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  • Writer's pictureBecki Henderson-Gow

Why Red Salamander?

When I retired from teaching art in the public schools in 2010, I was ready to focus completely on making pottery and creating a business. I immediately began making pots in all sizes and shapes and found a market in which to sell them. Making my business legitimate was a concern, so I investigated the steps needed to do this. I found it relatively easy to set up a business in North Carolina. I remember talking with someone at the state level who explained everything I needed to do in very simple language. I did run into one stumbling block when I was asked the name of my business. That was a tough one! It had been suggested I use my personal name in order to be easily found and identified with my work. This idea did not resonate with me. I wanted my pottery business to have a more unique name. After many days and weeks of thinking, I came up with Red Salamander Pottery. So, why in the world did I pick that name?

There are several reasons Red Salamander Pottery was fitting as my business name. I will need to take you back many years to explain my beginning association with salamanders. As a young girl, I spent a large part of my life outdoors. I grew up in a very big family. I had three brothers and two sisters. We lived in a house that looked quite large, but never seemed to be large enough for me to find my own private space. As a result of needing to have some peace and quiet in my life, I looked to the outdoors. I could often be found in the Maple tree in the front yard, or out in the fields and swamps that were in the surrounding neighborhood. I loved to roam about, exploring and discovering a number of interesting things in nature. One of my favorite activities was to find creatures that roamed through our large yard. One day I discovered a salamander near the dog house. This salamander and I struck up a friendship and I enjoyed making believe we were the best of friends. I created a home for "Sammy" and hoped he would enjoy it. Being a kid, I had no idea what a salamander needed to exist. I built him a wonderful house of mud, sticks and stones. Sammy stayed around about two days before he moved on to more favorable territory. I loved imagining he had gone off on an adventure and would return one day to the wonderful home I had built for him. He never did. Poor guy, he probably wanted to get far away from me, seeking a peaceful space just as I had done. I definitely identified with this strange creature and never forgot the attachment I formed with him.

Many years later, when I was teaching, I ran across a reference to salamanders and fire. I discovered salamanders are considered a symbol of fire. After researching this information for a lesson I planned to teach to my students, I discovered this symbolism had roots in folklore. As I now know, salamanders love to hibernate in quiet, undisturbed places such as old, rotting logs. They would often discover the perfect place to winter over in a wonderful wood pile. The salamander would soon drift off to sleep, only to be awakened by the heat of a fire in the hearth of a home. The occupants of the house would see the salamanders quickly fleeing the fire, falsely assuming that the fire had given birth to the salamander. Thus the linking of salamanders as a symbol of fire. I loved this story and realized that fire is a huge part of pottery making. I use an electric kiln to fire my work, but have fired my pots in large university kilns that breathed fire when the peeps were removed. I also fire specific pots using my raku kiln. The process in this particular type of firing ends with the pottery being removed from the kiln while it is glowing red hot. The pots are placed into a can filled with combustibles, such as newsprint, sawdust or dried leaves, resulting in a burst of flames which are quickly smothered with a lid. Working with fire is a big part of what I do.

To finalize the decision to use salamander in my business name, I discovered that the salamander was the state amphibian for North Carolina. I selected the red salamander for its beautiful, unusual color, the color of fire. So, you could say the name was born from my past, my experiences and from fire.

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