Updated: Nov 12, 2019
By Susan Newby
If you are looking for high quality wheel-thrown pottery in our area, check out Thor!
No, not that Thor . . . Thor McNeil of the Fragrant Mushroom at 12 W. Bockman Way in Sparta.
A potter since 1978, Thor McNeil originally hails from Hahira, Georgia, a little town about 15 miles north of Valdosta. With a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, Thor has participated in art festivals all over the Southeastern United States.
While pottery remains his main focus, for therapy he may be found working on watercolors, weaving, even batiks.
In fact, if you’re visiting the Fragrant Mushroom, it’s possible you might be lucky enough to catch Thor throwing in his studio out behind the store, working his wonders at his wheel.
McNeil relates an intriguing story about how and why he became a potter.
“I decided I wanted to be a potter after seeing one demonstrate at a local craft fair. But that potter told me something I have never forgotten and I still respect that in my studio,” he noted.
“Potters are a dime a dozen,” the man told McNeil. “It is not an artistic venue, but one of a skilled laborer. Potters, like blacksmiths, used to make everything that was needed for our daily chores in life in the 1800s.
“Then the damn university system got a hold of it and made people think it was art by charging them to learn it and giving them a piece of paper saying they were worth a damn to society,” the potter proclaimed.
With those words still echoing, McNeil respects that ethos in his studio.
“I feel the more the better when it comes to pottery. I enjoy setting up at shows with 20-50 potters or more. The reason is for the comparison. Just like buying clothes, you can find some cheaply made for a low price, some nicely made for a higher price and some tailor-made for a really higher price,” McNeil explained.
“But it is the ‘gem’ that you get when you find some really high quality at a much lower price than normal that makes the treasure hunt worthwhile.”
Whether sold at the Fragrant Mushroom in Sparta or online at ETSY, McNeil said he feels his work separates itself from others as speaks to the following points:
· High Quality Craftsmanship – “My lips do not chip, my handles do not fall off. I spent years in the restaurant business, serving dinnerware that was a little thicker on the edges of the item so that it can take the daily abuse. I try to incorporate what I learned into my throwing.”
· Forms that Follow Function – “A perfect example is my coffee cups. They are wide at the bottom and narrow at the top to hold a large volume of coffee but prevent heat loss and wave motion, This also allows for a gracious handle that is large at the top where your hand is. Too many pots are made with no thought on how they will be used. NOT HERE.”
· Glazes – “It has taken me 26 years to get to this point; most of my items are gallery quality both in form and glaze combination. The comment I get at art shows is ‘I have never seen such colors in pottery.’ And if you ever do, you will pay dearly for them. My glazes alone are a work of art and I am very proud of them.”
· Prices – When you consider all of the above, a coffee cup should be around $50-60 each, like other potters that have the same characteristics . . . but I like to sell my work and that is what makes it the ‘Gem’ that you have found.
Among the pottery sold at the Fragrant Mushroom are all types of dinnerware including coffee cups, steins, large serving bowls, cereals bowls, dessert bowls, utensil crocks, coasters, vases and specialty items that can feature university or sports logos, movie or television logos such as Stark Trek, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Marvel comic heroes of villains and more.
The Fragrant Mushroom is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call the McNeils at 931-836-8190 or visit their website.