Montana's Oldest Pottery House

About Clays In Calico

What is Clays in Calico and how it came to be...
Mr. and Mrs. Wes VanGorden first envisioned Clays in Calico in the late 1950's. When on a trip to the Cardwell, Montana area, the VanGorden's stumbled upon a large vein of Pre-Cambrian Grayson shale while prospecting for gold. Here, and nowhere else in the world, are the three colors found together, making Clays in Calico pottery one of a kind. An amateur potter, Mrs. VanGorden saw the possibilities in the shale and when they returned to their Riverton, Wyoming home, they took some of the shale with them.
During the next three years, the VanGordens often returned to the area for more raw material. Experimenting with the shale, the VanGordens developed a process of keeping the Dark Red, Rich Brown and Creamy Ivory colors separated. The clay could then be poured into molds. This gives each piece its unique, marbled (or "Calico") look. Since each piece was poured by hand, no two were alike.
After three years, in October of 1960, they realized part of their dream. They made the Treasure State their home when they moved into an old hotel that they had purchased in Cardwell. By the following spring, their dream was complete. They had set up shop on the first floor of the hotel, creating beautiful pottery and selling to both locals and visitors to the area.
The original hotel has long since fallen down, but the dream continues on. Operated by Barbara Bowman, a native of Cardwell, she continues to make each piece by hand on the same spot in Cardwell, Montana.
Today, the process starts at the mine. Yes, the shale is still dug by hand. After mining, the shale is put in large tanks with water and "secret chemicals" and the tanks are sealed. As the tanks roll, steel rods inside crush the shale to clay forming "slip". The slip, a liquid form of the clay that resembles chocolate milk, then goes into large vats, where it must cure for six weeks. When the curing process is complete, the slip is then put into pressurized kegs, which allows the three colors of clay to be delivered through a pipe system to the pouring table.
It is on the pouring table that the creative process really begins. The potter controls the flow of each color, varying the predominant colors in each piece. Since the colors remain separate, the pattern is similar but each piece is amazingly unique. No two pieces are ever exactly alike.
After the slip is poured into molds, it is allowed to set. Then the pieces are removed from the molds and taken to the drying shelves to continue the drying process. Each piece is then cleaned and hand smoothed. Since 1972, each piece has also been hand-signed and dated.
Over the years, the various processes involved in producing "Clays in Calico" pottery have improved and evolved into what you see today. With over 170 pieces available, you are sure to find one that is just right for you. It also makes a unique and lasting gift.
We will ship our pottery, insured via UPS or USPS. Satisfaction is always guaranteed. For more information, please call us toll-free at
The shop is open Monday through Saturday during the summer months. (Call first in winter.)