As an artist, I can’t tell you how often I have been offered art supplies when people are clearing out of their homes. People go all-in on projects to create their craft and end up with a lot of stuff when their interests have changed. As a potter, it’s often their mother’s old, non-working kiln or hundreds of plaster doll molds people try to give me. 

A few months ago, I was asked if I wanted ceramic molds that a local person was giving away. Honestly, I am not really into painted tchotchkes or ceramic dolls made from molds. Since I make pottery from scratch using a pottery wheel, casting molds was not my thing. But that all changed when one of my good friends and pottery student, Ali Travis, called me and asked the question that would change my life as I know it: “How do you feel about ceramic molds?” My first response to her was, “Ugh, I don’t want a bunch of ceramic molds. But are there any Christmas trees? Because they are cool.” Her answer was, “They said there were no Christmas trees.” Bummer. But then she said, “I think we should still check it out.” 

I remember seeing those ceramic trees in the 70’s as a child at Christmas time with the lights in them. Almost everyone’s mother or grandmother had gone to ceramics class and made a Christmas tree. It was a tradition in those days. And having a light-up ceramic tree has become very popular again. I had been secretly wishing I could find one of my own.

I have turned down many opportunities to acquire molds. And I had no room or interest in them at all. Period. But on this particular day this summer, for some reason, I let my guard down and decided that looking at molds would be loads of fun. Ali said 3 different people had called her to see if she wanted the molds or if she knew someone who did. We decided that we should at least look into it. So we did. The next thing I knew, Ali and I were in her truck and on our way to see these molds. We just really planned on looking for Christmas trees or anything else cool. What we saw was way more than we expected. 

We got to the decrepit home that had just been sold and was met by the man who bought the property and his workers clearing the backyard with a backhoe. He explained that the lady who lived there years before had a business pouring molds and selling the greenware and kiln fired bisque ware. Unfortunately, the molds were left out in her shed for years after she passed away. The building collapsed at some point, and all the molds were in huge piles strewn out in the dirt and full of bugs. Many were broken, separated, or had rain damage. And he just wanted someone to use them and not let them get taken to the dump. So he said he would leave them there for us to go through. 

There were piles of white plaster molds all over the ground. It was crazy how many were just strewn about. And honestly, it was sad to see someone’s livelihood just outside, exposed to the elements, rotting away in the dirt along with a part of history. Ali and I walked around picking up molds here and there, and we took several home that day. And guess what? We found three Christmas tree molds. 

So, for the next several weeks and months, I would go out to the pile wearing gloves and boots after work or on weekends with other students and friends and look through this mess of plaster molds in the coastal NC blazing summer heat. We found Buddah, turtles, frogs, fish, and other figurings. We found dogs, birds, cats, elephants, camels, giant chess pieces, mugs and bowls, and questionable figurings. And several items with mushrooms on them! And more Christmas trees. 

Everything was vintage from the 1960’s to the 80’s. 

I learned how to make the slip to cast them and have cast several, including one of the small trees. Some of my students have had fun helping me with the process; we are all learning together. We are also preserving a small part of history that was momentarily forgotten. It’s been a fun process learning how to cast the molds, and although I have not counted how many molds we saved, it’s a few hundred. And now my garage and lean-to are full of molds, and I’m still trying to figure out what we will do with all of them. Still, I am happy we spent time-saving the molds for a new generation of ceramic artists to play with. 

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