George Holland understands the old adage, “form follows function.” Perhaps more importantly, this professional potter has refined the saying into a perfect synthesis between aesthetics and purpose.
For forty years, Holland has worked professionally with ceramics all over the United States and in Mexico. Holland now resides with his wife, Wanda, just south of Abilene in Buffalo Gap. Together the two own and manage Buffalo Gap Pottery and Gallery.
A glance through Holland’s gallery reveals more than a few pretty vases and bowls. The techniques used to create each of Holland’s pieces range from traditional firing and glazing to horsehair raku.
Kenny Jones, associate professor of art, has visited Holland’s gallery several times with his ceramics classes in the past five years.
“[Holland’s] work is marvelous,” Jones said. “He’s exactly the type of resource we like to find and acknowledge.”
Holland begins the ceramic process by first forming a pottery piece on a potter’s wheel. This technique, known as “throwing,” is done when the clay is wet and easy to mold. Pieces such as large buffalo-stamped mugs, spherical pots and Holland’s famous egg-cooker take shape in this beginning step.
While an experienced potter can make throwing look easy, Jones said throwing can be the most challenging aspect of pottery if a creation begins with too many expectations.
“Clay can be very humbling. It seems to have a mind of its own,” Jones said. “If you can be open to the process, it seems to go better.”
The pottery forms are then fired in one of Holland’s two kilns, or pottery ovens. The kiln can reach temperatures well above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and therefore sets in place the final shape of a piece.
Once removed from the kiln and cooled, detail is added to each piece. For traditional pieces, Wanda Holland paints with silica to add color or pattern. Silica is one of the base ingredients for the glazes that whole pieces are often dipped in to change their overall color. These colors often don’t reach their actual pigment until after a second firing, which also leaves a permanent glossy coating.
In raku pottery, a second kiln firing provides the necessary heat to add finishing touches, such as horsehair or flame imprints. For horsehair raku, Holland singes singular pieces of the animal’s hair to a pot heated somewhere between 1,000 and 1,050 degrees. This leaves behind a beautiful and twisted carbon imprint.
With the smell of a forgotten hair straightener in the air, Holland must move quickly to create the intricate design around a simple, round pot.
There doesn’t seem to be one part of the ceramic process Holland does not enjoy.
“I’m kind of excited about all of it,” Holland said. “There’s a bit of chemistry, art, and design involved.”
Jones agrees with Holland and says that ceramics is very much a collaboration between science and art.
“As you begin to work, you’re aware that your materials have very specific properties. There’s kind of an intriguing scientific or mysterious component to it,” Jones said.
This excitement between the processes used translates into the original forms Holland creates and has become known around Texas and across the country.
“We make things that are beautiful and functional,” he says.
About six years ago, a customer asked Holland if he had anything that would make a poached egg. Holland began
experimenting with design and materials until he developed a small, shallow pot with a hollow handle. Rinse it with water, add an egg and the lid, and after a couple zaps in the microwave, a perfect poached egg emerges. The cooker can also make fluffy omelets, oatmeal, and steamed veggies within a few minutes.
Holland said he has since sold between 8,000 and 10,000 egg cookers and has also developed an apple cooker along with a few other cookware pieces. The national TV series “Texas Country Reporter” featured Holland’s work in a 2008 broadcast.
While it is a challenge for him to make something that works, Holland said he enjoys the challenge because he gets to see what he created at the end of the day, when the beautiful and functional finally come together.
Buffalo Gap Pottery & Gallery is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays and 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when it is closed. It is located at 534 Vine St. in Buffalo Gap.