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Touch of Clay

Woodstock resident Bob Blue became a potter by chance — falling in love with the medium the moment he touched clay.

It started with a bet. Bob Blue and his Northern Illinois University roommate, both art majors focusing on ad design, needed to fulfill an art credit to complete their degree requirements.

“I bet I can do pottery better than you,” Blue’s roommate said, posing a challenge.

“He ended up being a great designer for a large ad firm in Chicago and I ended up being a potter,” Blue said. “Once I touched clay, that was it. I was flunking out of the other classes. I couldn’t get enough of the pottery.”

In 1972, he graduated from NIU with a design degree. This chance encounter with clay has had a profound, positive impact on all aspects of his life, chiefly, meeting his future wife Susan Galloway.

Together, Galloway, a ceramics instructor at McHenry County College, and Blue, a full-time potter, raised a family in rural Woodstock while pursuing their passion for pottery, which they continue to do today.

“Pottery has helped me in many different ways,” he said. “It’s therapeutic and has afforded me good living.”

A Fair Trade

Blue spent 47 years, pottery in tow, exhibiting at art fairs around the country. “I love being at the shows, but it’s a lot of work,” he said. “Twelve years ago, I decided as I get older, I won’t want to be working that hard — traveling in inclement weather and lifting heavy boxes for 25 to 30 fairs a year.”

His vision was to become largely a wholesale potter — scaling back to a few shows a year. “That dream 12 years ago has become a reality now,” he said. “Until about a year and a half ago, I still had my doubts. But after last winter, things began taking off.”

He credits persistence and foresight.

“I think next year I might be doing two fairs because I have so many accounts,” he said. “My work is now sold in 60 shops from coast to coast. I recently added 15 new clients.”

Blue never dreamed the Internet would take him to the sort of heights it did until this summer, featured his mugs in a post. “I didn’t think modern media could do what it did for me,” Blue said. “Social media has been great for exposure.”

The post resulted in positive feedback from readers (“gorgeous,” “lovely,” and “beautiful” among the kudos) and yielded orders from buyers in California, Michigan and Texas.

Blue is busy packing orders every weekend, and has been consistently shipping to two to three galleries per week since January 2012.

“Dreams come true,” he said. “Now I can sit down and throw pots and not have to travel.”

Well, except to the UPS Store.

At Home in Woodstock

Before settling in Woodstock, the Des Plaines native of course lived in DeKalb during college and after graduation, moved to Elgin where he directed the craft therapy program for seniors at Elgin Mental Health Center. “I spent five years in Elgin working to buy ceramics equipment so I could become a full-time potter,” he said. In 1977, he received a master’s degree in clay.

Blue and longtime Woodstock resident Galloway married in 1982, and in 1983, began building their studio and gallery in Woodstock, a place Blue calls “a storybook town.” They raised son Alex and daughter Shannon in their quiet, rural home out on Franklinville Road and used the nearby studio and gallery to produce and exhibit their wares.

The Process

Although Galloway and Blue are both clay connoisseurs, their styles are very different. While Galloway focuses on one-of-a-kind pieces, Bob is skilled in production wares. “I’m comfortable making 100 of something,” Bob said. “I can sit down and make 50 pieces in a day.”

But if an order comes in for a single teapot, Galloway will handle it. “Each piece is a little different, unique,” she said. “As people use a pot, they discover more about it. I want to make pots that can be used. Making something that looks right, feels right and works right is a continuing challenge.”

On the family budget side of things, the duo contributes in different ways, too. “Susan, now retired, had a consistent salary as a teacher and my income was up and down depending on the season,” Blue explained. “Her money went toward things like food and clothing. Mine pays for one-time or emergency purchases like cars, studio upgrades, home additions and lately, college.”

Speaking of college and the next generation, children Alex and Shannon did not get bitten by the clay bug, but they are both on exciting career paths: Alex is focusing on information technology and Shannon, after getting a master’s degree in library and information science, is now a librarian at San Mateo County Law Library in California. Blue joked that the arts tend to skip a generation, but that he and his wife are extremely proud of their children.

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