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Mike Cone's cactus-worthy pottery

February 2, 2010 |  8:16 am
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There is so much same-old, same-old in the garden world. And then there is Phoenix-based potter Mike Cone.

His hand-built pots exude personality to match anything you can plant and water. I’ve been a fan since I picked up a pair of his fantastical footed clay pots at Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden and brought them back to Los Angeles to house two echeverias.

But a road trip to Arizona is unnecessary. The California Cactus Center in Pasadena carries a great selection of Cone’s pottery. Manager Molly Thongthiraj says she has stocked it since 2004, when he arrived at her shop with a truckload of pieces. She bought everything he showed her.

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In a recent phone interview, Cone says he began by creating one-of-a-kind clay monsters, gargoyles and fish, but added whimsical plant pots about 10 years ago. “In order to really make it as a potter, I wanted to do something functional. I was a cactus person, so that’s how I started," he said. "I think I’ve hit my groove.”

Cone often signs the bottom of his work “kōn,” the phonetic spelling of his name. The hand-built, abstract pots are made in white, buff and chocolate-colored stoneware clay. Formed over square, cylindrical and rectangular shapes, each pot has a playful, almost animated exterior, with three-dimensional spines and little rolled feet.

“They’re kind of primitive looking because they’re hand-built,” Cone says. “I especially love to give my pots feet. Who doesn’t like the mop and bucket with feet on them from Disney’s ‘Fantasia’? It’s almost like when the sun moves in your garden, the pot says: Let’s walk over there.”

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The pots are deep and wide enough to accommodate the roots of cacti and succulents. Cone also adds textures to some (such as an overall floral pattern made with smashed bottle caps) and uses contemporary glazes that play off the pottery (such as teal-blue squares or hot pink circles on the chocolate clay).

“I think a lot of my stuff works with both a modern aesthetic and with Spanish or Santa Fe style houses,” Cone adds.

California Cactus Center, 216 S. Rosemead Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 795-2788 or www.cactuscenter.com. Prices range from $24.95 to $450 each.

-- Debra Prinzing 

Photo credit: Debra Prinzing

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