I had never heard of the artist. I didn’t know his story. All I knew was that the work moved me, so I bought some. And kept buying it, for myself and for people I loved because I knew they’d be moved by it, too.

I did not know that the braided handle in a mug I gave my sister was inspired by the braids the artist lovingly wove into his nine daughters’ hair. I didn’t know that he was from Jamaica, where the sparkling blue Caribbean waters reminded me of the turquoise hue of the fish-shaped plates and deep shiny bowls I was drawn to.

But immediately, the work of lauded local ceramics artist and teacher Samuel Wallace became part of my holiday tradition — and of my personal collection. (It also made me a fancy person who collects art, which tickles me.)

I recently got to spend a lovely, laughter-filled hour with Wallace in his colorful, crowded studio at Baltimore Clayworks, where he is the facilities manager and a teacher. He has become a part of the lives not only of people like me who are drawn to his art, but to the students he passes his craft onto. Talking to him, I understand why my visceral connection to his work was about family, about earth and sky. It means the same to him.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“That turquoise looks, to me, like something growing up out of the earth,” he said. “I’m so drawn to that color. It reminds me of where everything is green.”

Wallace’s style of Jamaican coil pottery combines a tradition tracing from his African ancestors to the literal ground of his adopted home in Maryland. His pottery connects the past and present and the green, bountiful tropics with urbanity. His ability to take what he calls “the naked pot [that] don’t have any character” and tell a lasting story is nothing short of magic.

Also, it’s really pretty.

“He has such a close understanding and connection to the whole firing process, which is magic unto itself,” said Pat Halle, an artist and former Clayworks board member who is both a friend and a fan of Wallace. “It’s a balancing of oxygen and reduction and the traffic of the flame through the the kiln that makes the results.”

When the alchemy in the classes he’s taught since the early 1990s is right, Wallace said, “it becomes a rhythm. You get eight, nine people together, and it becomes a musical.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“His class is an adventure,” said Janet Sause of Towson, who “has lost count” of how many classes she’s taken with Wallace. “He’s the kindest soul in the world. His art is beautiful and motivates everyone to be like him — to be like Sam.”

The Jamaican Coil technique involves building a piece by hand through a series of clay coils, as the artist makes a slow, deliberate revolution around it “as if you are the potter’s wheel,” Wallace said.

“He calls it dancing around the pot,” said longtime student Anayezuka Ahidiana of Bolton Hill. “He’s very step-by-step, like, ‘This is what I’m gonna do, come watch.’ He’s having fun, and he wants everyone to have fun.”

That dance was what drew Wallace to the art form, which his cousins in his native Saint Elizabeth practiced. “I wasn’t into it,” he admits, until he really paid attention to one of them “shuffle around that pot” and becoming that human potter’s wheel. He was further inspired by one artist “who put a leaf against a pot, and right then and there every one of us was trying to make a leaf.”

Those leaves, and that artistic connection to growing, living things, became a signature of Wallace’s work, which he began selling to tourists. But when he moved to Baltimore, he focused on working construction to support his family, because that’s what he thought he was supposed to do.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Pottery, however, was not done with him. One day he was walking in downtown Baltimore and saw a “beautiful black vase. I just looked at it for the longest time,” Wallace said. “And I said then, ‘I have to start.’” On a later walk to work on a construction site near the old Memorial Stadium in Northeast Baltimore, he slipped in some clay and, intrigued, started collecting it wherever he found it, cleaning each sample to carefully extract stones and twigs until he had about three five-gallon buckets. Then he started making vases.

Needing somewhere to fire them, Wallace went through the phone book seeking a kiln to rent until someone answered. The first place to pick up? Baltimore Clayworks. At first, he recalls, they didn’t know what to make of his natural clay pots, since they mostly used manufactured clay.

“Deborah Bedewell, the founding director, called me and said, ‘We’ve fired these and none of them ever break. I said, ‘Why would they break? It’s Maryland clay. I find it all over the city,’” Wallace said. Soon, not only was he teaching his technique, but taking students with him to collect clay around the state.

“It’s neat to know you can dig something out of the ground, fire it in a hot oven and then make it into a beautiful piece of art,” said Sause, who has been on excursions around the state with Wallace to harvest clay. “It’s natural, not processed. It keeps you grounded, literally and figuratively.”

Passing on that peace and focus is as important to Wallace as teaching the technique. “Clay is one of the best therapeutics,” he said. “You can tranquilize yourself with clay, get your mind to leave for a while, and then you look up and two hours are behind you.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Soon, Wallace will retire from his full-time facilities job, but he’s going to keep teaching. And this studio will remain a haven where he can lose himself in the clay.

“The feeling is a connection,” he said. “I’m definitely connected to it. And I’m forever connected to this place.”

I’m glad to hear that, because the world needs Sam Wallace’s art. And I need more fish plates, just in time to keep my holiday tradition going.