ANN ARBOR – Each year at Ann Arbor Art Fair, there is a line outside Marvin Blackmore's booth on opening day.
His customers know his items sell quickly and want to be the first to get a preview of the relatively small inventory of incredibly detailed pottery.
His works sell anywhere from $800 to $35,000 depending on the size and time spent on the piece.
By the second day of the four-day fair, Blackmore is typically on a plane home to Colorado.
We caught up with him via email ahead of next week's 59th Ann Arbor Art Fair to learn his artistic process and how he rose to such great success. The interview has been lightly edited.
Blackmore speaks with customers at the Ann Arbor Art Fair (Photo: Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original)
When and why did you begin making pottery?
"Growing up in the southwestern corner of Colorado, I had the privilege of being exposed at a very young age to a lot of different forms of art. From tapestries to paintings, jewelry, pottery, etc. I found out very early on that pottery was always my main focus of interest.
"I loved the form and function and especially the possibility of creating something that -- if made correctly -- would last for thousands of years."
You describe your work as the 'most intricate pottery in the world.' What techniques do you use?
"I grew up in very difficult circumstances and found that art was my escape from the everyday problems that was all I had known at the time. I was very reluctant to show anyone the pieces I was making for quite a while, but people that had seen them would always say nice things. I had such low self-esteem and self-worth that I convinced myself that they were just being polite!
"Someone told me about an art show that was going to take place in Page, Arizona, so I decided to call and see what it was all about. The show promoter was kind enough to let me attend even though I didn't have enough money for the booth fee. He told me just to pay him before the show ended if I sold a few things. I ended up selling everything I had and won the best of show award.
"It's hard to imagine, but that was almost 30 years ago! First, I was doing local exhibits, and later some of the top shows in the country. I started winning awards all over the country and attracting the attention of museums and quite a lot of collectors, as well as people who just appreciate the effort involved in each piece."
Hand-carved necklace (Photo: Marvin Blackmore)
How long does it take you to make each piece?
"My pieces take from over 90 hours for small pieces to well over 600 hours for larger pieces.
"Throughout the years, my work has evolved into far more complicated designs than I ever could have imagined. Each pot is etched from the top to the bottom and some are completely etched on the inside as well. I don't think about the time anymore, I just worry about making them more difficult than the one before.
"At this stage in my career, I'm trying to do what I call 'legacy pieces.' I'm trying to do the most complicated and technical pieces anymore has ever made. I feel like I need to work even harder because I know I can't do this type of work forever, and I want everyone who has ever purchased my pieces and supported me throughout the years to be proud to own them."
A piece from the Animal Collection (Photo: Marvin Blackmore)
How long have you been attending Ann Arbor Art Fair? I understand you participate in just two fairs each year?
"Ann Arbor is well-known in the art world as being consistently one of the best shows in the country. I have attended for several years now and have a following of great people who are waiting for me to get there. I never have very many pieces because of the time each piece takes, so I have sold out several times within a couple hours of the show starting. I only do a couple shows a year, but Ann Arbor and the Smithsonian exhibit are places I usually make my priority!"
What can people expect this year?
"This year I am bringing some very special pieces that I call 'lace work' and 'tapestry work.' (They are) very difficult pieces that I have committed most of my year to. Even though very few pieces will ever be made, because of the time they take, the pottery I'm bringing this year are ones I am very proud of."
To learn more about Blackmore and his work, visit his website.
His booth this year is NU803 (on the 800 block of North University) at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, The Original.
The Ann Arbor Art Fair is the largest juried art fair in the United States and takes place this year July 19-22.