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Johnny and Judy Lynn stand in front of a set of shelves containing a collection of Judy’s pieces. Photos by Elizabeth Green

Couple sculpts song of success

by Elizabeth Green
egreen@timescourier.com

The old Leslie Gore song, "It's my party," about a young girl's heartbreak, contains the lyrics, "Judy and Johnny just walked through the door, like a queen with her king." Pottery business owners, Johnny and Judy Lynn, could be arguably dubbed the local king and queen of pottery, but they are singing a song of success, not heartbreak.

On a warm November afternoon, the couple can be found in their studio, a small wooden house built in the 1950s, just yards from Boardtown Creek.

A set of large blue tick hounds greets visitors with wagging tails and deep voices.

Inside the front room of the studio, two large kilns squat in front of a wall covered with accolades and ribbons from various craft shows the couple travels to each year. By the end of this year, they will have spent over 30 weekends on the road, but, says Johnny, that is a light workload. "This is how we eat," he says.

This platter features a few of Judy’s frogs.

Completed jars and jugs garnished with clay leaves sit ready for sale.

The inside of this kiln can reach temperatures as high as 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit.

A flock of angels dries atop one of the kilns used for firing clay.

Judy has received numerous accolades, including a “best of show” award.

An ergonomically correct left-handed fish mug allows users to hold it with a straight wrist.

Sometimes, at craft shows and festivals, the couple ends up beside other potters. The increased competition is not usually a problem, though. "It doesn't bother us to have other potters...they're not anything like us," says Johnny.

Indeed, the Lynns have developed a very unique style of sculpture. Judy specializes in frogs and incorporates them in every way she can into her works. She makes frog bowls, mugs, chip-and-dips and multipurpose pitchers, and the couple's pottery Web site url is www.frogpottery.com. Johnny describes them as "her main forte." "She can put such character and expression in these frogs," he says.

Not only do the pieces have visual appeal, but they are microwave, stove and dishwasher safe. "You can just do numerous things with these pieces, and that's why they are so popular," says Johnny. The Lynns ship these pieces all over the country, so they have to be durable.

The fired clay is hard to break, which Johnny demonstrates by slamming a mug down on a countertop. "It's a whole lot sturdier than you think it is," he proclaims. The glaze is also quite safe when the pieces are used in food preparation. It will not seep or flake off into food.

Judy appears to have a natural ability for her craft, but she did not simply stumble upon her hidden talent. She spent years developing her sculpting style, beginning when she apprenticed with a potter in Florida for three years and spent 10 years under the instruction of other potters learning "what would sell and what wouldn't." She has now spent 21 years as a professional potter.

Little has changed in the process of making pottery since it originated thousands of years ago, says Johnny. Judy does have some modern conveniences, like an electric potters wheel, rather than a primitive "kick wheel," which requires the potter to kick a stone on which the wheel sits repeatedly to get the wheel to turn.
The utensils Judy uses to carve intricate designs into her clay are simply modified versions of tools used in ancient times.

These freestanding jugs are two of Judy’s more pricey creations due to the workmanship that goes into their unusually tall shapes.

Judy demonstrates her “throwing” technique. She can throw a mug in less than two minutes.

Judy's workmanship process must be completed over the course of several days, so she must start weeks ahead of time to have a supply ready for a craft show.

The first day, she "throws" a bowl or sculpture and lets it dry to a leathery consistence. The term "throwing" is derived from the way a sculptor actually throws a piece of unmolded clay onto the wheel so that it sticks and will not move, therefore allowing the sculptor to more easily mold it.

Next, any garnishments, such as clay leaves or vines, are added. The piece is then fired in a kiln at a low heat of 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the piece is allowed to cool, Judy puts a resistant wax onto any part she does not want to glaze. The piece is then dipped in the glaze and fired to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit in the kiln where any wax melts away.
It is important not to remove the clay from the kiln before it is sufficiently cooled. Early removal could result in "crazing," in which fine cracks break out all over the piece. This flaw cannot be reversed.

The couple has developed their own unique shade of sea foam green glaze, which they refuse to reveal the formula for. Any potter "who's worth anything," says Johnny, should have his or her own secret glaze recipe.
Judy's pieces range in price anywhere from six dollar spoon rests to $600 tall jugs.

One type of creation that is rapidly growing in popularity is her face jugs. They are a takeoff on the "ugly jug," which originated as an unattractive face molded onto a moonshine jug to keep children away from the container's contents.

Judy has modified this idea by accepting orders for custom face jugs, and she actually molds the clay into a likeness of a customer's picture.

Johnny emphasizes Judy's ability to churn out pottery quickly and without error. Judy says she can throw about 100 mugs during a day's work.

This couple lives for pottery.

In fact, their relationship began as a result of a pottery challenge. They met at a party where Johnny told Judy he felt confident that he could throw a piece of pottery. A skeptical Judy took him up on the challenge, and Johnny, indeed, threw a bowl.

"It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen...so I hired him," she says.

The Lynns sell a substantial amount of pottery, so they require a substantial amount of clay. Every three to six months they have a ton of clay delivered just for their own purposes, although they say they would be willing to supply other pottery enthusiasts in the area with clay.

They also plan to start giving sculpting lessons in the next few months. Already, Johnny regularly invites visitors to "play in the mud" and try to create their own mugs and bowls.

Judy makes the task look easy, but, as Johnny points out, "You can drive a car, but you can't race." Years and years of study and trial and error have gone into Judy's designs, and her satisfied customers are a testament to her hard work and talent. Unlike the eventually slighted Judy in Gore's lyrics, Judy Lynn has made this business into her own party.





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