

Article Photos

Cheri Cross at the Jay Craft Center
(Photo — Martha Allen)

Vincent bought the building from the Whiteface Grange. In 1980, Cross and Kazanas bought the building from Vincent.

Cross and Kazanas met in the pottery studio at Plattsburgh State University.

"Lee was much more adept, had much more throwing ability at first than I did," Cross recalled. "He did bigger things - I like small."

Cross likes to paint flowers, pine cones and fish on her ceramic pieces, while Kazanas prefers abstract embellishment and accent work.

Before renting from Vincent, the young couple picked apples one fall and worked with other artists to run a store called the Left Bank in Keeseville.

"It was a tiny store on the river - in fact, it hung over the river - where Stewart's is now," Cross said.

Once in the grange hall building, Cross and Kazanas practiced their production skills, working to improve speed making specific pieces.

"We did wholesale in the beginning. We got more efficient with forms and decorative designs, and we achieved much more consistency with our designs."

Still, no two pieces are identical. Despite all the two have learned over the years, opening the kiln is exciting every time, Cross said, because the results are unpredictable. "That's the fun of it."

A crystal glaze technique they use, for example, delivers an effect variously described as resembling snowflakes or flowers. How many crystalline shapes appear on a given bowl or vase and their configuration is beyond the potter's control.

"It works best with blue glaze," Cross remarked. "The kiln does a lot of it."

She learned a lesson from college that she will never forget.

The color red was hard to achieve on pottery fired at the high temperatures - cone 10 - used in the school pottery studio. Some students discovered a red glaze that worked at cone 10, and "everyone was over the moon for Rattlesnake Red." Everyone used it, but the next time the kiln was opened, expectations were dashed. The initial success of Rattlesnake Red was not repeated. This time, the same glaze produced a dull khaki color.

Times have changed, and Cross and Kazanas have changed along with them, which probably explains in part their success with Jay Craft Center.

"In the '70s, we made a lot of planters, mugs and bowls. We spent many an evening making macrame for hanging plants."

Whatever happened to all of those hanging macrame planters? Still, some things have remained the same.

"Our priority has always been attractive, functional pottery."

For 20 years, they traveled to Maryland to sell in craft shows. As their children, Anastasia and Kaiden, grew older, they did fewer craft shows and put more energy into the store. Many artisans now sell work of all kinds, including lamps, jewelry and glassware, at the Craft Center. Old-timers sometimes visit and talk about their activities at the old grange, which hosted dances and community dinners and social events.

The grange hall, built in 1909, was not designed as a residence, and was not insulated.

"We're still insulating."

The insulation has been installed from the outside of the building in order to protect the original wainscotting inside, which they have maintained with linseed oil.

Some of the pottery will look very familiar to those who frequented Jay Craft Center 20 years ago. Certain candle holders, for example, and votives painted with pine cones, have always been popular. Cross and Kazanas have also continued to develop designs and techniques. Now, because of a new electric kiln, they can fire at lower temperatures - cone 6 - allowing a whole new series of colors in their glazes. Cheri could probably get Rattlesnake Red to behave reliably now, were she to get her hands on it. As it is, they have a vivid red and also paler colors that would burn off at cone 10.

These days they attend a few small craft shows, and they are online on their site, jaycraftcenter.com, as well as through Etsy. As always, they will hold their annual clearance sale the weekend before Thanksgiving, which falls this year Nov. 22 and 23. They will be open up until Christmas, but store hours fall off to some extent after foliage season. Cross recommends calling first after the season ends.

After the 40th anniversary, what's next?

"It has always been a challenge," Cross says, and then, in the same breath, "I plan to continue as long as I am physically able." From the look of it, that will be a long time.

 
 

 

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