Sharing a lifetime of pottery knowledge

Shiloh Pottery's Ken Hankins talks about his life's work, teaching and pottery.

A selection Carroll County artists will open their studio doors to the public this December as part of the 11th annual Studio Arts Tour. To help commemorate the event, now entering its second decade, the Times will feature profiles of each participating artist biweekly in Life and Times.

Shiloh Pottery Studio, owned by Ken and Marty Hankins, has been the centerpiece of pottery and clay-work in the county ever since its founding on their family farm in 1972.


Hankins said he's been making things with his hands for his entire life, starting off as the only kid on the block with his own sewing machine, making puppets. He also whittled neckerchief slides while watching TV and built his own tree houses.

Hankins said he started working in clay because it was the only class available on a Saturday morning at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Soon though, he was drawn to the unique aspects of working with clay.


"You get to build it with your hands and it's malleable," Hankins said. "Clay just seemed to fit my attitude about things; it takes me back to playing in the mud."

Shiloh Pottery's Ken Hankins makes a clay bowl on a potters wheel.
Shiloh Pottery's Ken Hankins makes a clay bowl on a potters wheel. (KEN KOONS/Carroll County Times staff)

Hankins said when he started, there wasn't much information available about pottery. He described the first kiln that he built as a disaster, because he combined what information he could find from the archives at then-Western Maryland College with a little bit of intuition and a few educated guesses. Hankins said back then he'd try to buy a book a week about clay work and pottery to try and expand his knowledge and build a library of expertise. Today, he said, he's amazed that people can just quickly search for information that previously took a heavy amount of research to find the answers to.

After graduation, Hankins began teaching art in Baltimore County. Over the years, he taught at a number of schools, ran a summer camp, created and sold his own clay and pottery accessories and began teaching students at the Shiloh studio. Hankins said it's working with students and other potters that truly gives his art meaning.

"For me, it's a social thing. I have lots of people here," Hankins said. "Most potters are solitary. They just work on their own and do their own thing, occasionally going to craft shows to meet people who are buying their work."

Hankins said he first and foremost considers himself a teacher before a potter or woodworker. He teaches about 20 to 30 adults at the studio, as well teaching pottery at McDaniel College. Hankins said he was

"I'm an educator and I'm a teacher," Hankins said. "I wish I understood why I do this. It's just what I do."

A chicken bird house made at Shiloh Pottery.
A chicken bird house made at Shiloh Pottery. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Hankins was one of the founders of the studio arts tour back during its initial run in the '70s. The tour lasted about 10 years before ending due to a lack of interest. When it picked up again 11 years ago, he said he was excited to participate in it again.

"I'm proud that happened," Hankins said. "The Arts Council and the arts here in Carroll County are going strong and I'm proud just to do my little bit. I've touched a lot of kids' and adults' lives in many ways through the arts, I hope. I'm just happy to still be existing and still be making work."


Carroll County Studio Artist Tour

In two weeks, the Times will profile artist Thomas Sterner of Thomas Sterner's Art Factory.


Future artists in the series include Gwen Handler, Larry Fisher, Kelsey Wailes, Linda Van Hart, Charlie Maiorana, Teri Koenig, Sharon Schaeffer, Lori Baker, Carolyn Seabolt, Trista Fedoruk, Laura Wailes, Joyce Schaum and Elisa Dasher.

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