Skip Schwartz is the featured artist in Gallery North’s January exhibit. The former tugboat captain turned to pottery in retirement. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Skip Schwartz is the featured artist in Gallery North’s January exhibit. The former tugboat captain turned to pottery in retirement. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

After career at sea, he’s working with the clay of the earth

The works of Andrew “Skip” Schwartz are part of the “In With the New” exhibit at Gallery North in Edmonds.

For more than two decades, Andrew “Skip” Schwartz worked on tugs, freighters and tankers. After retiring in 2007, he was looking for something new to explore.

A friend had invited he and his wife to dinner, and he was drawn to the ceramics she had displayed in her home. He signed up for pottery classes at Edmonds Community College and later set up a studio in his home in Edmonds.

Some of his work is being displayed this month at Gallery North, in a show called “In With The New.” Meet the artist during the Edmonds Art Walk from 5 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 17.

Here Schwartz, now 69, describes how a chance encounter led to a career on ships and later how that visit to a friend’s house for dinner led to his decision to pursue pottery.

I see you were a tugboat captain. How long did you do that?

I worked on the boats for probably 25 years. It wasn’t always on tugs; sometimes it was on freighters and tankers. I didn’t captain those, though. I was an able-bodied seaman or mate — a sailor.

How did you come to pursue the sea as a career?

I grew up in southern Illinois, and I did work on tugboats when I was on the Mississippi River when I was younger. That’s when I first got into the maritime industry, on break from school. I think it was the winter break from college.

There was a tugboat tied up along the side the bank of the river and, out of the blue, I stopped and asked if they needed any deckhands. He said, “Sure. Pack your bags and dress warm. We’re heading north.” That was my first job in a maritime industry. That was in the early ’70s.

A woodfired sake set by Skip Schwartz on display at Gallery North in Edmonds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A woodfired sake set by Skip Schwartz on display at Gallery North in Edmonds. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

I took the next semester off. (I went to Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri.) We went up the Illinois River to Chicago. I grew up in Godfrey, Illinois, right on the Mississippi River. I always looked at the boats.

I went to a couple other colleges before I finally graduated. I had a few detours along the way.

I had more than one major. I ended up with a bachelor of liberal studies from Southern Illinois University. That was just a throw together degree where you have all the credits and no idea what I wanted to do. I finally decided to get a diploma and move on with life.

After you graduated from college, you went to Alaska?

Yeah, I did various things. I did get a job on the Alaska state ferries for a while. I was a deckhand. That was the next step up. I had a couple of routes: I started on the southeast route from Juneau to Seattle. It was like a week on and a week off. Then I had a change to go to Seward. Then I left.

What happened next?

I traveled through Central and South America. That’s when I came back and finished my degree. Then back to Alaska a couple of times. I did go back to southern Illinois. That’s where I met my wife, Jan Clem. We ended up moving out here — a place we could be compatible and we liked. I think we moved out here in 1980. That’s when I went back to the maritime industry. I always had a kind of calling for that.

What kind of boats did you work on?

I worked on freighters and tankers. Then eventually I went to work on tugs. I was working over in Korea. I was called the port captain over there, taking stuff from Korea to Japan to Russia. That was the end of my career. (I retired in 2007.)

My farthest port of call was probably Indonesia. That’s pretty far. I didn’t always go on long distance ones. I usually left out of Seattle.

So how did you get involved with pottery?

A friend of my wife. We were over at her home for dinner. She noticed me walking around looking at the ceramics at the house. She asked if I wanted to take ceramics. I said, “Yes.” I took a class and kept taking it at Edmonds Community College until they stopped offering it to noncredit students. That would have been about 2012.

And in the interim, I got a kiln and a wheel and slab roller in my garage. I still work out of my garage.

How did you decide on your artistic style?

I don’t know. That’s a good question. The shapes I do kind of are changing. A lot of people say Asian influence. I don’t have any idea why or how. It’s just what I enjoyed making. I don’t worry about functionality. I just make what’s enjoyable to me.

Is this your first show at a gallery?

Yes. One of my friends that I used to do pottery with at the school, her husband is a member of Gallery North (a cooperative gallery). She encouraged me to join.

They have some of my pots at the Cascadia Art Museum’s gift shop. We had student sales at the college. I used to put a lot of pots in that. It’s one of the those hobbies where your house fills up really quickly with pottery.

Was it a spur-of-the-moment decision to take up pottery?

I think so. When you are retired, you have to look for something to keep yourself busy. You have to come up with a hobby. My friend happened to see me looking at the pottery, and suggested it. It just sort of happened.

Sharon Salyer; 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

If you go

What: “In With the New”

When: Through January, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Gallery North, 401 Main St., Edmonds

Cost: Free

More: 425-774-0946 or www.gallerynorthedmonds.com

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