5 Decades Art Exhibition Celebrates 50 Years of Pots by Steve Ayers | Local news

HANNIBAL — It was 1973 when Steve Ayers first put his hands on a potter’s wheel as a high school student, and they haven’t left his side since.

“I was 17 years old and it changed my life,” he said. “It was the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

Fifty years later, behind the potter’s wheel at his established Hannibal business, Ayers Pottery, Ayers’ hands knew exactly where to go. With skill and knowledge behind his movements, he shaped a wet lump of clay into a beautifully shaped vessel.

In honor of the milestone, Ayers’ work will be one of the featured artists in the Hannibal Arts Council, titled “5 Decades,” featuring works past and present from July 22-Sept. 3 with an opening on July 22 from 5-7 p.m

In those five decades, Ayers has created a life on the potter’s wheel—from traveling to art shows around the country, becoming a Hannibal business owner, and starting a family with his wife, Lynn, Ayers has taken the road less traveled, and it’s led him to exactly where he is today.

After first working with a student teacher at his high school in Macon, Missouri, Ayers laid the final brick on the kiln for the first Ayers Pottery in 1977, which opened in Atlanta, Missouri. Since then, Ayers said, “Every furnace I’ve ever run, I built myself.

While both attending college in Kirksville, Ayers met his wife, who hails from Hannibal, but it was actually a special piece in 1977 that brought them together for the first time.

In 1977, Ayers participated in his first art show in Quincy, Illinois.

“I had just built the furnace and was struggling for money, and I sold this planter to a cute high school girl,” Ayers said.

It was years later when the couple discovered that Lynn possessed the pot, even though they didn’t believe it at first.

“I told her she got it from me and she said, ‘No. I got it from a hippie in Quincy,” Ayers laughed. “And I told her, ‘Yes. That was me.'”

“Building a Better World”

It seemed like a harbinger of a life to come that included traveling the country doing art fairs with their two girls, Katie and Lindsay, meanwhile living in Hannibal and running Ayers Pottery.

After running Ayers Pottery in Atlanta, they returned to Lynn’s hometown in 1985, hoping to find a building to sell handmade pottery to tourists, but struggled to find a building. He finally found the building they are now in and opened it in downtown Hannibal in 1988.

“As far as buildings go, it ended up being absolutely perfect; concrete floors and rock solid,” he said. “If I went down Main Street, the buildings just weren’t very suitable for building what I was able to build here.”

The window business wasn’t all that supported their family; they also depend on income from art fairs.

“I’ve never known in my life how much money comes in any given month,” Ayers said. “This is very scary – you live this.”

Despite the uncertainty that life as an artist brought, it was more than an income for Ayers and many others like him at the time—it was a movement. When he started 50 years ago, the call for change was felt across the country, and that included the art world.

Ayers said it about art on a more personal level.

“That you can bring that magic and spark that is art into everyday things that people can use on a daily basis, and by taking that down to that level, you’ve impacted people,” he said. “It all comes back to building a better world.”

He recalled that the best compliment he ever received for his work was from a woman holding a cup of coffee he had made. She was looking for a replacement cup her son had broken that she had been using for years; she spent two years looking for a replacement.

Ayers said it’s not about the cup being special … it’s about what it means to her.

“There is no art form that has such a direct impact on the people who use it as ceramics,” Ayers said. “Nobody gets up and kisses a picture every morning, but every morning you bring a cup of coffee to your lips.”

Ayers said that since 2020 he has reduced the number of art shows he attends from about 20 to roughly 10, but he is still an advocate. He believes that newer generations of artists, who tend to only work online and don’t travel to as many art shows, don’t get the same kind of experience that comes from meeting other artists at shows.

“They lack the connection to look at other work. How do you get better if you’re not challenged by your contemporaries?” he said. “My house is full of other people’s pottery.”

“I fell in love with clay on day one”

Ayers’ youngest daughter, Lindsey Ayers-Powell, said going to art shows was a highlight of her childhood and allowed her and her older sister Katie to see a lot of places at an early age.

“We traveled and met so many people along the way and then they would stop by and stay at your house on the way to their next destinations,” she said. “We were taken out of school for a month or a few weeks at a time and Mum homeschooled us; we were going to play in Florida.

Being immersed in art show culture also taught Ayers-Powell to be comfortable with creative expression. She liked to paint random murals on her bedroom walls at home, which other parents might have been “slightly horrified”, but to her father: “It was just paint”.

“I went to art school believing that being an artist was completely viable and normal because we grew up with artists from all different backgrounds,” she said.

Ayers-Powell said she was more experimental than her father, who “fell in love with clay on day one.”

After attending art school and living in New Orleans, where she took up fiber arts and worked in a yarn shop for seven years, Ayers-Powell is now back at Ayers Pottery.

“Now I’m back and I’ve fallen in love with clay,” she said.

She said returning to Ayers Pottery feels natural, recalling the days when she used to play with clay at the back table. She also remembers being sick from school and staying on a bed in the back of the shop when her mother worked as a teacher.

“We spent sick days here and the staff were always female, so a lot of their children also spent sick days here,” she said.

That continues to be the case as Ayers-Powell works with two other employees: Lisa Conrad and Sherri Houser, who has worked at Ayers Pottery for 25 years.

Ayers said as far as small stores go, it’s a pretty big store, and to keep the storefront full, it takes a lot of people to do it.

He also said his staff makes up for his shortcomings and mentioned Sherry Houser’s ability to pack him for an art show without having to double-check. When he comes to the store, he knows he’s in good hands, whether he’s there or not.

“All I’ve done is just make manji all this time,” he said.

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