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by Emily Beirne:

Made in Arkansas: Jim Young is 'Talking with Clay'

as it appeared in AY (AboutYou) March, 2021:

When you hear the phrase “throwing pots,” chaos and destruction probably comes to mind, but when Jim Young is “throwing pots” it is actually quite the opposite.


Jim Young of Van Hollow Pottery has been making pottery for the past 50 years. Moving around the country, he and his wife, Sarah, settled in Northwest Arkansas around 20 years ago after finding the natural beauty of the state to be the place they wanted to make their forever home. With views of Beaver Lake through his windows, Young spends his days molding clay into works of art.

“The clay I use comes from Ohio because the clay from that area of the country is a combination that potters like me call fire clay. Fire clay is made from glaciers, it’s been grinded down. The usable clay is a combination of the things that have durability in fire. It’s kind of an organic clay, which is what comes from leaves and organic substances and is very workable. When you mix the very durable with a very workable you have something that works great for your art,” says Young.


Molding intricate pieces, Young creates a range of art that can be used in the home for decoration or for practicality. From platters to vases to bistro cups, Young prioritizes detailing and being unique. “Think about clay as a pliable substance, you touch it and it will move, and if you touch it with intention, you can create things that have interesting textures,” says Young. “The next important thing in the process for me are the glazes which provide color. I make all my own glazes from natural materials and recipes that are from all over the world.” Young currently has around 60 five-gallon buckets of glazes he’s made over the years. The process of the glazes turning to glass is what Young describes as “magical.”  “I do what’s called high-fire pottery with my glazed pieces. High-fire pottery is the hottest form of pottery at around 2,400 degrees, a temperature that can melt steel. This turns the clay into a form of crystal stoneware that’s durable and really brings to life the color in the glazes.”

For anyone wanting to get their hands wet on the pottery wheel, Young and his wife have made a list of videos on their website showcasing Young making his different pieces and the process he has perfected over the past 50 years. For beginners, Young recommends his video “The Bistro Cup”, that shows Young spinning a petit bistro cup, one of his most popular and practical creations. For a look inside his life as a potter and some of his more unique pieces, his video “Talking with Clay.” “This video really gets into some of the philosophy I’ve learned along the way and insight into the clay itself,” says Young. Joining the list of videos are travel experiences from his wife Sarah who has traveled to more than 100 countries. She learns about each culture she visits, especially their art forms, and vlogs her trips as another source of creativity and useful information on the Van Hollow website. The couple are avid supporters of all art forms, schools and artists looking for advice. 


“A few years ago, I worked with the Arkansas Arts Academy as a way to give back to the art community after years of so many mentors pouring knowledge into me,” says Young. The Arkansas Arts Academy dedicated a ceramic studio to Young that he helped design. “I get so much pleasure from this art, and I always want to find ways to give back and help others find the same passion that I feel.” 

Young and Sarah stumbled upon Northwest Arkansas 22 years ago when they were considering making a move from the art hub of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The two fell in love with the natural beauty of the state and wanted to form an art hub of their own. “When we moved here, I determined early on that I wanted to be a resource within the community, to a small group of people who would come together on a weekly basis. We would make pottery and talk about everything. Many of those people have gone on to form their own studio, and it’s just so rewarding to see the art expand and become individual with each person.”


Prior to COVID-19, Young would do regular sessions at Crystal Bridges Museum where he would sit and spin his pottery for visitors to watch and talk to him about the process. “I will take one of my wheels over to Crystal Bridges and I’ll sit there and talk to people and throw pots, which to me is just really fun to have something like this, to talk to other people and find out what their experiences are.”

At the start of Young’s art career, he was an art therapist with a practice that saw mental illnesses, cancer patients, and other people that needed an outlet. “I would ask a client, “Do you have an earth practice?” They would look at me funny and say, “What’s that?” and I would say, “Do you have a way of touching the stuff inside the earth itself and drawing upon its vitality? If you touch it, it moves, and if you learn to touch it in a good way, you can find yourself expressing things about yourself.” It really is healing,” says Young.


Reflecting on where he is now, Young finds that he is still focused on the healing process of making pottery. “I’ve always been a teacher, and I’ve taken my teaching to a whole different level. I’d say my teaching has gone from individual therapy, to small groups in the community teaching ceramics, and now it’s a little bit broader,” says Young. 

In his lifetime, Young estimates that he has spun over 10,000 cubic feet of clay. He dabbles in other forms of art, but clay has taken over his life in what he says is the best way. “Clay is universal, it’s everywhere, it’s fun and it’s in huge quantities. Clay has always been a part of the 10,000 year human history of creating art. The last 50 years really have been such a pleasure.”


Young hopes to return to Crystal Bridges soon, but he wants everyone to be safe before that happens. He misses being able to talk to people while sharing his passion for pottery, and he’s ready to continue giving back to the community. “When you start bringing everybody into the discussion from all kinds of backgrounds, everybody benefits from the shared experiences, it’s really nice. I’m ready to sit outside with my wheel and listen to everyone’s experiences. It’s going to be special.”

Jim Young’s art can be found at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, AR, The Gathering in Rogers, AR, Iris at the Basin, Eureka Springs, AR  and on his website.:

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