World traveler turned local artist to display bountiful bowls at show this weekend
The Enterprise — Lisa Nicole Lindsay
Leaning over a workstation, Terrice Bassler demonstrates some of the techniques she uses to create pottery of varying shapes, sizes, and uses. Bassler’s studio is in the garage of her home in Berne. Her kiln, named “Kookie” sits in the background, baking items Bassler recently finished.
BERNE — Terrice Bassler spent the majority of her adult life traveling the globe as an activist; now, she spends her days in her pottery studio, indulging and growing her passion for purposeful and accessible art.
Bassler, whose family has been in the Berne area since the 1700s, grew up here before attending McGill University in Montreal, where she started becoming politically active. After finishing her schooling there, she enrolled in the Peace Corps, hoping to get an assignment in West Africa. While waiting, Bassler did freelance editorial work in Washington, and soon began working with the World Bank when the Peace Corps assignment didn’t come.
Her career with the World Bank led her to many years of working and living in various countries throughout East Europe and South Africa.
“At one point in my career, I was traveling to eight countries a month,” she said of her time in Europe.
All the while when she was traveling, Bassler was also collecting. She had always loved pottery, and, while she had neither the time nor equipment to craft while traveling, she collected pieces — primarily bowls — from many of the countries she visited.
“All the years I worked overseas, I collected and made a point to go to museums and shops,” she said. Whenever she bought a piece, “I brought it back in my suitcase and hoped it wouldn’t break,” she continued.
After years of travel, Bassler decided it was time to settle down and, rather than develop leadership in organizations in other countries, develop her passion for pottery.
She took her first pottery class in Newfoundland, Canada, where her husband is an oceanographer at a university.
“Winters there are even longer than here, if you can imagine that,” Bassler said of the easternmost Canadian province.
“There it’s considered normal to have a creative pursuit,” she continued, noting that the area is very friendly to creative types.
After taking classes in Newfoundland for a while, Bassler was given a residency at El Torn Pottery School in Barcelona, Spain in 2011-12.
During these early pottery years, she and her husband were establishing a home in Newfoundland, as well as one in Berne. She describes their home in Newfoundland as their city home, and their Berne residence as their rural one.
In their Berne home, art is in abundance. The garage has been turned into Bassel’s pottery studio, where her clay, glazes, wheel, and all her other tools are set up. Shelves line the back wall where pieces sit before and after being put in her kiln.
“My kiln here is named Kookie, because she heats up quickly, and the one in Newfoundland is Kitty because she purrs. I've kept them in k's to be twins,” Bassler said.
One shelf holds a CD player and stacks of CDs; a few were Paul Simon, Dire Straits, and instrumental bands.
On another shelf sits a bin full of pieces of lace of varying shapes, sizes, and patterns that Bassler collected from all over the world, as well as a bin of seashells sent to her by her father in Florida. Bassler uses these items to create texture in her pieces, pressing them into soft clay once she has formed it into its final shape using one of many pottery-making techniques.
The walls of the garage are sponge painted with blue, yellow, and green paint that was left over from other rooms in the house. Bassler used sponges from her array of pottery tools to make arcing and swirling patterns on the walls.
Inside her home, Bassler displays various forms of pottery, some of which she bought, and some that were passed down from family members. Many are bowls.
Bassler grew up around her grandmothers and has fond childhood memories of gathering around large bowls in the kitchen, she said.
“Bowls are abundant and bowls look generous,” she said of her fondness for creating, as well as displaying, bowls.
Bassler also emphasized that the bowls she creates are meant to be used.
“They’re not dust catchers,” she said, “They’re meant to be used in daily life.”
Bassler said the move from working as a global activist to a potter taught her different skills. Money wasn’t really a factor in activism, she said, but she had to learn about business when selling her pottery to ensure she had enough money for materials to keep producing pieces.
“It’s not really a business plan,” she said. “It’s a kind of quirky journey.”
Each piece Bassler creates has a journey of its own, coming from a different origin — perhaps it is a piece of a set she is making, or maybe a specially-requested mug someone is giving as a gift — and ending in a new home.
“There are absolutely infinite possibilities with clay,” she said, referring both to the forms it can take and the sentiments it can express.
And, while Bassler creates all kinds of items with clay, including earrings, brooches, mugs, plates, and buttons, she favors bowls.
“Everyone has a tradition around a bowl,” she said, also noting that the earliest vessels humans worked with were bowl-like in shape and function.
“When you put clay on a wheel,” she said, “it naturally wants to become a bowl.”
This Saturday, Aug. 16, is the opening of a gallery featuring Bassler’s bowls paired with utensils and fabrics meant to create a complete, immediately usable set. Bowls start at $18 and can go up to $150 for a set with African-made utensils. The show, “Bee Bowled Over” will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. at Hive, 321 Main Street, Schoharie, New York. More information about Hive can be found at www.hive321.com, and about Bassler’s art at www.potterywithpurpose.com.