YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK - Potter Carl Sheehan doesn't mind being watched, and it's a good thing because people stare at him all summer between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Sheehan, a Bozeman-area resident winter, spring and fall, has spent the past 25 summers serving as the very public artist-in-residence at Yellowstone National Park, creating his own distinctive brand - Firehole Pottery - in the Old Faithful Lodge's gift store.

One afternoon in early June, he was sitting on a stage in front of his spinning potter's wheel. Eight people were standing only a few inches away, watching him work. Unceremoniously, he threw a hunk of clay onto the wheel, working his fingers quickly to open a hole in its center, then stretched and thinned its walls. He talked to some viewers. A pitcher took shape.

"I enjoy talking to the people," Sheehan, 52, said during a short break, when most of the people in the gift shop had gone outside to see Old Faithful erupt. "It's neat to see the kids." He sometimes gives them a little clay to play with.

"He makes it look so easy," said onlooker Mary Fazio of Portland, Ore. "God gave him a beautiful talent. I could stand and watch him all day."

"He's a very skillful craftsman," said Ed Brosnan of Calabasas, Calif. "He makes a variety of products."

His pottery includes pitchers, coffee cups, casseroles, bowls, vases and plaques marking the Old Faithful Inn's 100th birthday, among other items.

Mountains decorate much of his pottery. His glazes, put on with small aspirators, often are a distinctive shade of blue and green. He usually puts six layers of glazes on his pieces and fires his work twice. His pottery prices range from $16 for spoon rests, $20 for coffee cups up to $300 to $400 for vases decorated with bison.

Pam Coleman, an owner of the Grey Fox Gallery, the only business to sell Sheehan's pottery in Bozeman, said his design is called "Montana Sunset" and features a sunset, mountains and sky.

"I'm guessing he's the biggest seller of pottery in Bozeman," Coleman said.

Rick Pope, one of Sheehan's pottery professors when he was an undergraduate at Montana State University, said "he probably has the biggest group of collectors of anybody in the world."

"He makes great items that people can take as souvenirs of the Yellowstone area," Pope said.

Yellowstone's concessionaire, Xanterra Parks & Resorts, purchases all of Sheehan's work. Eighty percent of the pieces he sells each year are sold in the park.

A lot of clay goes into his annual ceramic output - 4 to 5 tons a year.

He would never have to buy a coffee cup if he didn't want to. Each year, from January to June in the past five years, he's made about 400 of them at his Gallatin County home.

But no matter how hard he works, it's difficult to sympathize with someone who has spent his last 25 summers working in Yellowstone Park.

"Old Faithful's right out my front door," he said.

The cone of Yellowstone's most famous geyser is only about 150 yards from the lodge's front door. Sometimes he watches the geyser's eruption at midnight under a full moon. The Firehole River is about 100 yards from the cabin where he and his family stay. He watches the river when he does his tai chi exercises in the mornings.

Sheehan began learning his craft in high school in Rochester, Minn. "I was a rowdy (football) jock," he said, "and my teacher channeled my energy into clay." He volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and continued to work in ceramics in Hawaii and California, where he was stationed.

After the war, he entered Grand Valley State University in Michigan, then transferred to Montana State University. He received his bachelor of arts degree from MSU in 1977. He was working as a potter with the former Ketterer Arts Center in Bozeman when an employee for a Yellowstone Park concessionaire saw his work. He asked Sheehan to submit a proposal to be part of the new artist-in-the-park program.

Sheehan did, and got the summer job. He's been under contract to various park concessionaires since 1980. He and his wife, Becky, now a graphic designer for Media Works, have three children - Colleen, 24, Trevor, 22 and Emily, 16.

Some of his summers in Yellowstone have been especially exciting. He shook hands with former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter when they were in the park.

He was working in the lodge's gift shop when a man brandishing a gun took hostages at the Old Faithful Visitors Center years ago. And in the mid-1980s he watched a grizzly bear parade across the Old Faithful area "as if he owned it," he said.

Whatever happens this summer, Sheehan will be at his post in the lodge's gift center creating pottery until mid-September.