Slipping Life’s Bounds
Woods Hole potter Tessa Morgan’s designs reflect a uniquely Cape Cod artistic spirit flying free.
Tessa Morgan first worked with clay to sooth her teenage angst and nurse the creativity her parents instilled in her when she was a little girl. In the 35 years since, that early work—tiny pots she made at a neighbor’s house in the Maryland countryside outside Washington, D.C.—has evolved into vases, lamps, bowls, and tiles that sing with Morgan’s spirited designs and gorgeous hand-mixed glazes.
“It’s still evolving and maturing,” Morgan says of her pottery during a break in her home studio, Flying Pig Pottery in Woods Hole. Dressed in jeans and apron, she juggles long work hours with her family’s schedule in her home’s basement, a combination display area, retail shop, and kiln firing area. In the cozy space, Morgan’s one-of-a-kind ceramic home items keep company with decorative tiles framed in discarded dune fencing and mugs for the local NPR station. Upstairs, her family is moving into late-afternoon mode. Husband Tim Lineaweaver operates Quissett Counseling and Consulting in a first-floor office. The couple’s son, Nicky, has come home from high school. Another son, Dylan, is 21 and in college.
When Morgan began selling her pieces in her mid-20s, her signature pottery was defined by sharp blue-black images set against a creamy white background. This technique, called sgraffito, became her stamp in trade: designs carved into a band of hand-painted clay (known as slip) on a piece of thrown pottery. Subdued blue-black animals, mermaids, fish, and plants cavort happily on the pottery’s light background. One oval platter is encircled by an elephant, giraffe, lion, and fish, all looking content to be together in a carefree dance. This lightly naive spirit holds great appeal for her clients.
“It’s much like doing a line drawing,” Morgan says of her sgraffito. It is also reminiscent of her drawing technique when she was a little girl in Georgetown with five sisters, an English mom who stayed home, and a dad who worked at the Federal Reserve Bank and was “always creating things.”
“My parents encouraged any kind of creativity,” Morgan says. “That’s what my sisters and I just did.” In the mid-1970s, the family moved to a rural Maryland farm. Morgan, 14, was miserable, dealing with the culture shock of adapting to country life after Georgetown. “I was horrified,” she says. She was unhappy enough that her mother arranged for her to take pottery lessons from an elderly woman down the road who sold her pots in the back of a gas station and kept her pottery wheel in the kitchen.
At 15, Morgan got an unlikely opportunity to work deeply on her craft. She had made plans to hike with friends in the White Mountains (with her parents’ full permission) and took a hitchhiking detour to Truro, where the kids were arrested for a minor infraction. She spent a night in the Provincetown jail. “I was kind of wild,” Morgan says. “This is the other side of having parents who give you the freedom to create and think outside the box. The down side is they gave me too much freedom.”