An unlikely pair, Charlie Parker, 68, and Kayla Harbeitner, 29, maneuver through bowls and mugs in various states of finish.
It’s the Charlie Parker Pottery Studio, yet it’s Harbeitner, Parker’s artist in residence, who is leading classes and adding the finishing touches to the planters that line the dusty workbench.
“This is it – this is what I strived for for the last 50 years,” Parker said. “So I’ve taken someone in to teach, and quite frankly become a better potter than me, and she will eventually continue my work.”
That someone is Harbeitner, a millenial with a degree in computer animation from the Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota. She didn’t think she’d end up here, but three years in, she’s continuing in Parker’s footsteps.
“What the goal is for any artist is to make a living doing what they love,” Parker said. “I want her to do more than make a living – I want her to make a living while becoming a well-known artist.”
The Beginning of a Legacy
It was 1967, and 14-year-old Parker was living in the Midwest when he joined his best friend’s uncle’s business, the Minnesota Clay Company.
It started as weekend work to make money, but Parker never stopped molding. He eventually studied under master potter Warren Westerberg at Westerberg Pottery in Minneapolis.
“It’s a feeling,” Parker said. “You take this pile of mush, of nothing, and make something beautiful.”
Parker moved to sunny St. Petersburg at 25 years old, where he worked with partners to create the St. Petersburg Clay Company.
In 2010, he founded his own space, the Charlie Parker Pottery Studio, and for a wink of time the studio lived on Central Avenue. Now, Parker’s studio is nestled in the Warehouse District.
Molding the New
Parker’s work, matter-of-fact and functional, is a stark contrast to the design-focused pieces of Harbeitner’s practice.
Nearly half his age, the artist in residence first walked into the studio at 22 years old. Harbeitner’s mother was taking classes, and Parker noticed she had a knack for the art form.
“I always liked working with the wheel; I took a few classes in high school,” Harbeitner said while painting a pot. “I like the modeling aspect of this.”
The young artist went through a move to Texas and back before coming back home and buying a house.
“When her mother told me she was moving back, I immediately wanted her to come work with me,” Parker said. “When she agreed I said ‘Hell yeah.”
That was that, and for the last three years, Harbeitner has molded alongside Parker, created her own style and is now leading the majority of pottery classes in the studio.
“She has more enthusiasm than me,” Parker. “There’s some special people within this art form, and she’s one of them.”
“Honestly, I’m really happy life led me here,” Harbeitner said. “It’s not what I expected, but I’m happy with it.”
More at charlieparkerpottery.com.