The Coast News Group
NewsOld - DO NOT USE - The Coast NewsRancho Santa Fe

Artist sculpts unusual career

ENCINITAS — Alex Long has an enviable lifestyle, particularly in today’s economy.
At only 55, he’s recently begun to collect a comfortable pension after retiring from the San Dieguito Water District. Now he’s free to focus on what he really loves in life — creating dazzling Raku pottery.
Life wasn’t so bright several years ago.
Long was raised in Solana Beach by his mother, Eve, and stepfather Herschel Larrick Sr., who owned Solana Beach Lumber. He was the only boy with six older sisters.
He began working with clay at 13 and often visited his sister’s friend, renowned potter Dayle Rushall, who let him use his potter’s wheel in exchange for cleaning his studio on South Cedros.
Long sold vases and stoneware in a Del Mar gallery as a senior at San Dieguito High School. He  took pottery classes at night through the adult school.
After high school graduation, Long worked as a production potter for Robert Maxwell Ceramics in Fallbrook, where he learned how to throw large pottery. Eventually he purchased an existing production business, Banyon Tree Stoneware Ceramics in Escondido.
Clients included Nursuryland, Growing Gardens and Jack-in-the-Box which flooded him with orders for oversized planters for every store in the United States and Canada.
“At one point I threw 1,000 pounds of clay before noon, making 40-pound planters,” he remembers.
To support the growing business, he and his partner took out second mortgages.
Long was enjoying a San Diego Sockers game at Qualcomm Stadium in 1981 when he learned that a defective vent on a kiln ignited the tar roof and destroyed the business.
He and his wife, Nancy, were forced to sell their house and move into a rental. He took a job as a maintenance worker with the San Dieguito Water District until he could get on his feet again.
In the meantime, Long enrolled in pottery classes at Palomar College and saved his money to purchase two used kilns.
Eventually he began selling his stoneware in galleries again.
His direction took a twist after enrolling in a Raku class at Palomar College in 1987. Raku is a Japanese form of pottery used to make dishes in the traditional tea ceremony. 
Long developed a reputation for adapting the technique to the larger pieces of art and has been making Raku pottery exclusively since 1990, commanding up to $2,700 for a sculpture.
Despite his success, he has kept his day job with the city of Encinitas.
A highlight of his career occurred in 2006 when he was commissioned by the city of Encinitas to create a “Friendship Bridge” urn as a gift to its sister city, Amakusa, Japan.
In hindsight, Long says the destruction of his production business opened the door to return to his roots as an artist.
“Just when you think you’re at your worst, something else opens up,” he said.
After 42 years of doing pottery, he continues to learn.
“I thought I’d get tired and take up bronzing or something else but it’s just the opposite,” he said.
Long enjoys experimenting with as many as 75 raw material chemicals in his studio to create new colors and textures such as pearl and liken.
“Next, I want to create a texture that is like a chameleon lizard,” he says.
Firing art that reaches temperatures as high as 1,900 degrees comes with hazards.  Despite wearing a foundry helmet and suit, similar to that worn by a firefighter, Long has burned the tip of his nose and once charred his fingertips to the point of being black and crisp.
Long enjoys inspiring children by teaching pottery at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito, Griset Branch — Encinitas. The course is made possible through a $12,000 grant from the Kenneth A. Picerne Foundation.
He also teaches Raku workshops in his home studio. A four-hour workshop costs $65.
Long’s work can be seen at the Trios Gallery in Solana Beach; Art & Frames by Wood Gallery in Coronado and at the semi-annual student art show at Palomar College.
For more information, visit Long’s website at