- Ceramic Arts Daily - http://ceramicartsdaily.org -

Mark Hewitt: Working Potter


Two-gallon jar, 16 in. (41 cm) in height, wood-fired and salt-glazed stoneware with glass runs.


Big pots from spring 2009 firing, to 60 in. (1.5 m) in height. The largest of these weighs 250 lbs.

It seems like yesterday that Carol and I arrived in Pittsboro, but it’s been 26 years. Add a 6 year apprenticeship onto that and this wonderful aesthetic obsession has served me well for what feels like a lifetime.

Our kiln opening sales have been phenomenal; I recommend them to everyone. Keep the names of everyone you sell pots to, and invite them to sales at your pottery a few times a year. North Carolinians love pottery; most of our customers are regular folk who live within a couple of hours from here. Some travel from further away and have significant collections of art and craft. I’ve also had my share of museums buy work, and I am blessed by all their attention.

Selling directly to retail customers makes the most sense economically, if you are in a location that allows for it. Clearly, the Internet has changed older geographic considerations regarding where to set up shop, but if you are starting out, look for locations within an hour or so of urban areas. Being “far from the madding crowd” certainly has its advantages, but traveling to shows is often the price you pay for remote locations.

Word of mouth continues to be the most valuable endorsement. We collect names through our web site, and from new retail customers, so that our mailing list now has over 6000 names. We send out an e-mail six weeks before a sale, alerting customers to the sale date, mail a postcard three weeks before, and then another “sneak preview” e-mail with images of the new pots a few days before a kiln opening. So far our retail business has been good enough to not pursue an online gallery, although we sell occasional pots through e-mail inquiries.

The only downside to our kiln opening sales is the pressure to get everything organized in the short period between unloading the kiln and having customers arrive. All 1500 pots need cleaning, washing, pricing and organizing. Sure, we could back up the unloading, but you know how it is; we’re always pushing it to the limit.

This article appeared in the June/July/August 2009 issue
of Ceramics Monthly.
Subscribe today!

Together with my apprentices, Joseph Sand and Alex Matisse, I work
from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and I usually work several hours
on the weekends as well. I do e-mail correspondence and writing
projects from 7 to 8:30 a.m., fight fires at lunch, and usually find
myself doing more e-mails in the evening. It’s like one of those
marathon dance competitions; if you stop, you’re out. Carol,
mercifully, does the bookkeeping, as well as more e-mailing, answering
the phone, working with galleries, organizing occasional workshops and
speaking engagements, etc. It adds up to another full-time job.

order to recharge, Carol and I sometimes head to the General Store Café
in downtown Pittsboro to Shag (the state dance of North Carolina-a
version of jitterbugging done to beach music). I’m also an avid golfer,
playing to a 6 handicap, and go out for nine holes on Thursday
afternoons with my golfing buddies, a roofing contractor, a cabinet
maker and a project manager for a firm of architects. It’s great to get
away from the pottery and family, to be with friends who could care
less about pottery. We talk about everything else; it keeps things in
perspective, recharges me and helps me live “the ordinary life of the
times,” as Eric Gill recommended to all artists. I also have a
2500-square-foot vegetable garden, and tend the flower beds around the
house, workshop and barn.

Looking back, it now seems I had no
choice but to become a potter. My background, and the zeitgeist of the
early 1970s, combined with meeting Michael Cardew while at university,
propelled me into this life. Thirty years later, I’m still the same
person, with the same idealistic dreams, though tempered by
conventional economic reality (my two daughters are in college).
However, the divine madness of it all remains entirely entrancing.

remember talking to Vernon Owens, from Jugtown Pottery, many years ago,
at a low point psychologically, wondering what it was going to be like
to be an older potter, he replied, “It doesn’t get any easier.” Harder,
maybe, but I’m still enamored with pots and the potter’s life.
pictures in books and magazines are important, I prefer to look at
actual pots. I go to see private collections of old North Carolina and
Southern pots whenever I hear of intriguing finds, and make a point of
going to the basement of the Freer every couple of years with each new
team of apprentices to handle all the really good stuff. We go to
exhibitions whenever possible, and I’m more inspired by pots that are
completely different from mine than might be discernible at first
glance. I continue to find studying all aspects of ceramics to be a
powerful guiding light, but, best of all, are quiet times, when all the
chatter ceases, and ideas start to flow.

Functional pots are pure
form, color, decoration and usefulness combined. They are complex
expressions of individual creativity and are beacons of light in the
dark. To me, good functional pots are the pinnacle of artistic
expression. Using them, and adorning your home with them, is way cool.

of the most difficult things I do is choose between eager young souls
who want an apprenticeship-it’s vexing. Disappointing the unlucky ones
is depressing.
I could do a whole lot more to stay fit, finding
excuses not to exercise, mostly that there’s no time. However, I eat
right, do occasional yoga, work in the garden and walk when golfing.
But, at 53, stiffness is slowly creeping in. We have expensive
catastrophic health insurance with a high deductible, but try never to
use it, paying through the nose for small stuff. The cost of health
care sucks.

I think functional potters have been let down at the
national level. Despite the fine quality of pots being made today, we
have few advocates (AKAR being a notable exception). In my wildest
dreams, I see prominent national figures starting galleries selling
functional pots in every major city, with excellent marketing and
promotion. This would raise all of our profiles and motivate us to make
even better pots.

My advice to anyone getting into pottery is to
enjoy your potting, and get good at what you do, for quality is the
goal. All we really have is the aesthetic moment, the rest is a game to
finesse with as much cunning, discipline and charm as you possess. Keep
your dreams alive!

The Time It Takes
making/firing: 85%
promoting/selling: 10%
office/bookkeeping: 5% or less,
because my spouse
handles the administration.

Where to See More
The Signature Shop and Gallery
Ferrin Gallery