In the basement of what was a barn, Richard Busch has classical music playing and his hands caked with clay as he lives out his second career.
Throw, trim and dry, that’s what the 61-year-old does nearly every day that he can, not considering any of it work. The room is warm, the warmest in the 160-year-old dairy barn on Catoctin Mountain four miles west of Leesburg. Glenfiddich Farm Pottery is the name he gives to the showroom one door down from his studio, both located in converted horse’s stalls.
“It’s really pleasurable sitting at the wheel and making shapes out of this wet clay and finding ways to sell it,” said Busch, a potter for the past 12 years, the last two as a professional.
Busch had spent 30 years in journalism and was “getting tired of it,” so at 57, he took an early retirement from National Geographic Traveler to pursue pottery. In 1965, the Long Island native began reporting for Life Magazine after earning a bachelor of arts in English and serving in the U.S. Army for two years. Seven years later, he became an editor at Popular Photography, then worked at two other publications also as editor before becoming editor of National Geographic Traveler in 1988.
BY THEN, Busch and his wife of 27 years, Olwen Woodier, were living in Vienna. Busch took a three-month beginner’s pottery class at the Vienna Community Center about 12 years ago, loving it from the first day, he said. “I kind of got hooked on it as a hobby. I found it fascinating,” he said.
“He started with the beginner’s [class], and he took off from that. He was a very fast learner,” said Suan Ying, a full-time potter living in Vienna and a friend of Busch’s. When he mentioned an interest in pottery, she told him about the Vienna Community Center, where she started taking classes in 1986. Busch continued signing up for the classes, spending 12 hours a week at the community center, making pots and getting carried away, he said. He bought a pottery wheel and an electrical kiln, so he could spend more time making pots. Still, it was not enough, so in 1998, he retired and looked for a place to begin a business.
“I wanted to make it a second career. I didn’t want to dabble in it,” Busch said.
Busch fantasized about owning a studio, kiln and showroom, having since worked in a cramped corner of a basement. His answer was the converted barn he found for sale in Loudoun County. “When I saw this space, it was like magic. I thought this was my fantasy plus,” he said.
By 2000, the barn was ready with repairs made to the living space and additions to the stalls, used by the previous owner as a wood shop. “It’s been a great adventure for me. I’m suddenly a businessperson. I’m running a business,” Busch said. “I feel there is no reason I can’t have another 30-year career as a potter.”
BUSCH USES two kilns and his own glazes to create his stoneware items, anything from plates and bowls to bottles, teapots, tea caddies, mugs, sake sets and vases. Most of Busch’s stoneware is wheel-thrown, while a few items, such as pictures, are hand-built.
“Robert Busch’s strong forms and confident brushwork reflect a quiet beauty that is reminiscent of some of the most coveted Japanese pots,” said David Norton, a 30-year potter who owns Potterosa in Round Hill. “His hard work and continuing search for knowledge have culminated in work that has a strong sense of personal identity and commitment.”
FOR THE WHEEL-THROWN items, Busch starts with a handful of clay, weighs it for the different size objects he makes and wedges or kneads it into a smooth ball for placing on the batt, which sits on top of the pottery wheel. As the wheel spins, Busch shapes the clay, which he happens to purchase in raw form a ton at a time.
“I make a lot of tall forms. I like bottles and vases,” Busch said.
Busch lets the clay dry overnight. He trims off the excess clay and trims to shape it, letting the clay dry again until it is bone dry, though the clay will have some moisture in it. He bisque fires the clay for 10 to 11 hours, using an electric kiln that reaches 1,800 degrees. He pours a glaze, made from his own recipe, over the clay, then fires the clay a second time in a 30-cubic-foot salt kiln to a temperature of 2,300 degrees. The 500-year-old method involves using 2 pounds of dampened salt, which vaporizes and reacts with the silica in the clay to form the glaze, which is essentially a thin coating of glass. The second firing lasts 14 to 15 hours.
“When it’s fired, it’s permanent. It’s like stone. That’s why they call it stoneware,” Busch said. “For me, it’s about the creation of something beautiful that also is functional, like pottery.”
“It’s something you can look at and it gives you pleasure for a long time,” Ying said. “His aesthetics are very good. It’s a classical aesthetics, no foo-foo. … He’s an artist at heart and he has the determination and the ability.”
Busch sells his pottery primarily from his showroom by appointment and also at galleries, juried exhibitions and twice a year at his two annual studio sales in June and December. His Web site is www.glenfarmpottery.com.
Busch and Woodier have a daughter. Woodier writes cookbooks and gardening books, is a master gardener and owns the public relations company OEW Communications.