Archives come in all shapes and sizes, but they don’t come much better than this: Ceramics by Bob & Hazel, located in Pontiac, Michigan, not far from the renowned Cranbrook Academy of Art. In business for more than 40 years now, it is basically a hobby shop, which sells all the things a potter needs: plaster, glazes, underglaze colours – the works.
But that’s not what makes it special. What you will never forget – and really must see if you are in the area – are the figurines. Shelves upon shelves of them. Witches and pumpkins, snowmen and Santas, puppies and kittens. They are mostly in greenware (that is, unfired), so they can be customized by the buyer, though bisque-fired and pre-decorated versions are also available.
I asked Joanne Eppert, the store’s current proprietor (the eponymous Bob and Hazel sold the business to her in 2008), how many casting moulds the store owned. Hundreds? Thousands? She paused and said: ‘Yeah. It’s just a lot of damn moulds.’ Some go back all the way to the store’s founding. The same ornaments that decorated the Christmas trees of Michigan in the late 1970s can be yours today. You can even customize them with the name of a loved one.
Bob & Hazel’s is an above-ground, pop-culture archaeological site, its contents documenting a civilization very like our own, when memes were made out of clay. Understandably, the place is a fixation for contemporary artists, including many of those studying at Cranbrook. The head of ceramics there, Ian McDonald, says that, for his students, it is a readymade paradise, a Shangri-La that ‘one simply feels compelled to enter’.
Don’t take his word for it, though. Next time you’re in Pontiac, drop on by, take a look around. And say to yourself: God bless America.
First published in Issue 210