Arts & Entertainment

Tour de Pottery

Local potters join forces for May 20-21 weekend driving tour of the east valley from Bigfork to West Glacier

COLUMBIA FALLS – Tim Carlburg is a man who respects tradition.

In his pottery studio off Highway 206 south of Columbia Falls, his walls include homages to his home state and University of Wisconsin, as well as his time with the U.S. Army.

So it would make sense that Carlburg — who has gained notoriety for his handmade ceramic growlers of all shapes, sizes, and personalities — would dive into the long-held pottery tradition of a spring showing.

Down south, Carlburg said, potters traditionally had kiln-opening parties in the spring. Most potters had other jobs, like farming or ranching, but during the winter, it was time to get back to the wheel and make more wares.

By the time the spring thaw came around, their pieces were fired in the kiln and ready for public consumption, and their studios opened to welcome friends and neighbors.

“Having seen other artist tours (in the valley and around the country), I wanted to do something that was pottery specific,” Carlburg said during an interview in his new studio space last week. “I wanted something that was small and easy to do.”

That’s how the inaugural East Valley Pottery Tour came to be, a celebration of local artists and their springtime wares. Five pottery studios, running from Bigfork to West Glacier, will open their doors on May 20-21 for the free two-day event.

The driving tour starts at Loon Lake Pottery in Bigfork, then heads to Tile by Fire in Bigfork, followed by Carlburg Pottery, then just up the road on Highway 206 to Glacier Round House Pottery and Heidi Haugen Pottery in West Glacier.

Each location will also be part of a poker run, meaning the first 100 people at each studio can grab a playing card, eventually collecting a full hand to play at the end of the evening for pottery prizes.

The tour culminates at Glacier Distilling Company in Coram, where there will be an after-party with themed drink specials and poker run awards. The poker run only happens on Saturday, May 20.

Since this is the event’s first year, Carlburg wanted to keep it small so it wouldn’t overwhelm participants. Five stops were sufficient, he said, but each studio also has the latitude to host other artists for the tour as well.

“Each place will essentially be its own pop-up art show,” Carlburg said.

For example, his studio will include work from a potter in Eureka, another Flathead Valley potter whose studio isn’t on the tour list, and a soap-maker from Missoula. (Carlburg also conceded that his two daughters, ages 8 and 5, would likely have a lemonade stand set up to benefit their Girl Scout troop.)

Along with offering their pieces for sale, Carlburg said the studios will get a chance to show the public how clay pottery is created and to meet the artists behind the work. So often, he said, the public only sees the resulting pottery under tents at summer art shows, but the tour gives them a chance to see the artist’s habitat and the work that goes into each piece.

Eventually, Carlburg would like to see the weekend event grow to include more studios; he’s already received interest from folks down in Polson, which might make a tour of Flathead Lake possible in the future.

But right now, Carlburg is focused on this year’s event. His only request of participants is that they leave dogs outside. Otherwise, he’s excited to see how the weekend takes shape.

“I think it’s going to be it’s own organic thing,” he said. “I would like to grow it into a springtime community event, just so folks know we’re here.”

The East Valley Pottery Tour runs from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 20, and 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 21. For more information, visit the tour’s Facebook site at