In 1955, a group of Wesleyan professors' wives began to meet in a university-owned house on Knowles Street to pursue their mutual interest in pottery. The ladies honed their skills under the tutelage of an art department instructor, and each year they held a small sale to sell and display the best of their work.
The Wesleyan Potters, as they became known, relocated for a time to a property on Pease Street, before eventually moving to their current location on South Main Street. Today the group retains only a nominal connection to Wesleyan University, and their tiny fair has evolved into a far grander event: The Wesleyan Potters Annual Exhibit and Sale.
Linda Sershen co-chairs this year's show, the group's 57th annual expo. However, the exhibition is no longer confined to potters only, but also includes "jewelers, weavers, and basket makers," she clarified.
The exhibit's standards for participation have become more rigorous over time. Each showcased piece is now "juried" by a panel of Wesleyan Potters members to determine whether it meets the requisite level of quality, according to Sershen.
"All the items here are the work of professional artists. Mostly, they are from our own members, but we do accept outside submissions," she explained.
Artist Lauria Frenzel reinforced Sershen's point about the strict acceptance criteria. "We're very, very picky about what comes in," she affirmed.
The theme of this year's exhibit is "Through The Looking Glass," named after the Lewis Carroll novel. Sershen explained that the theme is meant to evoke the sense of "stepping into a beautiful place," which is the type of atmosphere that the Wesleyan Potters have tried to create in the gallery.
An entire display case is dedicated to artwork inspired by the story, including ceramic teapots, rabbits, fantasy creatures, and even a piece constructed from a cover of an old edition of Alice in Wonderland with the pages removed. Elsewhere, the famous "Eat me" sign from Carroll's fantasy world marks the entrance to the exhibit, and a "reflection pool" is positioned near the book-inspired pieces, Sershen indicated.
Not every item in the show is a nod to the Carroll masterpiece, however. Visitors to the exhibit will also encounter an assortment of unrelated stone work, wood carvings, figurines, dolls, paintings, drawings, ornaments, coffee mugs, lamps, and framed photographs.
The exhibition traditionally starts the day after Thanksgiving, but the Wesleyan Potters begin preparations in October. "We have a lot of fun, but it's a lot of work," Sershen sighed wearily.
The Wesleyan Potters 57th Annual Exhibit and Sale runs from Nov. 23 - Dec. 9. Wesleyan Potters is located at 350 S. Main St.