Chatt McGonagill and his work is the subject of this site. Here is his story, as told by one of his daughters...
My Dad the Potter
I was eleven years old with an older brother and sister when my dad, a Naval Aviator, asked that his next tour of duty take place in Meridian Mississippi (USA). Anticipating his retirement my mom and dad wished to transfer from California to settle near their birthplaces in Mississippi. Within a few months after our move, my parents purchased an old (dilapidated) home that was built almost a hundred years prior to the Civil War. It had been vacant for at least thirty years. Most of the people that knew of the existence of the house thought that it would need to be leveled to rebuild on the old home sight. With my mother’s support and inspiration Dad began renovating the old house. He was never hesitant to ask for a helping hand from anyone who was willing. A house that had no plumbing, no electricity, a leaky old tin roof, and was not even seated on a foundation became our home within a year. It transformed into a completely restored historical masterpiece with all the modern conveniences of the time. My Dad did all the work himself, with some advice from professionals. The brainless, mundane tasks he would dish off to one of us, but would closely supervise. Most people –myself included— thought he was crazy to take on such a seemingly impossible task especially while continuing his full time career.
After his retirement in the Navy, my dad instructed student pilots on military flight simulators. In the meantime he continued to explore many talents including building a car, refinishing antiques, gardening, and eventually building the home that the two of them live in now (next to the old house). The projects that he tackled required him to learn the trades of an electrician, a carpenter, welder, plumber, brick mason, architectural engineer, and more. He always said that if you could pick up a book and learn how to do something then anyone who could read could figure it out.
Around 1997 he set up a woodworking shop, and found out an additional way to research his new endeavors -- the Internet. Within months of exploring his new hobby he was published in American Woodworker magazine. Pictured in the magazine was the Queen Anne style lowboy he built in his new shop.
In 1999, when Mom and Dad came to pay a visit to my family and me in Raleigh, North Carolina; we decided to spend the day at the State Fair. Many of the traditional crafts of the native North Carolinians are proudly displayed at the Fair. Many of the potters had studied their crafts all their lives. The crafts were considered to be family trades which were passed down from generation to generation. How receptive do you think most of these potters would be to a sixty-five year old man who walks up with a piece in his hand and says, “I was thinking about taking up pottery. How do you do this?” Most people were nice; but had no intentions of revealing family secrets, nor did they have any idea the strength of mind of this man. No one could imagine the talent and drive that lay within him.
The endless hours at the wheel, innumerable experiments glazing and firing, countless books read, the advice from professionals on the Internet, and his own determination have made him the accomplished potter that he is. It was only about a year after working with the stoneware pottery that he became intrigued with the crystalline glaze pottery. I’m not sure I have ever seen anything more beautiful. Each crystal on every piece seems to draw you in as if it is another world surrounded by its own universe exploding with color and depth all around, and every one unique.
My dad is truly an amazing man that has accomplished many things. He is a very modest person that considers himself to be very simple and appreciates all good things life has to offer. He loves to be outside, and notices even the most simple pleasures nature displays. I suppose that one of the reasons that pottery has fascinated him so much is because every part of the finished piece was once a raw material from the earth, from the clay that’s formed to the minerals that create the colors and crystals.
I can’t leave my mom out of this picture, and Dad wouldn’t either. I once heard someone say that although Fred Astair was an amazing dancer Ginger Rogers did everything that he did backwards. My mom was a schoolteacher with her Specialist in education. She also has a major in art from San Diego State University. Together they raised three children, and now have six grandchildren. My mom really enjoys researching genealogy. They both continue to explore new interests. Mostly, like all great wives and mothers, my mom nurtures and inspires the ones around her – especially Dad’s new found fascination for crystalline glaze pottery.
- Lori Ann McGonagill Donellan