Bonsai Potter's Spotlight - Eli Akins - Waldo Street Pottery
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
When I started PeaceLoveBonsai, I didn't know what was gonna come from it. I knew I liked Bonsai and I knew I liked writing. I figured the rest would present itself in time.
What I've found is this: Talking to passionate Bonsai people is super fun and I really enjoy doing it. Like being the new kid in school and finding a spot at the cool kids lunch table, having Bonsai conversations with fellow enthusiasts is great for the soul and I hope you find as much enjoyment reading these interviews as I do writing and editing them.
Today, I have the honor of interviewing the wonderful Eli Akins of Waldo Street Pottery. Eli has been a mainstay of the American Bonsai pottery scene for many years and does exceptional work. I enjoyed our thoughtful conversation and I present it to you now, only slightly edited.
PeaceLoveBonsai: The first question I always like to ask, which came first, the tree or the pot?
Eli Akins -Waldo Street Pottery: The tree was first. Definitely. My bonsai lineage sort of goes from getting interested in it and then getting passionate about it and then not really having a lot of resources for it. I found the John Geanangel YouTube channel and pretty much just cold-called John and invited him to an event I was working on near him and he came out and we met. He suggested that I meet Rodney Clemens in Atlanta of Allgood Bonsai. John said, "If you want to be serious about Bonsai, find Rodney and you'll get serious pretty quick." So I found Rodney and, you know, started apprenticing with Rodney at his garden, and he has a collection of bonsai pots that is just unbelievable. Just the variations. Everything from Japanese production pots to amazing American pots that just really, really got under my skin in a great way.
PLB: So when did you start creating pots?
Eli: I think it was late 2013. The earliest pots of mine that are in in any kind of circulation have 2014 on the bottom.
PLB: Where does the name Waldo Street Pottery come from?
Eli: Well, I live on Waldo Street and I had a dream of one day having a studio on Waldo Street. So I named it hoping it would propel me forward and now I'm very close to completion of that studio,
Eli: Thank you. I'm in my basement right now, making pots and hurting my back because I have to crouch. But very soon I'll be across the street and I can stretch my arms all the way up and not touch the ceiling! So I'm really excited for the move.
PLB: That's awesome. Keep us posted so we can come to the grand opening! So tell us, what's the biggest challenge for you as a potter?
Eli: Well, I'm currently in a challenge of making large round vessels. As soon as I learned to throw (pottery on the wheel), I tried to throw large ovals because ovals are my favorite shape. So I went straight into making ovals, and I sort of skipped the step of making round pots that have a clay floor that are thrown on the wheel. I'm in that world right now, trying to make larger vessels that are round and it's a challenge.
PLB: Who do you find inspirational in the Bonsai pottery world? Or, where do you draw inspiration from?
Eli: My original inspiration was Max Braverman, who's a deceased American Potter, one of the pioneers of American pottery. And his pots are very, um, unique. Some say avant garde. But when I hold one of his vessels in my hand, I can feel his hands in the work, and so that's been a very big inspiration to me. After that, Don Gould, who is from Pennsylvania, also deceased. His pots really have spoken to me. A more contemporary potter would be Ron Lang, who has been a humongous inspiration. I've done some work with him and gotten some great information and some great influence as to how to do things right. More right and more large. I would say that those people are the primary ones.
PLB: What are your thoughts on the American Bonsai Pottery scene?
Eli: Well, first there seems to be an influx of new people making pottery. There are some newer faces out there, some people making some really great work. There's a lot of people making smaller pieces. I've always wanted to make larger pots because Rodney had big trees and I knew that if I was ever gonna see magnificent trees like that in my work, I was gonna have to make big pots.
PLB: If there's one thing that you could maybe add or change or you know, the one thing that's missing from the current American pottery scene, what is it?
Eli: That's a really, really good question that I don't know that I have an answer to...(pauses)...I love collaboration. So maybe more collaborations would be good. You know there was the LAB (from the Pacific Bonsai Museum) that had Ryan (Neil) and Ron Lang and Austin (Heitzman) collaborating together. I thought that was really, really cool. I mean, when you do something like that, everybody stands to learn and grow.
PLB: Do you consider yourself more of an artist or a craftsman?
Eli: I consider myself a Creative. Before I was doing pottery, I was doing mixing of music. I've always needed a creative outlet. I was a drummer when I was young, then I became an audio engineer. At one point, I took another role in the music business that took me away from the music and the musicians and I found I needed that creative outlet. So I consider myself a creative first and foremost. At this point, I'm more a craftsman because that's what I'm doing. I'm making a craft. To become an artist I think you keep showing up, keep making work, and eventually there's some threshold that'll get crossed.
PLB: That's a great answer. Very interesting. Well, I appreciate your time today, Eli. Where can we find you and your work?
PLB: Great. Well, one last question, um, I'm gonna go out on a limb here. You're born and raised in Southern Georgia, right? Are you a fan of grits?
Eli: I just had some this morning!
PLB: Awesome. Ok, help me and the PLB readers out. If we are in the Atlanta area, where's the best place to get grits?
Eli: I would say Ria's BlueBird. And that's about mile from my place, so come on over and we'll talk pottery.
PLB: You got it! Thanks again Eli. This had been great.