Article - Pots for the Prickly in Bantam

By: Tovah Martin

It seems like a strange pairing. Carol T. Moore and cacti, I mean. At first glance, Ms. Moore doesn't really fit the profile of your typical cactus fiend. No, your average cactus collector is the sort of person that goes for barbs and bristles rather than soft and cuddly. Off-beat, shall we say. And that's putting it politely.

It takes a certain type of personality to invite those artilleried members of the plant kingdom to cohabitate in close quarters, which is where tender cacti tend to reside. User-friendly, warm and chatty, Ms. Moore doesn't seem like a match. But cacti aficionados are apt to be cutting edge. And in that camp, Ms. Moore qualifies.Cacti and Carol T. Moore came together about seven years ago. It was the first weekend in April, 2000, when the longtime Bantam resident ("I'm one of those elusive beings called a native") stumbled into her first cactus show and sale.Held in Waterbury at the Naugatuck Valley Community College-this year, the 24th annual show is slated for March 31 and April 1-the cactus show tends to attract the local color cactuswise. The neighborhood cactus-nerds come, but vendors travel from farther afield to show off and find new homes for their freaks of nature.That's how Ms. Moore got roped in. She was just checking out the scene, but it was love at first barb. Their look appealed ("I like their negative space"), plus she was keen on the fact that they are incredibly easy to propagate ("you bring home a cutting, leave it on the counter for a week or so, lay it on the soil, and it grows"). But mostly, Ms. Moore liked the fact that cacti and her pottery make a perfect pair.I've noticed that there are two factions in the gardening world, and they tend to be strongly divided. On one hand, you have the gardeners who don't give a hoot about a plant's underpinnings. Containers aren't on their radar screen. They only have eyes for photosynthesizing things. Plants take up their entire galaxy, and if they're grown in a bedraggled industrial-strength plastic pot, that's cool. They're blind to any disparity between plant and pot. And then there's the other group. Container-obsessed. The whole picture is everything, and the package is part of the deal. What lies beneath is a major facet of the composition. If they're growing geraniums, those geraniums are color-complemented and proportionally-balanced. I should know, because I'm firmly in the latter contingent. And proud of it.So is Carol Moore. Not long after she met her first cactus, she began designing appropriate pots. And, the beauty of what comes out of Pots & Paints Studio in Bantam is that the containers are just as whacky and otherworldly as the plants they cradle. When Carol Moore took a look at the strangely spiked, bizarrely bristled, peculiarly prickled members of the cactus and succulent kingdom, she came up with equally creative containers to correspond. The cacti sparked her creative juices. The stoneware she crafts is surfaced with everything from lizard skin textures to embedded sunbursts. Sometimes her pots have faces peering out from the clay, sometimes they're just a combination of varying textures. The only reliable thing is that no two will be alike.Art and Carol Moore have been a team for quite a while. It began in 1986, following a tragedy. When Carol and Jim Moore's 16-year-old daughter was hit and killed by a car, their grief knew no bounds. But, from the anguish came an epiphany, and Carol became a college freshman at the age of 46. "It was part of my survival-to be in something completely different," she recalled. Ms. Moore immersed herself in drawing and painting, couldn't decide which she preferred, so she did both. She got her bachelor's from UConn in Torrington, did graduate work at the University of Hartford and then got her master's from Wesleyan. And she discovered a talent for art. "I found myself. It was the gift my daughter gave me," she said. Ever since, she's been involved in several avenues of art, including woodcuts, watercolors, acrylics, torn paper collage and pastels, earning an award from the Connecticut Pastel Society this year. Carol Moore is still painting, but pottery also became a major part of her life.Although she was involved with pottery previous to that first thorny encounter, cacti really got her rolling. She works with clay that's bisque fired first, then glazed and high fired to mature the medium, making it strong but still porous, drainage being a critical factor for cacti and succulents. "Even without a hole, water seeps," she explained, "even with a glaze, the drainage is good." Preferring earth tones, she uses iron oxide and copper oxide for muted shades. But beneath that she often mixes clays "to get a light and dark thing happening." As for the shapes, they run the gamut from tiny footed shallow trays to eight inch containers. If you've got a cacti, Ms. Moore has something to match-no matter what size or shape it happens to be. For the surface textures, she collects everything from her mother's doilies to leaves, string, trivets, you name it, and uses her findings as templates to embed patterns into the walls of the containers. Absolutely lifelike clay lizards and frogs often crawl up the sides. Carol Moore's goal is to have 80 pots ready and waiting to pair with the plants at the cactus show. "Match colors, match textures, and it's a composition," is her motto. That's 20 pots a week that Moore must produce, which might not seem like a heavy workload, except that Carol Moore wears many hats beyond her artistic endeavors.When she's not preparing her inventory for the cactus sale, she's a beekeeper, selling honey at the Bantam Farmers Market where she also brings her homemade jellies, jams and pickles for sale. And in addition to that, she hosts a local cablevision show called "Vignette." For the show, she does interviews with local folks from a variety of walks in life. Which brings us back to the cactus crowd. She warms right up to fellow aficionados of the spiny world and never bristles despite the preponderance of prickly entities. At the Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Society Show and Sale, she might be the most approachable thing around. Ditto for her containers.Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Society's 24th Annual Show and Sale is held March 31 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and April 1 (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) at the Naugatuck Valley Community College, Art and Music Center Cafeteria, fifth floor, 750 Chase Parkway, Waterbury.For more information call 860-489-8356 or go to

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