Seeking Beauty: Scottie Roberts Wiest
What is the value of a life in the arts? West Virginia potter Scottie Roberts Wiest has fifty years of experience selling and making functional pottery and plenty to say about a lifestyle embedded in nature and community in her native Appalachia. From her early training at Agnes Scott College, through studies in Japan and residency in Georgia, Wiest lives a quest for beauty that manifests in a lifetime of making and defining Appalachian art and culture.
“We are a complex people,” Wiest says of her Appalachian neighbors. “We are resourceful and resilient and we find ways to get things done with what we have on hand.” She cites the abundance of natural resources – timber, coal, clay – that becomes the raw material of an existence rooted in the earth. The primarily rural lifestyle of the region presents obstacles to everyday life. “Nature,” she says, “is often a challenging and difficult part of your day.” Time is not measured by the bustle of urban activity. The availability of goods is not immediate. She points out that the UPS truck will go anywhere, but, “if you want something, you have to plan ahead!”
As a young woman in the 1960s, fresh from college, she travelled to Kyoto, Japan to further her studies in clay. “While there,” she says, “I had the good fortune to meet the famous English potter Bernard Leach and to have time with him. Something he said has been with me ever since. He said, ‘Potters in the U.S. don’t know their own history.’ I have tried to learn more about our country and the world through learning more about pottery.” Wiest was intrigued by the organic process of the manufacture of pottery in Kyoto, based on the Japanese Mingei, or “folkcraft” movement. “The clay was mined in the countryside and brought to the potters in Kyoto, who worked in the master studios,” she says. “It was so wonderful to be in a place where it was a way of life, where the object is produced by a community of people dedicated to the work.”
Inspired by these concepts, she went on to work with Charles Counts, at Rising Fawn Pottery in Georgia. Counts, a Kentucky native, was an advocate for the preservation of traditional Appalachian crafts and a noted potter who mixed his own clay bodies. Wiest tells the story of how she came to know Standard Ceramic. “Jim, [Turnbull] Sr. came to visit the studio and told Charles he could make the same clay cheaper and better,” she recalls. “And that was and is still the truth. I believe Standard’s 112 is a derivative of Charles’ cone 6 clay, and it fires beautifully.”
In the late 1960s, Wiest participated in a study on the economic impact of crafts in the Appalachian region. “I went along on visits to artists,” she says, “and saw the abundance of raw materials, the traditions, the similarity to what I experienced in Kyoto.” She was ready to return to her home and set up her own studio in Elkins.
Wiest sums up her artistic philosophy in two sentences:
I make pots. You use them.
The simplicity of these statements obscures the complexity and profundity of her life view. First and foremost, she wants her pots to be used by people, in their homes, at their places of work. She says she was always impelled to be an artist, but adds, “I don’t consider myself a great artist.” Her compulsion to create stems from her natural attraction to beauty. “If I find a leaf,” she explains, “I'll pick it up and bring it home. I look for beauty, with an inner eye. Beauty can be inward or outward. I seek to bring beauty to my life and to others.” Most immediately, she shares her vision of beauty in the pottery she makes, but she lives out that vision in a commitment to her community that has spanned decades. The Mountain Arts District collective, The Augusta Heritage Workshop, and Arts Bank, are all institutions that have benefited from Wiest’s involvement. Arts Bank is an organization that places artists residents in the local Randolph County schools. Wiest stresses the importance of these programs, to give children access to learning art techniques. “This experience helps children learn to do a reasonable critique of what they intended and what they achieved,” she explains, a skill that applies to a multitude of disciplines.
Recently Wiest’s husband Jim has had some medical issues, causing Wiest to adjust her work habits. “We all have to balance our needs with the needs of our families,” she says. “The strength of the family is an Appalachian value, especially the family’s ability to adapt. This is what I have always admired about Standard Ceramic. They are always innovative and adaptive to their customers’ needs.”
Between her husband’s illness and the pandemic, Wiest says that she has contact with a smaller range of people lately. She sells locally at her Sand Rock Studio shop in Elkins and regionally at other venues but has not yet made the transition to online sales. “I’ve heard from many of my older potter friends,” she says, “that they haven’t been able to keep up with the demand, especially those who sell online. “I think,” she muses, “that there is a growing awareness of the need for beauty, of the importance of authentic, hand-made things. I am impressed by how many people seek out art. People are coming together around the importance of art, of the wide variety of crafts and music, and its strength in promoting tourism. Arts organizations link people together and help us understand the same and different ways that we all need to proceed in life.”
For Wiest, the attraction to beauty is hidden in every human heart. The value of her life in the arts has been to express that beauty through the materials of her native region and to help others join the quest.
Learn more about Scottie Roberts Wiest in an interview at https://www.rollingpepperoni.com/adventures/scottie
See more of Scottie Roberts Wiest’s work at https://www.scottierobertswiestpottery.com