Rural Martinsburg man expresses himself through pottery
MARTINSBURG — As a young taxidermist, Marcus Zimmerman learned how soft clay could add depth and emotion to an animal’s face.
That fine detail — on an angry lion or a frightened caribou — soon made him well-known, earning Zimmerman international recognition and awards.
Now 53 and a seasoned taxidermist, Zimmerman decided it was time to try working with clay a different way — by spinning it on a potter’s wheel.
“You can’t change the animal to be whatever you want, but you can make clay into whatever you want,” he said. “So I can express myself more with pottery. The possibilities are endless.” What started out as a lifelong fascination with ceramics has grown into a new family business and a home studio, Good News Pottery, located next to Zimmerman Wildlife in rural Martinsburg.
Zimmerman will host an open house there on Friday and Saturday. The free event will showcase both functional and decorative handmade pieces of pottery. He will also give pottery throwing demonstrations throughout the day.
“If someone has an interest in pottery, we invite them to come out,” he said. “Every piece is different, and they are all one-of-a-kind. No two are exactly alike.”
When Zimmerman decided to start making pottery, he knew he should learn the same way he did as a taxidermy student: directly from the professionals.
It didn’t take long before he made a few phone calls and started spending one-on-one time with third-generation potter Simon Leach of Millheim, Mari Pat of Bedford and Joel Hildebrand of Denver, Pa.
“I gave him some pointers and instruction,” said Leach, who at that time lived in Williamsburg. “But ultimately everybody does their own thing with clay. It’s very versatile and therapeutic. That’s why many people enjoy pottery. It allows them to unwind and destress.”
The learning experience proved invaluable, Zimmerman said.
“People are willing to teach in short amounts of time what could take years and years to learn on your own,” he said.
An avid hunter and outdoorsman, Zimmerman grew up on the family farm learning about hard work in the Mennonite tradition.
That upbringing impacts his work as an artist and inspires the earthy nature-centric colors he selects for his pots.
“Every potter has their own style,” he said. “The longer they stick with it, they sort of gravitate toward what they like. And the more familiar you get with (throwing clay) the better you get.”
The form of the pot is just as important, he said.
“The shape of a pot can move you,” he said. “It can be subtle in the shape of the pot or the surface texture. Everybody views a piece differently. I could think a piece is gorgeous while the person next to me says, ‘It’s not for me.’ Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
His 1,000-square-foot studio features higher-priced pieces for serious collectors, such as large vases and detailed teapots, and smaller items such as succulent pots, ceramic necklace charms and personalized mugs.
Zimmerman also sells the mugs at his other business, Traditions Restaurant & Bakery in Martinsburg.
They are typically glazed and hand decorated by his daughter-in-law, Kirsten Zimmerman, who can add names or logos for custom orders.
“I enjoy pottery because time seems to stop,” Kirsten, 20, said. “It’s so hands on and stress free that it doesn’t feel like a job at all. The creativity part is endless, and I absolutely love that because it pushes me to think outside the box and create new things that others haven’t.”
A father of six, Zimmerman hopes that future generations will take an interest in pottery, too. His 11-year-old daughter, Natosha, enjoys working with clay, and his wife, Lorraine, is supportive and uses pottery in their household.
“My first desire is to make pieces that are fully functional,” Zimmerman said, emphasizing that he’s surrounded by helpers that he appreciates.
Kirsten, for example, handles the online sales and marketing aspects of the business so he can spend more time at the wheel.
Still, always the entrepreneur, he’s constantly thinking of ways he can incorporate the pottery into his restaurant or help the business thrive.
“I know from being in the business world that it takes a lot to promote and grow a business,” he said. “You have to have endurance and perseverance. I just want to make pots … but there’s wonderful potential here.”