WHEN CODY TRAUTNER arrived at Hickory Flat Pottery, he expected it to be a brief stopover on the way to graduate school. The North Dakota native, who was raised in Minnesota, had recently earned his BFA degree in ceramics from Minnesota State University of Moorehead and was teaching wheel throwing and hand-building ceramics. He thought a change of scenery would benefit him before he went back into the classroom and began pursuing a fulltime career as a college ceramics instructor. He accepted an apprenticeship and headed to Clarkesville, nestled in the North Georgia Mountains.
“I wanted to explore a new area of the country opposite of the plains of Minnesota, and I found all of that here. After one year, I decided I was really enjoying myself, rather unexpectedly, and not ready for graduate school,” says Trautner, who became a resident potter at Hickory Flat Pottery in May of 2012. “I originally had only a passion for ceramics in an academic and conceptual sense, but that shifted dramatically after spending a couple of years making functional pottery.”
In 2015, Hickory Flat Pottery owner Cindy Angliss gave Trautner the unique opportunity to take over the business when she decided to retire. He welcomed the chance and, before officially becoming proprietor, spent two years learning the ins and outs of running the studio and the attached gallery, which are located in a beautiful 120-year-old farmhouse off of Scenic Highway 197 near Lake Burton.
Today, Hickory Flat Pottery is renowned for showcasing not only the impressive work of Trautner, who focuses on crafting functional pottery that is inspired by nature and heritage, but also the creations of nearly a dozen additional regional artists who work with everything from glass and metal to fiber and wood.
Trautner himself specializes in making a combination of hand-built and wheel-thrown pottery. His portfolio of work features pots, place settings, platters, vases and an array of other vessels.
And one form in particular truly speaks to him: bowls. “I never get tired of playing with proportions and rim designs,” he says. “They are very freeing to make and offer many possibilities for manipulation.”
When it comes to design, he often turns to the hobbies and interests he enjoys pursuing in his free time—including plants, geography and wildlife—to find inspiration. These days, Trautner’s adopted home fuels a great deal of his artistry, with the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains influencing everything from his use of certain materials and colors to the shapes and surface decorations he creates.
“I am always seeing these things in ways that they can influence and find their way into my work. When it comes time to start making, I don’t usually focus on them or try to force them, but let them creep into the process themselves,” he notes. “My goal when I step up to the potter’s wheel is to make functional work that has spirit.”
Function is key to Trautner, who strives to make pottery that can be used as part of a person’s day-to-day living. Whether it’s a pot or a coffee mug, it’s vital that people can use his pottery while also appreciating its distinct beauty. “I hope my pottery helps people to slow down and enjoy their task at hand,” he says. “Drinking a cup of coffee from a special mug to me is a different experience than drinking it from a Styrofoam cup. I want to bring joy to people’s lives, even if it’s just making your coffee a little more special.”
AN ARTIST’S EVOLUTION
Of course, that wasn’t always Trautner’s goal. In fact, he recognizes that both he and his pottery are constantly changing.
“I started out doing this for fun. Then I set out to make provocative statements about myself and what I saw in the world and wanted to inspire and teach others to do the same,” he says. “Now my goal is to bring some happiness to others with my pottery. I hope there is a little joy every time someone sets out to use one of my pieces.”
With that in mind, Trautner is dedicated to infusing every piece of pottery he produces at Hickory Flat Pottery with the highest quality craftsmanship possible. And in addition to honing his creativity, he enjoys experimenting with new firing techniques and developments in glaze materials and chemistry, as well as exploring different approaches to brushwork and surface decoration. What’s more, Trautner looks to different cultures to examine their techniques and philosophies in making pottery; one day, he hopes to travel to various parts of the world to learn from others, including the Onggi potters of Korea. It’s all part of his innate enthusiasm and love for the work he does.
“I live and breathe ceramics,” Trautner says. “It’s in my blood, and I give everything I have to the clay. I hope that comes across in my work in a positive way.”
Hickory Flat Pottery