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Slipping Life’s Bounds

Woods Hole potter Tessa Morgan’s designs reflect a uniquely Cape Cod artistic spirit flying free

Morgan works from her home studio, where she crafts all designs by hand. Photo by Anthony DiSpezio

She was grounded her entire junior year. “I had to spend every weekend on the farm my junior year, so my pottery flourished,” she says. In her senior year, she started making pots in a yurt in Glen Echo, Maryland, an arts community outside of Washington, D.C., where, she recalls, “I got heavily involved with different colored slip applications and sgraffito.” Her style was born.

Woods Hole potter Tessa Morgan’s designs reflect a uniquely Cape Cod artistic spirit flying free

Many of Morgan’s pieces are inspired by female connections and friendships. Photo by Anthony DiSpezio

In the years since, Morgan’s pottery has become more experimental in color, design, and size. A new shade, a sumptuous sea foam green, shines on a line of platters with sgraffito designs of lively fish, turtles, and other marine creatures. “I just kind of stumbled onto that glaze combination,” she says. Another darker shade of green glimmers in collections of bowls and other dishes, including mugs she produces for WCAI/WNAN, which the local NPR radio station uses for fundraising. The mugs have boosted her already considerable professional profile, something she owes to happenstance. “I’m not savvy at marketing,” she says. “It just happens.”

She’s also introduced a new ark full of African animals; one themed wall hanging is a tableau of leaping lions, peaceful elephants, and inquisitive giraffes. Its size, topping one foot by two feet, is giving Morgan some heady new freedom. “I like using multiple tiles to create a large clay canvas where I can play with more complex design elements and the relationships between the various figures, textures, dark and light,” she says.

The larger tile work has led to commissions for homes on both coasts. One current project is a large tile design over the stove of a Cape Cod kitchen. As Morgan relates, the homeowner said, “Do whatever you want.” So Morgan combined elements of her new African theme with her traditional Cape marine figures and a gentle field animal here and there. “It’s kind of all over the place, which she wanted,” Morgan says. Another set of her work has gotten smaller, with the introduction of a new line of hanging tiles framed in a discarded dune fence from Nobska Beach in Woods Hole.

Now, after almost three decades of exploring themes around animals and plants, Morgan has started a line of “women’s platters,” such as one with two women, each holding a glass of wine and deeply attuned to each other. “I was inspired by female friendships and how important they are,” Morgan says, “talking out concerns, laughing, being creative.”

Now that her children are older, Morgan treasures spending more time with her women friends and sees more women’s platters in her future. She also sees more large installations, such as her kitchen tile designs, projects that offer her the coveted “clay canvas” for deeper creative expression. As she says, “I enjoy creating little stories on my mugs and other pottery, and working on the wall art as a clay canvas really allows me to spread those stories out.”

Flying Pig Pottery, 410 Woods Hole Road, Woods Hole, is open seven days a week. Morgan’s work is also available at Coffee Obsession in Falmouth and Woods Hole and at shows around Cape Cod and eastern Massachusetts, including the upcoming Wellfleet OysterFest, Oct. 15-16. For more information, visit or Flying Pig Pottery’s Facebook page.

Mary Grauerholz is communications director for the Cape Cod Foundation and a freelance writer.

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