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A treasure in the Gorge

Photo: Erica Chambers
Photo: Lila Callie Photography

Turtle Farm Pottery is a labor of love 

Legend has it that somewhere in the hills of the Red River Gorge is the buried treasure of Jonathan Swift, an 18th century Englishman who claimed to have discovered and mined silver ore there. 

It wasn’t silver but the sandstone arches and towering cliffs of the Gorge that first attracted rock climbers Casey Papendieck and Laura Gregory in 2008. 

“We fell in love with eastern Kentucky and have chosen it as our home for nearly 13 years,” Papendieck says. “We love this place, the climate, the culture, the pace of life, the opportunities, and most of all, the people.” 

The now married couple, who make up two-thirds of the quirky Americana band, The Handshake Deals, are pursuing yet another passion on their Wolfe County homestead. Turtle Farm Pottery creates one-of-a-kind, high quality, ceramic pots, mugs, bowls and vases sold both in local shops and shipped across the country. Papendieck met Artist-in-Residence Noah Broomfield while both studied ceramic arts at Berea College. 

“We throw most pots on an electric wheel. We make and apply each mug handle by hand,” Papendieck explains. “Custom stamps are hand-carved, hand-stamped and applied with care. We even make all our glazes from scratch. All of our functional ware is microwave and dishwasher safe.” 

Turtle Farm Pottery owner and potter Casey Papendieck, front, with artist-in residence Noah Broomfield. Photo: Lila Callie Photography

Rural area is a benefit 

Each year, an estimated 750,000 hikers, climbers and other visitors are drawn to the beauty and rugged opportunities of Red River Gorge. Unlike Swift’s elusive silver mine, Turtle Farm Pottery provides readily accessible keepsakes visitors can take home with them. 

“Too often, people from outside eastern Kentucky only think about the challenges we have experienced in recent years,” says Kerry Howard, general manager and CEO of Licking Valley RECC. “Turtle Farm Pottery’s success affirms this treasure we call home.” 

Papendieck says Licking Valley RECC has been responsive to the studio’s needs from the beginning, including replacing a transformer when the kiln increased electric demands. 

“Licking Valley RECC services are one of the main reasons that we can operate our pottery business from our rural home in Wolfe County,” Papendieck says, marveling at living in the woods while enjoying reliable electric and phone service, and fiber internet, which all proved invaluable operating the business during the pandemic. 

While the Swift legend includes accounts of him stamping counterfeit coins, 250 years later, Turtle Farm Pottery is writing its own handcrafted story, built on an authentic love for Kentucky.

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