Love of pottery shapes long Callanwolde career

As an English major at a Virginia college, Glenn Dair had no idea what he’d do to earn a living. But one crafts course in his senior year gave him the inspiration.

“I knew then I needed to do something with my hands -- something different from writing,” said Dair. “So I decided there were enough cabdrivers in the world and decided to go for the big bucks.”

Dair’s wry sense of humor helped convince family and friends that he could make a living as a potter. Those who have come in contact with him as a teacher or with his work have sensed the passion below his quiet demeanor -- a passion that has fueled a 30-year career as the director of the pottery program at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center.

“I was completely captured by clay,” said Dair. “It took me to the University of Georgia, which has one of the strongest clay departments around. But when I got out, I decided I really wanted to see what it was like to make a living at it instead of teaching, which is what we were trained to do.”

Dair’s first career move took him to Watkinsville, where he created art objects and sold them to shops and galleries around the country. His vases, pots, bowls and teapots featured distinctive graphic elements -- circles, squares, trees, landscapes -- that made them decorative as well as functional. And they sold so well that Dair kept his focus on the smaller objects instead of moving to sculpture. But after a few years, the chance to teach full time at Callanwolde was irresistible.

“I needed to be back out in public,” said Dair. “I took the job, thinking I’d be there three years, then go off and get a real job teaching on the college level. But there isn’t anything short of an academic program that has more ways for students to finish their work. I love this program; I’ve got as close to complete control as a person can have.”

As the pottery program director, Dair hires staff, administers the program and even handles all the maintenance in the pottery facility, from building to repairing several electric, gas and soda kilns. He also teaches five classes each week, often to students who have been attending for as long as he’s been in charge.

“They’re like my grad students,” Dair said with a laugh. “But they just keep coming back. And they make my position really interesting. I never know what they’ll be doing next.”

Rick Berman, now a teacher of ceramics at Pace Academy, was Dair's boss at Callanwolde 30 years ago and has seen the caliber of students Dair has inspired.

"He has been [a] mentor to dozens and dozens of fledgling potters who have worked in the Callanwolde ceramics assistantship program," said Berman. "Many of these folks have gone on to be professional potters or enrolled in college programs all over the country with much success. Glenn has also been a dedicated administrator, working with budgets, holiday shows and sales, hosting workshops with world-renowned ceramic artists and very humbly managing his own very successful career as a working artist."

In between his varied responsibilities, Dair squeezes in time to work on his own craft. He recently wrapped up an exhibit at the Signature Shop in Buckhead and was featured in the Georgia Pottery Invitational, a show that ends Sept. 15 in Watkinsville. He also has created site-specific work, such as large garden sculptures for the High Museum’s tour of art gardens. His top-selling piece of garden sculpture sold for around $1,600, but most of his work ranges from $20 for a mug or jar to $800 for a garden lantern.

Being at Callanwolde for three decades has given him the security few others in his field enjoy, said Dair.

“There are a few people who have figured out how to make a very good living at this,” he said. “But it’s like basketball: There are a lot more basketball players than there are NBA stars. I just try to do it one day at a time. That’s what got me into this, and now it’s piled up to be 30 years. And no one is more surprised at that than me.”

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