The Passing of a Potter
By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
June 6, 2007
Mary Scheier wasn’t like her siblings. The eight of them went to
college. She wanted to go to art school.
Born Mary Goldsmith on May 6, 1908, the Salem, Virginia, native attended
the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts after graduating high school
when she was just 16.
Scheier, who went on to become one of the best known potters in the country,
died last month at age 99.
For 28 years, from 1940 to 1968, Scheier and her husband, Edwin Scheier,
taught ceramics at UNH. The daughter of an accomplished musician mother
and railroad agent father, both of whom were very religious, Scheier was
the seventh of their nine children. She grew up on a five-acre farm surrounded
by cows and chickens and horses and pigs.
That Salem farm was a long way from Paris, where she spent a year before
taking an advertising job at a real estate company in New York City. Next
she worked as a stenographer in Christiansburg, Virginia.
In 1935, Scheier became director of Big Stone Gap and Abingdon Art Centers,
Virginia’s first federally sponsored art gallery. There she met Edwin
Scheier who had attended the New York School of Industrial Arts for two
Edwin Scheier went to Big Stone Gap as a field agent for the Federal Art
Project in Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina. One story about the couple
notes they had met previously in a New York museum where they literally
bumped into each other while admiring a work of art.
Shortly after they married on August 19, 1937, they quit their jobs and,
traveling in an old delivery truck, went on the road as puppeteers, crafting
the puppet heads, designing the costumes and writing the plays. All of
their puppets had names; notables include Butch, Mrs. Dripping Gold and
Performing on a street corner in one town, they were arrested for obstructing
traffic and hauled into court where they gave a show for the judge who
dropped the charges and bought a set of puppets.
In 1939, after working as traveling puppeteers for two years, they ended
up in Norris, Tennessee, where they taught drawing and painting and art
using leather, wood and metal. When it was suggested they work in clay,
the couple found their passion. They stayed in Norris for six months, working
in a ceramic studio.
Setting out for Christiansburg, they got a flat tire in Glade Spring.
While changing the tire, Edwin muddied his clothes and when he tried to
wash them off, he found the consistency of the clay soil to be perfect
The Scheiers set up their first studio, Hillcrock Pottery, in Glade Spring,
renting a shack and building their equipment with used parts from a sewing
machine and an old Ford. They supported themselves by selling small sculptures
and their functional pottery made from the clay they dug. Some of those
early pieces are on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
Mary Scheier became skilled in throwing very thin pots that she treated
with the simple glazes her husband invented. Her work included pottery
that resembled pieces from the Sung dynasty.
A year after they began working as potters, the Scheiers won second prize
in ceramics at the Ninth Annual Ceramic National Exhibition at Syracuse Museum of
Fine Arts (now the Everson Museum). It was the first of many national awards
they would win.
In 1940, David Campbell, the director of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen,
asked the artists to teach at UNH. The Scheiers packed their truck and
headed to Durham. When Edwin Scheier was called up during WWII, Mary Scheier
assumed his teaching duties. During that time, she was also teaching one
day a week at the Rhode Island School of Design.
During their time at the university, the couple lived in Durham and vacationed
often in Mexico. After retiring, they moved to Oaxaca in 1968. Ten years
later the Scheiers made their last move, to Green Valley, Arizona, where
Mary died on May 14.
In addition to the pieces in the UNH Special Collections, the couple’s
work has been displayed in museums across the country, including the American
Craft Museum, the Everson Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art,
the Newark Museum, the Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum, and the Currier
Museum of Art, where they gave their personal collection.
A film on the Scheiers,” Four Hands, One Heart” was released
in 2001 by Ken Browne Productions and was shown on several public television
stations. In 2003, they were given the Lotte Jacobi Living Treasure Award
by New Hampshire’s governor. And, on May 10, they received the Lifetime
Achievement Award from the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen.
Edwin Scheier, Mary’s husband of 69 years, lives in Green Valley.