Local Highlight: Hilltown 6 Pottery Tour and Sale

Before dawn’s light breaks on the hills of Western Massachusetts, local potter Maya Machin kindles a fire that will burn for the next 17 hours. After days of careful planning, a variety of vibrant glazes adorn hand-thrown pots, mugs, and teapots.

Photo Credit: Astrid Tilton

Each piece is unique, both in her care and attention sculpting individual items, but also in the process of using the wood fired kiln which brings an element of unpredictability and beauty.

Photo Credit: Astrid Tilton

As a member of the Hilltown 6, a local group of nationally recognized potters and masters of their craft, Maya’s work is sought out by connoisseurs from across the region. For the past seventeen years, this alliance of local artisans has been offering their namesake tour through the Hilltowns, offering an eager public the opportunity to purchase and collect their unique wares while learning from the collective experience of their makers. Now a 10-year veteran of the tour, Maya is also the most recent addition.

The tour is an adventure worth exploring. For two days these incredibly talented people share their studios and hard work with the community. Any artist can tell you that to see their studio is an intimate view into their world. Spread over two days, the tour contains educational demonstrations as well as time to connect with each artist. There are 8 stops in total this year, with a built-in flow to the weekend. There are daily scheduled demonstrations and conversations. Conceptually, the dedicated tour-goer could try to try and make it to one from each potter.

The group is called the Hilltown 6, after the founding group of 6 artists. Since then they have grown to 9, though the original name stuck. In truth they also offer space for many more local and regional artists to show alongside them.

Their list of guests this year alone is twice the number of open studios; this spirit of sharing is inherent in the tour’s model. Each year the tour donates a portion of their proceeds to local elementary schools, to encourage the arts, this donation is earmarked to help defray the costs of art supplies. This core value is unanimous amongst the group.

Left to right: Mark Shapiro, Michael McCarthy, Robbie Heidinger, Sam Taylor,
Maya Machin, Constance Talbot, Eric Smith, Christy Knox, and Hiroshi Nakayama.
Photo Credit: John Polak

Maya’s experience of the tour mirrors this idea. She offers a demonstration both days at 10am in her studio, and each year one of her favorite memories is an annual visit from a girls’ summer camp. The questions these young women bring are some of the most insightful and discerning. They show an engagement in the craft and the tour that she finds inspiring. Every year there are folks who come to see how professional and renowned artists organize their studio. A glimpse under the hood can be a key learning experience for these budding artists.

It’s also an important view for those who treasure the finished pieces these talented folks produce. If you weren’t already aware of the amount of time and energy that goes into each piece, this experience will illustrate the point quite clearly.

The life of a handmade piece of pottery starts with portioning the clay, throwing each piece on the wheel, shaping and molding it into form, trimming, adding handles and any additional parts, placing it safely into the kiln, taking it out and glazing, then wadding each piece to keep it from sticking, then 17 hours in the fire, then sanding, pricing, and finally displaying for sale. The number of times each piece is touched by the potter is almost impossible to count, the time and intent it takes can not easily be explained or understood without some examples, and the tour is happy to share their process with the public.

Maya started her journey in her senior year of high school, as part of an “externship” where she studied with a pair of Japanese potters who lived down the road from her. Little did she know they were quite well known, incredibly gifted artists.

In studying with them she found her own passion for clay and the forms it can make. After continuing to work with them during summers for a number of years, she ended up being taken on for a three year apprenticeship under Mark Shapiro, a founding member of the tour. Coming full circle, her first teachers have even been guests on the tour.

Her connection to her work includes the idea of daily ritual; she has chosen to focus on functional objects that she hopes will become integrated with people’s daily routine.

She puts a lot of intent into the feel and balance of each mug, the lips and handles, so that the object becomes an extension of the self. That people will reach for the mug without knowing why, her hope is that it sits in the front of the cabinet and enriches the simple joys of everyday life.

It’s not just for special occasions but it is deeply special to the individual, part of that connection comes inherently in the tour. The memories of summer days, touring down rustic dirt roads, traveling with friends and family, or simply for the sake of adventure. The whole experience contains these elements, and knowing the potter and where they make their wares can only bring more to the piece. Within that some of her favorite pieces to make are the custom orders, the particularities of each individual can come to the forefront of the project, eccentric or specific visions provide a fun outlet for her creativity.

Every potter on the tour has these sorts of intimate insights into their work, why they pursued this craft and what they love about it. The choices they make, the focus of their work – it’s all right there at their fingertips, and for one weekend out of each year they make themselves available. The tour is an opportunity to see some of the talent that is rich in the Hilltowns, to see the personal studios of these accomplished individuals, and to garner appreciation for their process.

17th Annual

Hilltown 6 Pottery Tour And Sale

July 29th and 30th, 2023

10am – 5:00pm both days

If you’d like to find out more before the tour you can explore their website at:

Hilltown 6

Or follow their social media –

Facebook: Here and Instagram: Here