Mark Oehler, Potter
Omega Pottery Shop
POBox 13, East Hwy 248
Reeds Spring, Mo. 65737

Artist Biography and Philosophy

Mark Oehler, born 1945 in Newton, Iowa, has always been interested in art. He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a B.A. in Art Education in 1968. His first professional teaching job, along with his wife Nancy’s, was in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin public school system. His teaching career was cut short by his draft board in October, 1968. Service in the U.S. Army, a tour of duty in the Republic of Viet Nam as light weapons infantryman from June, 1969 to June, 1970 with the First Calvary Division, helped him decide not to resume teaching as a career. Most of the positive things he had learned about art was wiped out in the hills of three corps. The thought of bonding with students whose futures may be cut short in the combat zones recently left behind was too bizarre to consider, and continuing as a teacher was out of the question.

Mark then worked as an assistant potter in the Milwaukee, Wisconson studio of master potter Abe Cohn, “The Potter’s Wheel”, from 1970 to 1972. There he learned the business of the sales gallery and the mechanics of studio management. His philosophy of clay and art matured at this time as there was ample opportunity for conversations with fellow potters; master and student alike.

Mark and Nancy moved to Reeds Spring, Mo. in May, 1972. Mark’s first job was to build a work space and sales gallery. Of course, that meant that he had to learn carpenter skills as he went along, and the job of constructing a 20’ x 40’ building took all summer. The first kiln fire, in the newly build kiln, was in September at the end of the tourist season, not exactly optimum timing.

Omega Pottery Shop, the name chosen in 1972, is physically larger today, but Mark’s approach to making and selling pots is pretty much the same now as then. Omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet, is symbolic of the end the finished pot means to the potter. He can’t take the process any further; the pot is finished except to be reborn when it becomes the possession of the new owner. This is why Mark feels it is important that he run his own sales outlet. The opportunity to meet the people that purchase his work allows their imput to help his work grow. Selling on a limited wholesale basis is similar because he gets to know the shop owner who is handling his work.

The potter works in a cycle, the Alpha and Omega, if you will. He begins by preparing the clay, then forms the object and finishes it top and bottom. Then he repeats that until enough ware is made to fill his kiln. The bisque fire is done to prepare the piece for the glaze application and decoration. The finish firing is done to the temperature and atmosphere of choice and once the kiln is unloaded and the work cleaned and priced, the cycle begins again.

Mark chooses to use high-fire stoneware clay. He prefers making utilitarian objects: functional pots such as pitchers, bowls, storage jars, casseroles and baking dishes, plates, cups, platters and more. He does custom sets of tableware, makes original lamp bases, hanging lamp shades and wall sconces and custom sinks. Stoneware pottery is extremely durable, ovenproof and dishwasher safe, can be used in the microwave oven and contains NO lead so it is completely foodsafe.

Mark mixes his own glazes, does all the designing and decorating, and fires the kilns. The high-fire kiln is fueled by gas which enables the atmosphere inside to be changed, which in turn gives the potter’s color palette the warm earthtones he prefers.

Mark readily admits the daily tasks can seem mundane, but they are the continuation of the potter’s craft that is millenias old, and without them all sense of the traditions of the craft would be lost. The necessity of the village potter is long gone in today’s disposable economy, eclipsed by plastic containers and resealable plastic bags. But, in terms of a easily identifiable art form, today’s pottery from the studio potter can add the human touch to one’s living environment that is lost in the mass produced throw away objects that surround us. The handmade pot, or any other art object from an artist, adds that touch of humanness necessary for maintaining the connections of our daily lives with someone else.

Mark Oehler