Into a building that has served as a doctor, lawyer, and dentist office enters a woman who has been a zookeeper, lifeguard, SCUBA instructor, dolphin trainer, super-mom of active teens and, now, established potter. For years, Debbie Walterhouse has had an eye out for the perfect space to hold the equipment she uses to wedge, throw, fire and glaze. After looking around the region for the perfect spot, she realized that, indeed, there is no place like home. Walterhouse is currently putting the finishing touches on her new studio that will open in downtown Kendallville.
While balancing a family and the hectic schedules of track, cheerleading, volleyball and other teenage affairs, Walterhouse managed to carve out time to learn the skills needed to become a potter who has a stronger command of the medium than she will admit. So dedicated is she to learning the art, she once insisted, while in labor on the way to the hospital, that her husband stop at IPFW just so she could make sure her pieces made it into the kiln for the glaze firing.
Walterhouse took her first pottery class in 1996 from Jaleh Pessian Fazel. The class changed her life. She fell in love with clay and met a lifelong mentor and friend.
“Jaleh and I became friends,” says Walterhouse. “We had a connection. I would go to her house, and we would throw things. She would say things like, ‘Today we are going to make pitchers.’ She would turn on NPR, open a bottle of wine, and we would work.”
Walterhouse’s love for functional pottery came from Fazel who made pieces to serve specific functions.
“She had a bowl for olives and a separate bowl for pits. She made a dish for olive oil and plates for different types of bread,” she says.
Walterhouse carries on her early instructor’s creative process. As she moves through the world, she observes textures and wonders if she can mimic the effect in clay. She picks up pots and mugs in stores and at art fairs and quickly identifies what type of clay was used and what glazes were applied. She notices if the bottom of the piece is neatly tooled or simply pulled with a wire from the wheel.
“I always pick up pieces and look at the tooling. Tooling is important to me. I like things to look clean and finished,” she says. “Jaleh always said, ‘Would you want someone to see your dirty feet?’”
Her experience as a whale trainer and SCUBA diver, while long ago, continue to feed her process. She draws inspiration from the organic forms found underwater.
“I still have the image of a sea sponge in my mind. I have to figure out how to make that sea sponge with clay,” says Walterhouse.
While organic objects drive her pottery design, her studio setup revolves around an industrial vibe balanced with a collection of furniture and equipment that has been collected and passed down by family and friends through the generations. Walterhouse picked up a display case at auction when the Kendallville landmark store, Klinkenbergs, closed. She picked up an industrial sink sprayer from a salvage store with the enthusiasm only a fellow potter would recognize. The basement of the studio showcases furniture from her childhood that Walterhouse plans to use as display features for the jewelry that she makes.
The main floor is where the action will take place. Walterhouse has three pottery wheels, one being a particularly coveted and rare standing kick wheel that is no longer manufactured. “I’ll use that one for trimming and when I need to get out of a sitting position,” she says. “I’ll have another wheel facing the windows so I can look at the world, and the third will be a demo wheel that I can use to throw while I talk to customers.” She even plans to set up a side-by-side student wheel for very limited, private lessons.
Walterhouse is planning every detail to support her needs as a practicing artist. The walls of her studio are the same used to construct storage sheds and will serve to hold sturdy nails which will support displays of large pottery. She is putting in a room for glazing, complete with a high level counter for stand-up glazing and plans to mix her own glazes.
“My goal is to have glazes that are all original to me,” says Walterhouse. Another customized feature of her shop: she is not going to follow normal nine-to-five business hours but plans to display a flag that reads, “The Potter Is In” and open only when it fits her life and schedule.
Walterhouse didn’t get to this level of independence overnight. She spent years taking workshops and classes.
“I always wanted to learn more,” she says. “I took adult classes from Sherri Burholder at East Noble High School and workshops from Mark Oberholtzer who runs the art department at Garrett High School. “Potters are very giving and supportive,” says Walterhouse. “We truly want each other to do well.”
Walterhouse stepped into a larger potter’s community when she traded a pug mill to Justin Rothshank of Goshen in exchange for the chance to participate in his renowned wood kiln firings. She was assigned to wadding, the process of attaching small balls of clay to the bottoms of each clay piece to prevent the glaze from fusing to the kiln’s interior. She also supported the effort by splitting logs to feed the fire.
“A wood fire is a big deal. It takes an army of people to load, feed and watch the kiln,” says Walterhouse. “People come from all over the Midwest. They sleep in Justin’s basement and cook pizza in the custom built brick oven all while watching the kiln and feeding the fire in shifts all night long.”
Through her experience at the wood firing, Walterhouse met some of the “celebrities of the pottery world.” She got to know Moey Hart and Dick Lehman who recently invited Walterhouse to participate in the prestigious Michiana Pottery Tour which takes place near Goshen on the weekend of September 28.
The invitation to participate in the event isn’t surprising. Walterhouse’s pottery has an easily recognizable style. Her work is solid, comfortable to hold and tasteful. Her pieces are relaxed yet beautiful – a direct reflection of Walterhouse’s own personality.
Just as other potters have helped her along the way, Walterhouse is devoted to helping others learn the craft. She has a comfort level with children which is very rare. With no training in education, she easily captivates the attention and respect of young students. They are eager to learn from her because they sense her sincerity and quickly realize that this woman knows her stuff.
As a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Walterhouse supports her little sister’s interest in the arts and dreams of spending days throwing pots with her. “When she gets in there, I think she’ll bloom,” she says.
Walterhouse’s dynamic vision paired with the skill to produce pottery that reflects her warm and inviting personality seems to be the perfect formula for success. She is an artist devoted to her craft paired with a strong work ethic.
No doubt many good things are sure to spring out from the little brick building at 115 William Street in Kendallville that’s home to both Walterhouse and her Midtown Potter Studio.
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102