The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, October 24, 2003, Columns

Buck Pottery in Gruene mixes functionality with beauty in every piece that comes out of their wood-fired kiln. The dinnerware and cookware displays the vibrant tones of the clay and glazes while providing the owners with years of useful service.

Customers are sometimes amazed that a pot or platter that they bought 10 or 15 years ago for its beauty has become their favorite everyday utensil, says Dee Buck, proprietor and chief artist of the pottery studio and gallery. The shop's wares range from ornate pie pans to plates and tumblers.

Besides the obvious uniqueness of Buck's designs, his pottery possesses a subtle difference that gives each piece an identifiable mark. Unlike most modern pottery studios, Buck uses a wood-fired kiln in addition to a gas-fired kiln. "The wood-fired kiln started as an experiment in using alternative sources of energy," Buck says.

What he discovered was that the ash from the burning wood would melt on the pieces to create a light glaze. Buck explains that ash is basically mineral deposits that have accumulated over the years in the trees. In the incomplete combustion of the burning process, the flakes of minerals are released.

Unfortunately, it's not like barbecuing, where different kinds of wood will add a unique flavor to the meat. The difference is mainly between hard woods and soft woods, with hard woods producing more ash and a shinier finish.

"The ash adds a little bit of randomness to the process," Buck says. After spending more than 25 years in his profession, Buck embraces the unpredictability of the natural process. "As an artist, you try to master your craft," Buck says, "but that can lead to you getting a little 'tight.' As an artist you need to find a way to inject a little randomness." When the artist can't control every aspect of the manufacturing process the results can often be unusual effects, he adds.

Raised in nearby Seguin, Buck began his career by studying at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) in Denton, where he met his wife Terry, who also works at the studio. "She does incredible things, really involved pieces," he says, "mostly with plant life."

After college the young couple came to Gruene to visit his brother who was working at the Gristmill restaurant and decided to stay. In 1982, Gruene hadn't yet become the mercantile center that it is today. Back then the town was the restaurant, Gruene Hall, and five or six other businesses.

Betting on the former farming town on a bluff overlooking the Guadalupe River, the Bucks rented an old dilapidated barn on the western edge of the business district across the road from the Gristmill. "When we first saw [the barn], we fell in love with it," Buck says.

In addition to carrying the products of other artists, Buck hired Rick Buch, a talented potter in his own right. Buck still works on the potter's wheel most mornings. "I'm always amazed at the infinite variety of things you can do with clay," he says. "There are so many approaches and many variations."

Buck Pottery hosts the annual Texas Clay Festival on Oct. 25 to showcase the work of other Texas craftspeople. More than 50 potters from around the state descend on the little town to compare their creations. This festival is different from most other arts and crafts fairs in that it is limited to potters and five demonstration areas entertain as well as educate the visitors.

The festival began in 1992 when a group of friends decided to kick off the Christmas season with a show and sale. Each year it has grown a little bigger and better. For many of the potters it is as much a reunion of old friends as it is a business opportunity. "I think the show tends to push everybody to do their best work," Buck says. "You see a lot of experimentation and folks trying new things just to bring to the festival."

The Texas Clay Festival runs Saturday, Oct. 25, 10am-6pm, and Sunday, Oct. 26, 10am-5pm. For more information, go to or call Buck Pottery at 830/629-7975.

646th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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