Just off U.S. 412 between Alpena and Huntsville, you’ll see an old building standing to the south. The old Stamps General Store has been located there since 1901, but the business closed down decades ago. Still, the store is busy today as home of the Osage Clayworks, a thriving pottery business.
When you first drive up, you may see a dog or cat on the porch. There’s a sign on the door letting you know it’s okay to let them in. The place has its own cats and a friendly dog, too.
Newt Lale will be the first to tell you that the cats won’t knock anything over. They’ve grown up between the stoneware mugs and plates on the shelves. They grace the building like ghosts in an old house.
Lale will also tell you everything’s original. See, when he was looking at the property, he saw it was full of old stuff. Many of the items the general store sold still sat on the counters, and the cabinets and furniture hadn’t been moved since the last day of operation. Turns out, the family was willing to leave every antique, every oddity and cereal box and glass-front curio – as long as they were left there like a living museum.
Lale agreed, and moved his potter’s wheel in. That’s been decades ago, and today every countertop and every shelf is covered with objects wheelspun and fired and glazed right in the old building. Those cats? They’re experts at dusting.
And there’s lots to dust – from gigantic tureens with lids and handles to tiny pinch-pots and rag holders. There are mugs of all shapes and sizes, plates and bowls and spoon rests and saucers. There are art objects and vases and lambs and just about anything you can imagine made out of clay.
It doesn’t take Lale long to make a pot. He’s been at the wheelthrowing for nearly 30 years. He sits down right at the wheel in the middle of the store and will thump a lump of red clay onto the turntable in front of him. Then away the wheel goes, and he smatters the clay with water and works it up with his hands, first forming a depression in the center and then shaping the outsides with his palms. As he presses, the clay rises up above his fingers, and he expertly turns it down again.
Within a minute a pot is formed, and he stops the wheel, cuts it from its base with a piece of wire and sets it to drying. These pots will cure for a while until he has enough to run the kiln. They’ll then receive a glaze and go back in the kiln. The final product is hardy, dishwasher and microwave safe and surprisingly hard to break.
The old general store is the perfect place to display those items. The unique mugs fit separately each in its own cubby that used to be the postal boxes that served the town. Every surface is utilized for something.
Osage Clayworks is located at 22 CR 966 in Osage – though the mailing address is Alpena, which is actually 11 miles to the east. It’s open now and then with varying hours; best thing to do is either call ahead or call when you get there and Newt Lale will come on over and open the door. (870) 553-2513. Don’t forget to let the cat in — and to check out the website.