High School love becomes career for Parks

Pottery teacher Jess Parks helps students at the  McKinney Center in downtown Jonesborough.

Pottery teacher Jess Parks helps students at the
McKinney Center in downtown Jonesborough.

“I grew up making mud pies.” Jess Parks declares, beaming proudly while still wearing a few speckles of clay in her long, braided hair, evidence of her work at the pottery wheel earlier in the day.

“I’m very involved tactilely with making things with my hands. In high school, I took my first pottery class. I didn’t want to go to anything else.”

After looking over a table filled with her wheel-thrown and handbuilt clay pieces, it is clear that when Jess Parks found that pottery class in high school, she discovered an important part of who she would become.

“I’ve always been making stuff, not just pottery. For a time, I did flower arranging, and I was a cake decorator. I did some sculpting and pottery. I was sure I wanted to become an artist but didn’t know how to do it from where I was in Florida.”

Parks then describes her journey from her hometown of Daytona Beach to Northeast Tennessee. After making several trips to visit family at her stepfather’s home in Erwin, she finally moved to Tennessee permanently and enrolled at ETSU. That is where she studied art design with a concentration in pottery and earned her Bachelor’s degree.

Since moving to Jonesborough, Parks has begun to make a name for herself in local and regional art shows. In addition to being a superb potter, she is becoming known for developing her own glazes. These distinctive glazes and her unique forms have a character all their own. They are recognized immediately as a “Jess Parks” piece, even though those pieces are always changing as she explores new colors and surface decorations. She pops up excitedly as she describes a new glaze she created on pieces that will be shown soon.

“No one else has the colors I have because I am the only one who makes them. I have a show in August with mocha diffusion with slip and acidic diffusions. I never get bored. I’m always developing new techniques.”

These techniques have caught the eyes of prestigious gallery owners. Her work is now in places such as the New Morning Gallery at Biltmore Village in Asheville.

“Yes, that was exciting when I learned they wanted my work. But more exciting for me is working with other people who have the same interest and seeing someone get excited about the same things I do. That does not get old.”

She explains that this happens in her collaborations with other artists, as well as in her classes with students.

“I’ve always been inspired by everyone around me. I was recently just inspired by a musician, and now I’m interested in making musical instruments out of clay. The more people I talk to, the more I am exposed to different tools and mediums and outlets of expression.”

She shares this knowledge in classes that she teaches at the McKinney Center in Jonesborough.

“I like to develop my own methods and teach that, and also let students know how many ways there are to make something. I want them to learn from me, and I want them to learn from others, as well, just like I did. It’s important to expose yourself to different potters because we all do things differently. I encourage my students to learn what they can from each one, and then develop their own style and method.”

She smiles again. “I want to help get everyone out of the box. Help them have as much fun with the tactile experience as I do. Start with making mud pies, and end up with a coffee mug.” Her laughter is infectious, and the joy she feels in teaching and creating is clear.

Jess Parks

Jess Parks

“Another thing. I feel like sometimes you don’t fit in with different groups, but you can always come to my class, there are no grades, and you leave with something you didn’t know you could do, and that’s empowering. Even if your pot blows up in the kiln, I feel like we all get something out of it.”

When asked about what might be her newest developments, she springs up again.

“I am excited about moving on to my next subject matter, and great collaborations, joining forces with equally skilled artists in a different field. I am so open to that. I am not intimidated by anything. I am not afraid to fail, it doesn’t scare me- it inspires me, it is a challenge. And even if it blows up in the kiln, I know I’ll have gotten something out of it to inspire the next big idea.”

Jess Parks will be teaching pottery classes at the McKinney Center this fall, both hand-building and the potter’s wheel, levels one and two.

For information about classes at the McKinney Center, contact McKinney Center Director Theresa Hammons at theresah@jonesboroughtn.org or by calling (423) 753-0562.


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