Job loss transforms welder into a Warner Robins potter

ROBERTA -- Six years ago, Kris Robson, of Warner Robins, was working as a welder at a large factory that made boilers for nuclear submarines and power plants when the company shut down its North American operations.

“I lost my job, went back to school, and I had to take an art course and it turned out to be ceramics,” said Robson, 59. “Found out I don’t have anything for the modern corporate world. I can’t type 60 words a minute, can’t key 10,000 keystrokes per hour. I was a Navy-trained welder. But I’m not 20 anymore. They won’t look at me. So I had to do something to eat.”

He ended up making pottery.

On Saturday, Robson joined 26 other pottery vendors showcasing their wares at the Merritt Pottery Festival at the Crawford County High School gym in Roberta.

“It’s doing better than my day job,” Robson said. “This pays rent, pays the insurance on the truck, buys me food.”

His day job is a part-time sales position at a main-brand discount store.

Robson said he started selling his wares at the Peaches to the Beaches monster yard sale, a two-day event in March along U.S. Highway 341 from Interstate 75 at Perry to Interstate 95 at Brunswick. Exposure there resulted in invitations to arts and crafts shows.

“I’ve been struggling to keep up inventory,” said Robson, who fashions his wares inside his Warner Robins home.

His pottery is functional and safe to use in a microwave or dishwasher. He showed off a 1.5 gallon, light blue pitcher that featured muscadine vines and monarch butterflies.

“It’s something that someone traveling can pick up and take home and have a little piece of Georgia with them in their house,” Robson said.

His display also included a “mama bird pitcher.” Its spout is the bird’s nose. Robson said he got the idea from a friend who grew up in Bavaria, Germany. She had a small baby bird vase. When it was filled with water, he could blow air into its spout, and the baby bird would chirp and tweet.

“The Germans are so smart,” Robson said. “I can never do that, so I took that idea a step further. I make the mama birds and then I have little baby bird creamers.”

He held them up for inspection.

Coni Merritt founded the annual Merritt Pottery Festival nine years ago with her husband, Mark.

Mark Merritt is a sixth-generation Crawford County potter. He runs the Lizella Clay Company that his father founded 55 years ago. The company takes Crawford County clay and makes it suitable for pottery making, Coni Merritt said.

“We both just have a passion for pottery and wanted to bring a show to Crawford County that would enhance the rich history of pottery in the area,” she said.

Mark Merritt said he’s been making pottery on and off since he was a child.

Because of his father’s business, Merritt said he “grew up interested in it.”

The wares he displayed included a simple blue pitcher. It had a rope-shaped handle that he twisted when the clay was wet and then attached. He also had some colorful roosters among his display.

“You take the earth, just the dirt, and you make something out of it people can use,” Merritt said. “It’s a neat thing.”