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The multicultural diversity of Joseph Frye

Joseph Frye always had his hand in art, but pottery became his focus when he moved to Birmingham. (Amarr Croskey Photo, For The Birmingham Times)
By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times

While preparing for last week’s Magic City Art Connection (MCAC), Joseph Frye lost track of time. That’s how much the owner of Bessemer, Ala.’s, Pottery Store was focused on participating in Birmingham’s largest art festival, which is held annually downtown at Linn Park and attracts artists from across the region and the U.S.

For about four weeks leading up to the event, Frye would wake up and work until he felt he could stop.

“When you’re getting prepared for a show, …  the hours come and go because you’re involved in what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s your passion, so time just goes by because you don’t realize you’ve been [working] for eight or 10 hours.”

Frye makes one-of-a-kind pieces.

“It’s like when you have children: each child is different, so [every] one expresses themselves differently,” he said. “I see [each piece of art] like it is a special piece that’s unique within itself. … It stands on its own.”

Frye, 69, is a Michigan native who moved to Birmingham in 2006 to help his wife take care of her mother; they now live in Bessemer. His interest in pottery was sparked in high school by his art teacher at the time and the connection he made with the clay.

“I had painting classes, [which were] fine, but when I started working with clay, there was something about the feel of the clay, the texture, forming something with your hands. … It had more versatility. … There was freedom with the clay,” he said.

Frye always saw himself involved with art, but pottery became his focus when he moved to Birmingham. In 2010, he was teaching at Jefferson State Community College, and he got to a point when he had to choose between teaching full-time or devoting his attention to art. He got some help with that decision when the school hired a new instructor: “That kind of pushed me out into doing art full-time,” he said.


Frye enjoys working with different forms.

“I like texture and carving into the clay,” he said. “What inspires me … is the idea of working with something to form it, … making something from nothing and forming it into something.”

He has several sources of inspiration. Sometimes he is moved by something he sees.

“For me, it’s more visual first,” Frye said. “[I come up with] a concept or … see something, then I go into the studio and start working … to bring that into form, to make something [others] can see.”

Sometimes, he is inspired by his thoughts.

“[When I go to different] places, I see things that are pleasing … and capture those ideas in my mind,” he said.

Music is key component of Frye’s creative process, as well.

Playing music, Christian or instrumental, “helps the rhythm of working in the studio,” he said. “Sometimes you [can] think too much. … I try not to think too much. … I want what I feel from the music to be expressed in the piece.”

A lot of pottery is done in earth tones, but Frye likes to add vibrant color to his work.

“Color is just part of who I am,” he said. “To me, a piece is freer when it has color.”

Frye makes each of his organic pieces by hand with a clay foundation. One of his passions is incorporating carvings and patterns with the use of objects that have an artistic appeal. With clay as a canvas, he blends imaginative color combinations into his art. In his “Living Water” collection, for instance, he often fuses glass into the pieces, creating the illusion of water.

Beyond the Potter’s Wheel

Frye and his wife oversee Holy Spirit Wind Ministry, through which they train ministers at their Bessemer home, and his “Living Water” series has a spiritual context and a biblical significance.

“I don’t go around preaching to people, … I just let my art speak for itself. It has its own expression because art is [a form of] expression. What I try to do is give each piece its own individual expression” he said of his multicultural, diverse works, which are influenced by his many travels abroad to Africa, Israel, South America, and the Caribbean Islands.

Frye is a MCAC veteran; this marks his fifth year at the festival, which is a good fit, he said: “It’s a good opportunity to let people see my art locally.”

For this year’s event, Frye brought some new work that was based on previous pieces, but none of them are the same.

“Similar but just a little different,” he said.

Click one of the links below to read more stories from Magic City Art Connection.

Myrna Gates once volunteered at Magic City Art Connection; last week she won award of distinction

How Matthew Mayes learned that ‘Art Encompasses All’

Larry Allen: Ceramicist who makes something out of nothing