Retired Banker Enriches His Life with Pottery; Man Enjoys Teaching Himself the Subtleties That Can Make or Break a Piece's Design

Article excerpt

Byline: Teresa Stepzinski, The Times-Union

JEKYLL ISLAND -- At first glance, it could be mistaken for magic. But upon study, it reveals itself as the gift of a true artisan.

Dave Palmer cupped his hands around a pale gray ball of clay and set his wheel to spinning. A few minutes later, a bowl -- plain yet elegant -- emerged beneath his fingers.

"It keeps you humble because every time you think that you have something really good, then it collapses on you and you have to start over from scratch," said Palmer, a largely self-taught potter whose works have garnered awards at art festivals and shows.

Palmer, 64, is a retired banker enjoying his first avocation -- pottery making -- as well as a second career as a marine technician.

A graduate of Cornell University with bachelor's and master's degrees in business, Palmer works for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources aboard its research vessel, Anna. He is responsible for water quality sampling, and aids biologists conducting monthly shrimp, blue crab and fish assessment surveys.

"I do my pottery at night because I'm an outdoor person, and I like to be outside doing things during the day," said Palmer, who draws inspiration from nature.

He likens his transition from city banker to island potter to an episode from The Good Life, an HGTV reality program that features people who drop out of the rat race to follow their dreams.

"Between family, DNR and my pottery, I have a very good life," Palmer said, grinning.

He and his wife, Shirley, originally from tiny Randolph, N.Y. -- where they first met in kindergarten -- recently celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary.

Their roomy ranch-style island home is illuminated by skylights and broad windows that bathe the handcrafted pottery, sketches and paintings -- many created by the Palmers or their children -- in a warm glow.

Dave Palmer throws his pots, platters and bowls on a wheel in a home studio during the evenings while his wife does cross-stitch in the family room nearby. His studio has a small kiln where he fires mugs or small bowls and tests glazes.

"The fun part of opening a kiln is you never know what you're going to get," Palmer said. "Sometimes, it comes out looking terrible and other times it's quite a rush when it works and you see how beautiful it is."

A retired pediatric nurse, Shirley Palmer, 63, taught herself the delicate needlework. Her finely detailed wall hangings also have earned blue ribbons at local arts and craft shows.

"I did do pottery, but it's very messy," said Shirley Palmer, who crafted pottery music boxes activated by a light sensor for each of their three children, who grew up to become artists in their own right.

Their daughter, Laurel, 41, is a painter. Their oldest son, Keith, 40, is a school principal who also does scrimshaw and paints. Youngest son Andrew, 38, is a potter and stained-glass artist who also heads the ceramics and photography department at Cornell University, Shirley Palmer said.

The couple also have two grown foster children: Danny Crosier, 40, and Belinda Orr, 45, and 18 grandchildren -- most of whom also participate in various arts and crafts.

SETTLING IN

The Palmers have lived on Jekyll Island for seven years. They discovered the island during a family camping trip en route to Orlando. Jekyll's beauty and beach kept luring them back year after year, until they decided in 1997 to make it their full-time home.

Shortly after they settled in, Dave Palmer was flipping through an island telephone book when he recognized the name of his former high school industrial arts teacher.

"It turns out that he was teaching pottery here," Palmer said. "He said, 'Come over and I'll show you how to make pottery.' So here I was, his student again. …