T. Puterbaugh Gill

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By Ginna Parsons

Photos by Lindsay Pace

 In the late 1970s, George Terry Gill was a pre-dentistry student at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway. He was starting his senior year when he decided to take a pottery class.

And he got hooked. In fact, he got so hooked, he switched his major to art.

“That first semester, the teacher took me aside and said, ‘You know, you can do this for a living. You’re very disciplined. And you’re very good at it.’”

The teacher was right.

Gill has been making his living as a potter in Red Banks, Mississippi, for 40 years.

“I use T. Puterbaugh Gill as my artist name,” Gill said. “Puterbaugh was my mother’s maiden name. My grandfather had no sons, so I wanted to carry on his name.”

 Gill and his wife, Diane, also an artist, moved to a little house in Red Banks next to the post office in 1985. They practiced their art together for 26 years, until her death eight years ago.

 “We met at an art show in Nashville, Tennessee,” said Gill, 63. “After we married, we picked the best art shows to show and sell our work, from Buffalo, New York, to Tampa, Florida, to Tempe and Tucson, Arizona. We did that until about 1993, then we started tapering off.”

In college, Gill wanted to learn to throw on a wheel because that’s what he’d seen potters do when his family would travel every October to Silver Dollar City in Missouri.

“Wheel throwing wasn’t taught right at first so I taught myself to throw at night,” he said. “I would go throw before a big test and it would relax me. I was still taking organic chemistry, physics and calculus because I was still in pre-dentistry at that point. At the end of the semester, we had to turn in five finished pieces for a grade. I had, like, 130 pieces.”

Next, Gill got into making unique pottery wind chimes. He’d take impressions of faces from old statues and add chimes to the bottom.

“I kind of had a following with the wind chimes,” he said. “I kept them at art shows because they’d draw a lot of attention to my booth. Wherever I was doing a show – Houma, Louisiana, or Little Rock, Arkansas, or Rome, Georgia – I’d take an impression of a statue if I saw one I liked.”

When the Gills were about to have the first of their four children, he decided he needed to get off the road and be at home more. He told Diane he wanted to start wholesaling his pottery. She told him he needed to pray about it.

So he did.

And then one day, there was a knock on his door in Red Banks and it was Paul House, the silent partner of John Simmons, who had a gift store chain in Memphis.

“He said, ‘I’ve been looking at your stuff for two years now. Let me ask you a question. What do you want out of life?’”

Gill told House he wanted to start wholesaling so he and Diane could homeschool their kids. House placed an order for $1,600 worth of pottery pieces. 

“I started selling to him, but what I didn’t know was that shops all over the area went to John Simmons to see what was new and hot,” Gill said. “Within nine months, I had a waiting list of shops wanting to sell my stuff. Since then, I’ve never had to contact anybody. They all contact me.”

Today, he supplies 17 shops in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas. In Mississippi, the shops that carry his wares are Mississippi Madness in Oxford, Ginger’s in Corinth, Jennie’s Flowers and Gifts in Holly Springs, the North Mississippi Medical Center’s Auxiliary Gift and Floral Shop in Tupelo, the Paisley Pineapple in Olive Branch and the Pineapple Shop in Blue Mountain. 

He used to ship his products to stores, but after Hurricane Katrina hit, the cost to ship sky-rocketed, so he started delivering pieces in person. 

“I really enjoy that,” he said. “I like the drive. I’ve become friends with shop owners. I’m not just a piece of paper with a name on it.”

 He does miss selling his pottery at art shows – he does still show at the Memphis Potters Guild show – because of all the good feedback that’s available.

“Shows are (a) good way to bounce new ideas off people,” he said. “I can tell by their reaction if they like something or not. You have to keep changing what you make to attract new customers.”

 Gill works six days a week in a little three-room shop behind his house. The front of the shop is the showroom, and he also has a space where he mixes and stores clay, and a room where he throws on his wheel. A separate building houses six kilns for firing the pottery.

“I go through 2,000 pounds of clay every month and a half,” he said. “I probably throw 250 to 300 pieces a month.”

Popular pieces include his loving cup, friendship bowl and thank you bowl. He also makes soup bowls, mugs, plates, platters, vases, covered soup tureens, covered casseroles and little whatnot bowls. Everything is safe for the dishwasher, microwave and oven. Prices range from $3 for a small bowl up to about $225. 

“I’m not getting rich, but I make a good living,” Gill said. “I don’t have set hours. I work until I get tired. I may get up at 5 in the morning and get started, but take off at 2. At some level, I think I’ll do this until I die. But I don’t want to always have to work this hard.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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