Interpreter began Prairietown potter’s role 38 years ago

170508_blog1

Interpreter Larry Gilliam demonstrates his pottery skills to a school group inside the potter’s shop in Prairietown.

By Hannah Kiefer
If visitors have ever purchased a piece of the beautiful pottery sold in the Conner Prairie Store, there’s a good chance it was made by Larry Gilliam – although they may know him better as Mr. Barker, owner of the pottery shop in 1836 Prairetown.

“I’ve touched probably all the pottery that we have here,” he said. He added that although he oversees all of the pottery production, he definitely couldn’t do it without help from fellow interpreters Sarah Richcreek and Jessica Madsen, who also work on pottery.

170508_blog2

Larry Gilliam (background) has worked at Conner Prairie for 38 years.

Larry has worked at Conner Prairie for 38 years as of April 6. He said he has no formal training in pottery but rather has learned by studying other potters while he was growing up and learning from a mentor when he first started at the museum.

“In high school, I couldn’t draw or anything,” he said. “So I’d go to the potter’s wheel where I could accomplish something.”

170508_blog3As an adult potter working here, Larry (left) said he’d often visit family in North Carolina who lived about an hour outside of Seagrove. There, he said families have been creating pottery since the 1700s. He spent hours observing them and then he read every book about pottery that he could get his hands on.

He also had family in north Georgia, where he said he learned from another well-known family of potters – the Meaders. He said they are the premier potters for face pottery or face jugs, like some Conner Prairie visitors may have seen Larry make on mugs while working in Prairietown.

“I picked up a lot from just watching people work,” he said. “You watch them work and then you read all the books.”

His favorite part of his work is actually working on the wheel and the hardest part is firing up the kiln – especially the one in Prairietown, which can be pretty hit-or-miss on temperature due to the 19th-century technology of it. The kiln can hold anywhere from 250-500 pieces and Larry said loading all of them into the kiln is just “another day at the office” for him.

Inside the potter’s shop, Larry still keeps a few of his earlier pieces on display, even though they make him a bit embarrassed because of their quality. He said they serve as a good reminder, though. “It shows you how far you’ve traveled,” he said.