In a yurt along Montana 206, a local potter puts her spin on traditional art.
Melissa Berreth, 35, began “slinging mud” as a teenager in high school. Today she has culminated her life-long love of the arts into her business, Glacier Round House Pottery.
Ceramic pieces stained every shade and color found within Montana’s nature look as if they’ve been pulled from a Flathead riverbed.
Bears, moose and mountains adorn everything from coffee mugs to toilet-plunger covers and pie holders for a collection of nature-inspired art.
Berreth said she developed her signature style from techniques learned from a couple of potters in Wisconsin who served as her mentors, and from the passion she shares with her husband for the outdoors.
Using a wax-resist method common in dying various materials, Berreth covers the desired area that will display the raw, natural material, while dying the rest of the piece in the stain or stain mixture. Once fired, the final product reveals glossy hues of muted reds and purples accentuated by the intricate designs etched in raw clay.
The medallion-shaped designs feature patterns similar to those used in Native American and Aztec art.
“I just make things that I would use and that I like and then I kind of like to see if people reciprocate that,” Berreth said.
More than just decoration, Berreth’s pieces can be used in everything from cooking to cleaning to planting.
“I like to make functional art,” she said. “I like them to be able to be used and touched.”
Often inspiration for new pieces arises out of a need Berreth finds in her own home.
“I made my salad/noodle bowls because I was eating on a plate and everything falls off it,” she said.
One of her favorite items, a decorative toilet-plunger holder/cover, came from her father’s mind and sense of humor.
“Some of my ideas are actually my customers’ ideas,” she added.
Berreth said she often takes specialty requests, puts her spin on them and then discovers a new design or item to incorporate into her repertoire.
Much of her time is spent bent over her pottery wheel or workbench molding her next masterpiece, but throughout the summer, she said she welcomes a steady stream of customers into the shop.
A short walk from their house across the lawn from the shop, Berreth finds time for a coffee break with her husband, Josh, who brings over a fresh pot when needed.
Berreth met Josh in 2007 while both were working as rafting guides in Glacier National Park.
They married in 2010, but by then Berreth had grown tired of the seasonal work.
“I said ‘One day I’m going to start a pottery shop,’ and [Josh] said, ‘OK, let’s do it!’” Berreth said.
With her father’s help and encouragement, Berreth left the rafting company and the couple purchased land off Montana 206 between Columbia Falls and Creston.
They erected the yurts in which they work and live and which reflects the name of their business.
The roundhouses mirror one owned by Berreth’s parents back in Wisconsin, but with a few modifications to accommodate the cold Montana weather.
When she first opened her shop, Berreth said she had no clue how to throw on a wheel. Everything was made by hand for a while, and she gradually taught herself the art of throwing as she went.
It started with a lot of lumpy, recycled clay, she said, but today her studio houses shelves full of identical vases, bottles and pots, artfully thrown on her wheel.
Josh continues to work full time at Whitefish Mountain during the winters and now as a fishing guide during the summers.
However, since opening the business, he has also taken on the title of kiln master, helping his wife by firing and finishing the work she starts in her studio.
A complete novice in the beginning, Josh said had to learn to use the kiln from scratch, watching YouTube videos on the topic and calling customer service as needed.
He learned quickly under the added pressure of knowing that a mistake could lead to the destruction of weeks’ worth of Berreth’s work.
“I haven’t destroyed anything in a long time,” he said with a smile.
Though a bit tamer than her former career on the river, making pottery never gets old for Berreth because of the many steps involved in the process, from glazing to trimming to etching to firing.
“The hardest part is trying not to get distracted by other things because I live right next to my work,” Berreth said.
When the workday ends, however, Berreth said the long summer days still leave time for a trip down the river before sundown.
For more information about Glacier Round House Pottery, visit http://www.glacierroundhousepottery.com/ or call 406-544-6292.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor may be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.