Four Potters of Birmingham’s Roebuck Springs

Leslie Martin Smith, teacher of the Roebuck Springs potters, displays works in progress in her studio.
Works in progress in potter, concrete artist, and teacher Leslie Martin Smith’s Roebuck Springs studio. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Recently, I visited with four Roebuck Springs potters to talk about their work, the neighborhood, and upcoming shows where people can find them before the holidays. Their names are Jessica Sparks, Nichole Lariscy Moore, Shelleigh Buckingham, and Leslie Martin Smith, of Mud Mama Designs, who also teaches pottery. 

Birmingham’s Roebuck Springs

Where is Roebuck Springs, you ask? Tucked into the northeastern corner of Birmingham between South East Lake, the back of Ruffner Mountain, and I-59, Roebuck Springs is a quiet, quirky neighborhood filled with a lot of people who like to make things.

Artists in this neighborhood are like mushrooms after it rains.

Jessica Sparks
Stone marker for Roebuck Springs from 1910. Home of the Roebuck Springs potters.
One of several stone signs marking the 108-year old neighborhood. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Recently, Frank Hamby, the Roebuck Springs Neighborhood Association President, reflected on what makes this neighborhood so unique: “Our artists are mostly women, and that is a great thing – moms, professors, business professionals, well-accomplished entrepreneurs, and on top of everything else, talented, productive artists.” 

Jessica Sparks, Jessica Sparks Studio

One of the Roebuck Springs potters, Jessica Sparks, enjoys playing with form and texture.
Jessica Sparks enjoys playing with texture and form in her pottery.
“I like to make functional things that are pretty.” Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

The first of the Roebuck Springs potters, Jessica Sparks, has been making pottery since 2014. For twenty years, she “dreamed of getting into the wheel and throwing pots. But when Leslie Martin Smith taught a hand-building class, I thought that would be a good way to get started using my hands. I learned a ton!”

Jessica Sparks, one of the Roebuck Springs potters, on her home porch.
Jessica Sparks on the porch of her Roebuck Springs home with some of her textured pottery. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Speaking of her pottery, Sparks, who also makes jewelry, says “I like textures and colors and shapes that you wouldn’t think of putting together at first. Right now I like organic shapes, and I like to put texture in them. I like there to be a shiny and a smooth part, and I like there to be a rounded and a straight part.”

You’ll find Jessica Sparks showing jewelry at Alabama Waldorf School’s Holiday Faire on Saturday, December 1st, in Crestwood, between 10 am and 3 pm, or find her pottery and jewelry on Instagram @jessicasparksstudio.

Nichole Lariscy Moore, Indigo Painted Mama

I love getting out into the art scene and meeting people in a different way. It’s a new kind of Birmingham that I meet. I get to talk to people about art and things that are soothing, bringing joy and color into the world.

Nichole Lariscy Moore
One of the Roebuck Springs potters, Nichole Lariscy Moore, at work in her studio.
Nichole Lariscy Moore glazing pottery in her Roebuck Springs studio. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Just up the hill, Nichole Lariscy Moore, the second of the Roebuck Springs potters, is a woman of many talents. She’s a professor in the English department at UAB, a playwright, an artist and a realtor. She started making pottery “about four years ago because I needed something tactile and physical to express myself in ways that were quiet.”

Like Jessica Sparks, she also took classes from Leslie Martin Smith. About her work, she says “my work is both hand-building and wheel thrown. I work a lot in blues and greens. Over and over again there’s water in my art and in my work as a writing professor at UAB.” And, she’s captivated by the theme of “woman as sacred vessel.”

One of the Roebuck Springs potters, Nichole Lariscy Moore, with finished work near her kiln.
Nichole Lariscy Moore stands by her basement kiln with a selection of her work. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

You can find Nichole Larsicy Moore’s work at the South Highland Presbyterian Holiday Market this coming Friday, November 9th, from 9-5 and Saturday, November 10th from 9-1, Alabama Waldorf School’s Holiday Faire on Saturday, December 1st from 10-3, and regularly at Alabama Goods in Homewood and Naked Art in Forest Park. You can also find her on Facebook at Indigo Painted Mama.

Shelleigh Buckingham

And now, it’s time to meet the third of the Roebuck Springs potters. The moment you walk into Shelleigh Buckingham’s home, you know she’s all about art. Even during the 18 years she was an eye doctor, she still had a keen eye for beauty. Therefore, each wall of her home is adorned with carefully-chosen selections from local artists.

Shelleigh Buckingham, one of the Roebuck Springs potters, has several art walls in her home that feature the work of local Birmingham artists.
One of several art walls in Shelleigh Buckingham’s Roebuck Springs home. Featuring art by Bethanne Bethard Hill, Leslie Lockhart, M. Jones, Darius Hill, Jayne Morgan, S. Buckner, and Shelleigh herself. Also pictured are supplies for making and showing art. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Lately, she’s been making ceramics for about two-and-a-half years. Because she’d done studio art with a focus on printmaking in college, the transition to pottery was easy. When asked why she started, she said: “it was mainly for therapy.” After going through some big life changes, she found herself wanting “to get back to doing creative things.”

Shelleigh Buckingham, one of the Roebuck Springs potters, by her slab roller.
Shelleigh Buckingham in her Roebuck Springs studio with her slab roller and a bowl with a leaf that came from her back yard. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Buckingham says of her work: “it’s all slab-built. I use botanicals – they’re all leaves from my back yard pressed into clay. I walk out there, pick up some leaves, press them into the clay, and they burn off in the firing process, Then I add an underglaze or a stain and it brings out the image of the leaf. It’s like a little time capsule of that leaf.”

One of the Roebuck Springs potters, Shelleigh Buckingham, displayed selected works in her back yard where she finds leaves to press into the clay.
A selection of Shelleigh Buckingham’s pottery in the Roebuck Springs back yard where she finds leaves to press into her work. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Making pottery is a lot of fun. Plus, I love making beautiful things.

Shelleigh Buckingham

You can find Shelleigh Buckingham’s work at Brombergs in Mountain Brook, Naked Art in Forest Park, Alabama Goods in Homewood, and on Instagram @shelleigh.buckingham. You can also find her at the 2018 CahaBazaar Holiday Market at Cahaba Brewing Company on Saturday, December 8th from 12-7 pm. 

Leslie Martin Smith, Mud Mama Designs

Leslie Martin Smith, who taught all of the other Roebuck Springs potters, at work in her studio.
Leslie Martin Smith at work in her Roebuck Springs studio. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Last but certainly not least, Leslie Martin Smith, the fourth of the Roebuck Springs potters, wears many hats: potter, maker of fabulous concrete countertops, and teacher, among other things. Even with a decade-long detour into concrete, she’s been making pottery for about twenty years.

Finished work in the studio of Leslie Martin Smith, teacher of the Roebuck Springs potters.
Some finished work in Leslie Martin Smith’s Roebuck Springs studio. Photo by Sharron Swain for Bham Now.

Her work mostly speaks for itself, with its gorgeous textures and richly-layered colors. When describing it, she says “most of it is hand-built, slab – I work with slump molds and hump molds. I love to do textural transfers, and of course, it’s all food-safe. I just love fabric and textiles and combining them.”

You can find Leslie Martin Smith at Alabama Waldorf School’s Holiday Faire on Saturday, December 1st, from 10-3, and at Pepper Place Market on December 8th. You can also find her on Instagram @mudmamadesigns.

Shop for Local Hand-made Holiday Gifts at Four Upcoming Art Shows

It was a lot of fun getting out to take a look at the behind-the-scenes of my friends and neighbors’ creative work. Now you, too, have the chance to go find these Roebuck Springs potters or their work at seven places around town. And, you’re just in time to find the perfect locally-made holiday gifts for the people on your gift list.

To recap, here are the dates and locations for the upcoming shows: 

  • Friday, November 9th, 9-5 and Saturday, November 10th, 9-1, South Highland Presbyterian Holiday Market (Nichole Lariscy Moore)
  • Saturday, December 1st, 10-3, Alabama Waldorf School Holiday Faire (Jessica Sparks, jewelry; Leslie Martin Smith, pottery)
  • Saturday, December 8th, 7 am – 12 pm, Pepper Place Saturday Market (Leslie Martin Smith)
  • Saturday, December 8th, 12-7 pm, CahaBazaar Holiday Market, Cahaba Brewing Company (Shelleigh Buckingham)

If these shows don’t work for your schedule, find them at Alabama Goods or Naked Art (Moore and Buckingham), Brombergs (Buckingham), or on social media.