Every community needs a star, especially in smalltown Montana. Butte has Evel Knievel. Dupuyer has Ivan Doig. Countless communities claim Charlie Russell as their resident hero. Their recognition compels travelers to spend time and money in these towns, enriching their respective communities both culturally and economically.
Fairfield’s Andy Watson is arguably one such local legend, bringing glory to his community through art. His handcrafted pottery is known throughout the region for its functionality and style. People around the globe have admired its beauty— whether or not they realize it.
“I’ve earned a reputation among set directors for making [historically accurate] pottery quickly,” says Watson, whose work has appeared in numerous television shows and films.
It began in 1996 with Treasure of the Gods, a 40-minute documentary about Utah’s Zion Canyon. Watson was commissioned to create roughly one dozen authentic-looking Anasazi and Spanish pots for the short film.
Later that year, Watson was approached by Bruce Wing, a set designer for Touched by an Angel.
“He said the film crew needed one dozen pots in three days. Usually it takes two weeks, because the clay has to be thrown, dried, fired, glazed, then dried and fired again,” Watson explains. “I had to push the limits of the clay to make it in time.”
These pieces were used in the episode “Birthmarks,” about a stubborn potter. In fact, Watson makes a cameo of sorts; a close-up of the potter’s hands is actually Watson working the clay.
After that, Watson’s reputation spread through word of mouth. In 2003, he produced roughly 60 pieces for The Book of Mormon (an adventure drama, not be confused with the Broadway show). In 2004, he was asked to create replicas of Mandan, Hidatsa, Yankton, and Dakota cooking vessels (each created using different processes) for a Lewis and Clark bicentennial special. In 2007, he created a few pieces for the horror movie Unearthed, where a 900-year-old creature is awakened during an archeological dig.
“I never saw that one because it was R-rated,” says Watson.
Occasionally, his work is used in productions without his knowledge, as his pottery has been shared among set designers.
“I had made some Iroquois pottery, working from some pot shards from 1760, for a film for an IMAX theatre in Connecticut. Later, I turned on the TV to National Geographic and there was my Iroquois cooking pot!” laughs Watson. “I recognized the flaw in the rim.”
Because of the nature of set design, Watson cannot sign his pieces for TV and film. His quality of work is his signature, and it has become recognized by many in the industry.
In 2017, several of Watson’s pots were borrowed for the first season of The Chosen, the top crowd-funded TV series of all time and the first multi-season series about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Prior to the third season’s filming, the showrunners reached out to Watson about creating more replica pots for the series.
“They wanted their own pieces that they didn’t have to borrow. They asked for 188 pieces to be completed in 30 days. They knew I could do it,” says Watson.
Most have been shipped to Texas for set dressing, but a few of The Chosen pots remain in Watsons possession and can be viewed at his studio in Fairfield.
Big Sky Pottery is located at 407 2nd Avenue South. For more information, visit big-sky-pottery.business.site or call (406) 467-2067.