Functional Expressions: Manson’s Ceramic Transitions on Exhibit

A dozen years ago, a North Carolina ice storm changed Amy Manson’s life. A weekend visiting a colleague sparked a passion for pottery that has since made her a fixture in Loudoun’s arts scene.

In 2003, Manson, a former corporate recruiter turned stay-at-home mom, was living with her husband and daughters in Charlotte and looking for a creative outlet. When a winter storm left the family without power, her husband’s supervisor, an amateur potter, invited them to her home. The subject of ceramics came up, and Manson decided to jump into the city’s thriving ceramics scene.

Manson, who moved with her family to Leesburg in 2009, is now one of Loudoun’s best-known potters, popular for her eye-pleasing yet functional work—and for her famous chicken roasters and coffee mugs. Manson’s work is in the spotlight, in a joint show with Loudoun-based painter Laura Edwards, at Leesburg’s Cooley Gallery next month. Manson also teaches at studios around the county and is an organizer of and featured artist at the upcoming Catoctin Holiday Art Tour (CHAT), slated for Nov. 12 and 13.

bird-mugs-300       In the past decade, Manson said, her work has shifted from decorative pieces to more functional work, inspired in part by her love of food and cooking, and also by the rural beauty and agricultural resurgence in Loudoun.

“I want it to be accessible. … I want people be able to use it,” Manson said. “I always tell my students, ‘Look at the piece, but let’s also think about what’s going to go on it.’”

For Manson, who grew up in rural Ohio and studied business psychology at Miami University of Ohio, the North Carolina pottery scene was an energizing experience and a break from the routines of parenting young children.

“Any free minute, I was at the pottery studio. I fell in love with it,” she said.

But ceramics soon grew from a passion to a business as she began to sell pieces, first to friends, then at shows and galleries and eventually online.

Manson was initially disappointed when her husband Joel’s work brought them to Leesburg. But she soon found her niche in Loudoun, becoming involved with Round Hill’s Gateway Gallery. She was accepted as an exhibitor on the Western Loudoun Artists Studio Tour shortly after relocating and after that worked with painter Jill Evans-Kavaldjian to launch CHAT in 2011.

Manson has also developed a strong working relationship over the years with Cooley Gallery owner Chris Cooley and his fiancée and partner Madi DeBray, both showing her work and teaching at Cooley’s new gallery on South King Street in Leesburg.

Manson laughed when she remembered meeting Cooley, popular former Washington Redskins tight end, at his former gallery space a few years ago.

“As a non-football fan, I walked in, not knowing who he was,” she said. Instead, she was completely star-struck by Cooley’s visitor at the time—Maryland-based ceramics guru Bill van Gilder, whose series on DIY Network Television has a cult following. But Manson and Cooley kept in touch, and when Cooley and DeBray opened their new gallery earlier this year, Manson was one of the first teachers hired.

Her upcoming show at the gallery spotlights nature-inspired pieces, delicately carved with a brushstroke-like quality.

For gallery manager Dana Beal, Manson’s work meshes perfectly with Edwards’ textured abstract oil paintings.

“Both Edwards and Manson are presenting artwork that represents ‘subtle transitions.’ Edwards’ paintings are executed in oils and are concerned with the importance of color and its influence on the subtle transitions in a space. Manson is presenting functional and decorative stoneware pottery with rich glazes and carved surfaces. The work is made in hopes of becoming part of one’s daily life as well as family traditions and celebrations,” Beal said in a release announcing the show.

In addition to local sales, Manson runs a thriving Etsy shop and has found that social media, particularly Instagram, has been a valuable marketing tool for her small business.

Manson’s recent posts of ceramic flasks have garnered attention from distilleries around the country, and her beloved beer can chicken roasters and charming coffee mugs continue to be hot sellers.

“I’m selling chicken roasters to get my kiddos through college,” Manson said with a laugh.

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“Subtle Transitions” artists’ reception

6-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4

Cooley Gallery, 9 N. King St., Leesburg

The show runs through Nov. 30.
More information:,

Catoctin Holiday Art Tour, Nov. 12-13

       In its sixth year, the Catoctin Holiday Art Tour is a hit with locals and out-of-towners alike, offering a chance for low-key holiday shopping for handmade treasures.

This year’s self-guided tour runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12 and Sunday Nov. 13 at studios in and around the town of Lovettsville. Visitors can connect with some of western Loudoun’s most talented artists while taking in some of the area’s most scenic country roads.

This year’s tour includes eight stops, all of which feature both resident and guest artists. The tour includes 21 artists in a range of media including ceramics, jewelry, fiber arts, photography, painting, printmaking, metalwork, basketry and mixed media.

For a complete list of stops, maps and more information, go to

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