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Fentons throw lots of pots in Saguache

Article by Marcia Darnell

Local artists – March 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

To most of us, the idea of a family throwing pots produces visions of screaming, fighting, and broken dishes. To the Fentons, it’s a vocation.

Roger “Riff” Fenton, his wife, Marilyn, and their son, Neil, live in Saguache, which Riff says is “becoming a den of artists.” The couple earn their living, as they have for 20 years, as potters.

Fenton Pottery, housed in what used to be the Saguache phone company office, is a colorful mix of plates, mugs, and piggy banks. The family also displays the works of other artists.

The adjacent shop is a jumble of works awaiting firing, works awaiting glazing, and “mistakes,” which will be returned to clay. A recipe list for glaze mixes is magnet-bound to the kiln.

“We make Marilyn’s pots, my pots, and our pots,” Riff Fenton says. “Most are our pots.”

Marilyn and Riff met in 1966 at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. They married in 1968, before Riff left for Vietnam. Next came eight years in Gunnison, establishing themselves as artists while holding day jobs. They have lived and created in Saguache for 17 years.

“This has never been a hobby,” Riff says.

They sell their work in Santa Fé, Gunnison, Ouray, Alamosa, Colorado Springs, and Saguache, as well as by direct order. This time of year, when the snow piles high and thermometers look as though they’ve been drained, the Fentons work on custom dinnerware orders.

“We’ve never considered ourselves artists,” they agree. “We consider ourselves craftsmen.”

As craftsmen, they constantly seek perfection. “I’m still not satisfied with my nesting bowls,” Marilyn says, “and I’ve made hundreds.”

“I’ve never made a pitcher I liked,” Riff adds.

Practice is another big part of their work ethic. “The best way to learn about making pots is to make lots of pots,” Riff says. “We make a lot of pots.”

Neil Fenton is a sophomore at Buena Vista High School, which he attends for its well-rounded curriculum, which includes an excellent art program. His untitled pastel won Best of Show at the school last spring.

Last year he designed and created a tiled bench for a juried contest at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. His entry, featuring snakes and a jungle theme, was selected and now graces the zoo’s reptile house.

An unexpected benefit of Neil’s project was the education of his parents. They were fascinated by the design and production of the tiles. As a result, artistic tiles will soon be offered for sale at Fenton Pottery.

The family is also inspired by other artists in the area. They feel connected to the whole region, despite the passes and vast, open spaces.

“Our neighborhood is from Buena Vista to Alamosa,” Marilyn says.

“The whole area is a community,” Riff adds, “we just have farther to drive between neighborhoods.”

Marcia Darnell, who lives in Alamosa, thinks throwing pots looks like a kick. She wants a raise from Ed Quillen so she can buy some pottery.