With a passion for art since she was a young child, Rebecca Moy was electrified the first time she observed clay thrown on a potter's wheel. "It was the most incredible thing," she recalls. "The clay came alive."
Partner David Young's first encounter with clay was more an act of final desperation than ethereal calling. A self-described miserable student who was anxious to foster a skill while at Glenelg High School, Young followed a teacher's suggestion and gave pottery a whirl. Within three weeks, Young had learned all his teachers could teach.
A shared vision of the possibilities of stoneware pottery bridged their initial approaches to the craft and their dissimilar ethnic backgrounds. Today Korean-American Moy and African-American Young run Greenbridge Pottery, which sends its works far from its barn-turned-studio in Dayton.
"Pottery is the only art form that is also functional," says 43-year-old Moy. Adds Young, 42, "The highest call is to serve. Functional is also beautiful, natural and practical."
Greenbridge Pottery produces plates, bowls, vases, mugs and a signature bowl-cup hybrid known as the "bup." Studio walls are graced with sconces and leaf-imprinted decorative pieces in greens, blues, yellows and white.
Using a unique clay formula based on ancient Chinese principles, the pottery Greenbridge produces will ring when struck, a characteristic found only in pure clay earthenware and stoneware works.
Its stoneware graces the tables of coffee shops and bed-and-breakfasts from the Carolinas to upstate New York. Locally, The Riverside Cafes in Historic Ellicott City and Dobbin Road serve on Greenbridge pottery.
Moy's formal training in pottery began at Northwestern Senior High School in Hyattsville, where two of her art teachers held master's degrees in ceramics.
She instantly forsook all other art forms. After high school, she worked at an art supply warehouse and bought her first wheel and kiln. After moderate recognition and sales success, her best friend signed her up for ceramics courses three years later at the Columbia Visual Arts Center in Long Reach, but Moy wasn't really interested.
"I thought I knew everything," she says.
But she did take the courses, and their focus on the physical dynamics and chemistry of pottery brought a new meaning to her work.
"They had a vocabulary for things I knew intuitively," she says, "including centrifugal force, gravity and elasticity."
She eventually obtained a master's degree while Visual Arts was part of Antioch College.
Meanwhile, Young had an epiphany of another sort when one of his earliest employers identified Young's dyslexia, the root of his academic failures. So, at the age of 23, Young attended an academic boarding school, where he learned to read in three weeks.
Student and teacher
Moy and Young met as students at Antioch's Visual Arts, under the direction of master potter Richard Lafean. Eventually, Young took courses from Moy, who had become a staff instructor.
After 10 years of teaching, Moy decided to establish her own studio off campus, where she could avoid constant interruptions. She bought a 40-year-old barn in Dayton in 1984 and began a continuing renovation.
During the next several years, she added a house, husband, studio, glaze room, apprentice quarters, wood stove and insulation. By 1988, she was able to devote herself to being a full-time potter.
As a master potter, Moy has created a blend of clays based on ancient Chinese tradition. A combination of earthenware clay for texture with stoneware clay for strength -- aged to improve elasticity and flexibility -- the products are waterproof containers of unusually fine texture and durability.
True to the vision, Moy has created glazes that reflect pure earthy tones of cobalt blue, copper green, white and yellow. Occasionally the green pieces are kissed with a cloud of fire during the firing process, yielding unique mauve patterns.
"We consider those a gift," says Moy.
Her husband, Evan Beahre, a chemist, contributed to the formulation of the glazes and continues to act as scientist-in-residence.
Meanwhile, Young detoured through an entrepreneurial route, co-owning and operating a taxi service in Columbia for several years. As the burdens of running the high-risk, high-stress business vexed him, he would drop by Moy's studio for clay-wedging therapy. Eventually, he realized his true calling and gave up the transportation business, joining Moy in the barn.
Discovered on cart
Their first major business break came while trying a different marketing method -- they operated a cart in the Mall in Columbia for a week. An interior decorator in the throes of designing the first mini-roastery/coffee shop in Washington approached them there.
That led to designing a line of products for Roasters on the Hill. The pieces were so popular the roastery suffered a high rate of disappearing bowls and mugs -- some 30 items a month.
To stem the tide of petty thievery, the roastery invited Greenbridge to set up monthly shows outside the shop. The stoneware sold and the roastery's loss rate dropped to near zero.
Festivals attract fans
The Java House off Washington's Dupont Circle contracted with Greenbridge next, soon followed by clients as far north as upstate New York, south as Cape Hatteras, and west as Deep Creek Lake.
Spring and fall festivals held at the studio bring loyal fans from Pennsylvania. The studio's mailing list includes more than 3,000 addresses.
Greenbridge also is the host of an apprenticeship program. Ages of the "clay slaves" vary from 14 to 23, with the average apprenticeship running two years.
Young's dedicated apprentice is his Japanese-born wife, Junko, who prepares the clay, adds handles to mugs, sharpens tools, cleans up, helps with the bookkeeping, and -- in her "spare time" -- takes lessons from Moy.
Greenbridge also produces a catalog but has stopped short of a Web site. Moy says that even if the studio goes online, she will refuse to sell over the Internet.
"I want people to be able to feel the catalog," she insists.
After traveling through Japan individually, Moy and Young say they want to create the same dedication and appreciation of functional art that they experienced there.
When it comes to pottery, Moy says, "People are so intimately involved. They eat from it, turn it over as they wash it.
"The process isn't over until it's in someone's house," Moy says of her craft. "The real thrill comes when a customer tells me 'I can't get up in the morning without my yellow bup.' "
5159 Greenbridge Road
Open weekends year-round.
Pub Date: 6/18/98