Lenoir woman still playing with mud

"You learn as you go along"
Aug. 24, 2013 @ 08:35 AM

Before Caron Baker Wike was a full-time potter, she made pottery as a hobby. Before that, it was an interest. Even before that, she played in the mud.

“It was just a natural thing,” she said. At a year old, she was tagging along with her grandmother to sculpture class.

Today, Baker Wike spends her time at her studio in the old Lenoir High School creating, teaching and firing up kilns in what used to be the boys locker rooms, looking down on the old football field.

The shelves that once housed sweaty football pads and mud-covered cleats is now home to stacks of rolling pins, drying pottery pieces and an assortment of pottery-making tools that has taken Baker Wike nearly three decades to compile.

Born in St. Albans, England, Baker Wike moved to Charlotte at the age of 7 in 1966, and from there moved all along the East Coast, from Maine to Florida.

After visiting the Biltmore Estate on their honeymoon, she and husband Jim Wike decided to move to western North Carolina, starting anew in a new place.

She started into pottery while earning her business degree at Brevard Community College in Brevard, Fla., where she had a choice of art electives: painting or pottery.

She wasn’t really interested in painting, so she signed up for pottery, she said, and that decision has made all the difference as she kept coming back to pottery through the years until she realized, “This is what I’m meant to do.”

She went on to study at a co-op studio in Melbourne, Fla., and in 1998, she finished her studies at Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute.

After her classes at CCC&TI, Baker Wike was asked to teach a class in hand building pottery, and went on to get a job working with the Caldwell Arts Council.

As she progressed, Baker Wike needed a kiln. She asked around at the arts council and was told her there used to be one at the Mulberry Recreation Center, and on further investigation and a lead from the director, found the kiln discarded, burned out and unusable.

So with a grant from the arts council and help from the city of Lenoir, a new kiln was purchased for the recreation center, where Baker Wike was teaching classes in what she described as a “closet.”

Today, she has a full studio at the old high school, with two computerized kilns and every piece of equipment needed to do anything in pottery. The only limitation is the size of the kilns.

In the classes Baker Wike teaches the first Monday of each month, she said, anyone from an experienced potter to someone who’s never handled clay could fit right in.

“I like being involved with people, and teaching is a way to do that,” she said, adding that her students inspire her.

Baker Wike’s work is currently featured in galleries across the region, including Wilcox Emporium in Boone, Mud Hunter Pottery in Asheville and Mainstreet Art Company in Alpharetta, Ga. and each Saturday, she sells pieces at the Watauga Farmer's Market in Boone.

Baker Wike likes to add texture and depth to her pottery, pressing the designs into the clay with leaves picked from local plants and with her great-grandmother’s 100-year-old doilies.

Mostly, she works with slabs, or large flat pieces of clay, rolled out like a dough for a pizza, but she also does some work with throwing, or using small balls or chunks of clay, spun on a wheel.

Pottery is something that can never be mastered, she said. “You learn as you go along. You don’t have to have a degree, just practice a lot -- practice, practice, practice.”

Caron Baker Wike’s pottery classes are gearing up for the fall. For more information or to sign up, call 828-758-0897 or 828-758-5520.