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Work and Play: The Potter’s Life

Posted By Ceramics Monthly On June 1, 2008 @ 7:49 pm In Ceramic Art and Artists,Ceramics Monthly,Functional Pottery | No Comments

Jeff Oestreich, Sylvie Granatelli, Blair Meerfeld, Mark Shaprio,

John Glick, Ayumi Horie

Jeff Oestreich constructs
the body of a form at his
studio in Taylors Falls, Minnesota.

Oval Boat, 5 in. (13 cm)
in diameter, thrown
stoneware, fired to Cone 10
in reduction.

Teapot, 6 in. (15 cm) in
height, thrown and
assembled stoneware with wax-resist design, fired to
Cone 10 in reduction.

 

Where to See More:

Oestreich Pottery, Taylors
Falls, MN

Minnesota St. Croix River
Tour (May)

www.minnesotapotters.com

Red Lodge Clay Center, Red Lodge, MT

www.redlodgeclaycenter.com

Jeff Oestreich: Choosing Solitude (top of page)

I have been making a living as full-time potter for 39 years. This includes my two-year apprenticeship at the Leach Pottery from 1969-1971. We were paid $15 a week and could live on this. five went for rent, five for groceries, and the remainder went to the pub! Coming from college, where money was tight, $15 sounded reasonable.

A wide ranging audience buys my work, from other potters to neighbors, relatives and collectors. A third of my work is sold through galleries, a third during our annual studio tour in May, and the remaining from my showroom. My long-term goal was to sell mostly from my studio, but I came to believe that formal exhibitions prompted me to push ideas more and present my work to a wider audience.

When I returned to America in 1971, there were only a few potters in Minnesota making a living solely from their work, so I attempted to model my pottery after the Leach Pottery. That meant spending half my time producing standware (production ware) and the other half one-of-a-kind pieces. This was a total flop and, when I look back, a blessing in disguise. My work had not developed to the point where I was satisfied with duplicating ideas. I was restless and wanted the ideas to be open-ended. I tried selling a range of tiles, again based on the Leach Pottery in the ’30s. This too flopped. There were few art fairs, and this was before the large trade shows of today. What sustained me was having open houses in my studio four times a year. These events built up a loyal customer base. Friendships developed, and even today many still return, sometimes with their grown children who have taken an interest in pots. This is one of the richest rewards of being a potter, and I am grateful.

My initial reason for pursuing pottery as a livelihood cannot be explained easily. I wanted the work to mature and the only way I could achieve that was to devote my life to it. The by-product of this approach was a lot of work that needed homes. Also, the lifestyle of a potter is well suited to my temperament. It involves the ability to work largely in solitude, confront many challenges, work cyclically through mixing clay, making, firing and selling the finished pots, as well as learning and growing through this process.

For many years, studio time was play. This has changed. Since I work and live on the same property, my private life and work life are intertwined. I have failed at keeping them separate. For me, play is leaving my everyday environment-going up north to a friend’s cabin, taking a trip overseas, helping a friend with a project or conducting a workshop.

I recharge creatively by visiting museums, teaching a class or going to a residency at a clay facility. For the past several years, I have spent Novembers working in the studio of potter friends Pat Burns and Andy Balmer in Portland, Oregon.

The most difficult decision I had to make as a potter happened fifteen years ago. For a number of years, I traveled around the country teaching semesters at various universities, trying to decide if I should pursue teaching as a full-time career. I applied for a position and did not get it, which was the best thing that could have happened. I realized that my work needed to be my primary focus. It is through the rigors of making that I learn more about myself, and spiritual growth is now central to my life.

My advice to those interested in pursuing studio ceramics as a profession is to link up with other potters. Share space and equipment in an attempt to keep expenses down. Keep the primary focus on the health of the work, and band together for emotional support.


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Silvie Granatelli carves a
large leather-hard bowl in
her Floyd, Virginia studio.

Swan handle cream
pitchers, 5 in. (13 cm) in
height, thrown and altered stoneware with glaze.

Breakfast/lunch sets, 10
in. (25 cm) square, slip-
cast porcelain with incised decoration and glaze.

 

Where to See More:

Granatelli Studio Gallery,
Floyd, VA

www.silviegranatelli.com

16 Hands Studio Sale and
Tour, Floyd, VA (November
and May)

www.16hands.com

Minnesota St. Croix River
Tour (May)

www.minnesotapotters.com

AKAR Design, Iowa City, IA

www.akardesign.com

Red Lodge Clay Center,
Red Lodge, MT

www.redlodgeclaycenter.com

Sylvie Granatelli: Deeply Invested (top of page)

 

The first time I touched clay was at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1966. From that moment on, my life revolved around figuring out how to make a living with ceramics. In the ’60s, there were not many contemporary examples of studio potters, but Ken Ferguson, my professor, made his students aware that being a professional potter was a real possibility. At that time, the many things I didn’t know were a blessing._I thought everything was possible. After graduate school, I worked in several communal studios in and around my native Chicago before making my way to the South.

As a young potter, my central goal was to make a seamless balance between my studio work and my domestic life. After many fits and starts, I ended up in Floyd, Virginia, where I set up a studio. I spent the first twenty years of my career doing craft shows and selling wholesale to galleries. I also did workshops, which greatly supplemented my income.

It was initially difficult to figure out the perfect balance between the options. The upside of craft shows was the direct interaction between my audience and myself. They were a great place to see how people reacted to new work. Selling pots at a craft show is like handing everyone your heart on a plate with a knife and fork. It can be a very vulnerable experience.

The real downside of doing craft shows was the amount of time I had to spend away from the studio. In that regard, selling pots wholesale was a boon, allowing me to stay home and work. But the equation worked only if I managed to spend the right amount of time filling orders while still sustaining a large enough percent of my income through this work. filling wholesale orders had its drawbacks, too-I realized I just had to make too many pots!_

Of all my income options, traveling to teach workshops was perhaps the most gratifying and fulfilling. While standing in front of students, I was able to further articulate my ideas, work on new forms as demonstration pieces and visit wonderful places.

Over the past ten years, I have developed a new and more stable source of income by working closely with a group of craftsmen who live in my community. Together, we started 16 Hands, an art collective whose main approach to selling work is a self-guided tour of our studios. Through this tour, held twice a year, and through year-round sales in my studio gallery, I am able to generate most of my income. To make up the remainder, I still do workshops and participate in gallery shows around the country.

In hindsight, I realize it was fortuitous that I settled in a location where the cost of living was affordable. I own a home and property near a small river in southwest Virginia, and I have health insurance and a retirement account. Health insurance is expensive for the self-employed. In fact, it is my largest yearly bill.

I am also frugal and conscientious of my spending habits. I don’t take out loans to pay for more equipment, additions to the studio, or advertising. Instead, I take on small teaching jobs, workshops, or make special order pottery. I also save 20-30% of my yearly income, which has provided a financial cushion. I consider this money fluidly available for use throughout the year. And if it is not used, at the end of the year I invest it in something I need. I do my own bookkeeping but hire an accountant for taxes, a habit I’ve kept from even my poorest days. This financial plan has held me in good stead for years, allowing me to travel and cook gourmet food, two of my favorite pastimes.

I’ve been fortunate to undergo my professional maturation surrounded by a group of potters in Floyd and the surrounding area. Happenstance has brought us together, connected by like-mindedness and mutual respect. After years of helping each other with technical problems, sharing trips to craft shows, and giving each other advice on both business and personal issues, I can’t imagine a life without our close-knit community of artists.

If I have a business philosophy, it begins with the fact that I chose this life for a reason and I am willing to invest in it deeply. I take my work and my life seriously, and I believe this attention has given me a useful perspective and solid foundation. I’ve also learned that investing in myself helps other people take me seriously as well. As a potter, all you have is your pots, the way you present them, and yourself. If you want to succeed, you have to seriously consider what it takes to get the presentation right. I have a web site, business cards and well-designed brochures advertising the 16 Hands tour. These advertising tools help make my work visible to the public. And, perhaps most importantly, I never say no to an opportunity that might help me grow in my field.

Over the past ten years, I have developed an assistantship program. Through this program, I give young potters a chance to test out a potter’s life before they make their own full investment. They work with me for two years and, during that time, they learn what it takes to develop a body of marketable work and to start selling their work professionally.

As much as I love pots and collect them, I don’t actually derive most of my inspiration from pottery. I travel a great deal, spending time outdoors and, perhaps paradoxically, inside museums (which, of course, house so many representations of nature). The tension of the natural world is inspiring to me-sensual and delicious. And I always hope to find ways to use it in the pots I make.

My life is also deeply connected to food culture, which is a direct source of inspiration for me. Dining and food presentation, the body of a fish, red peppers in a salad, color, texture-all aspects of the way we appreciate the look of food before we sink into the taste-inform many of the pots I choose to make.

Ultimately, I have a lot of ideas, but to give meaning to my work, I have to think and read a great deal. I have to pay close attention to all aspects of the work that comes out of the kiln, to learn where it might lead me next. The pursuit of my vision is still nothing less than a fabulous adventure.

This pursuit is one that, while not losing luster, has maybe grown a little slower. After 40 years in the studio, I realize how the body gives out. Things (tools, bodies) just wear out when you live a physical life. In fact, if I had one practical piece of advice for a young potter, I would advise getting a pug mill early in one’s career. At this stage of my career, the studio looks a little geriatric. I do a great deal of carving on leather hard clay and trimming with a Sureform (rasp) tool. In order to keep my head erect, I use a hydraulic banding-wheel table on casters, allowing me to easily move the table up and down while working on a form. My chair, also on casters, lifts up and down with the touch of a fingertip. My two potter’s wheels are set at different heights, one for throwing and one for trimming. Also, whenever I am stiff, I hang from a pull-up bar wedged into a door frame, which loosens my shoulders and spine._

To me, the combination of the need for physical strength, emotional investment and intellectual acuity to achieve success in pottery is always a challenge, but it is one of unlimited reward. Before 1966, I never imagined a person could make a living working all day in a studio surrounded by clay. Today, I cannot imagine my life in any other way.

 


Kitchen Bone Jars, 22 in.
(56 cm) in height, thrown porcelain, wood fired and
salt glazed.

 

Wood-fired oval teapot, 11
in. (28 cm) in height, thrown stoneware, wood fired.

 

Porcelain vase trio, to 13 in.
(33 cm) in height, thrown porcelain, salt fired.

Blair Meerfeld: Small Rewards, But Who’s Counting? (top of page)

 

So, 36 years with clay goes by in a hurry. Twenty-three of those years have been spent making pots full time for a living. Of course, there have been more than a few disappointments, but looking back on it all, it’s been a pretty good time. When it starts to become just a job, one has to realize this job is full of “little Christmases.” These can be a piece that turns out the way you wanted, a great firing or maybe just the best mug on the board. These small, consistent rewards aren’t really part of a lot of other professions. Making pots is simply one of my favorite things to do in life.

Our business is quite simple. My wife, Marty Mitchell, is a landscape painter and we sell almost all of our work at our home studios and gallery. We sell directly to customers, form a relationship with these people and get to know most of them well. The upside to selling work this way is that I have the freedom to decide both what and how many pots I want to make before moving on to something else. This keeps my enthusiasm up, but every now and then I have to be pushed in another direction and start something new. I usually do this by changing environments and being around different shapes, whether they be landscape based, architectural or mechanical.

After working with atmospheric firings for so long, one expects a few “faces” on a piece. I always found my glaze fired work to be a bit monochromatic and uninteresting. Spending more time with potters who produce glazed work, and who know what they are doing, made me realize that I don’t! This is becoming a challenge that asks new questions. For example: Will my familiar forms stand up to this new surface? Is their current scale appropriate? What about clay bodies? And what about temperature (higher, lower or the same)?

I’ll be building a new kiln for this journey. Nothing really large or beautiful; little, funny-looking kilns have always worked best for me as they seem to have to try harder! I’ve also learned to use what they’ll give me and not force them to do what they won’t or what they can’t. I’m getting kind of excited about all of this.

Some of the more challenging issues of being a studio potter are health insurance (barely affordable and the biggest monthly bill), home maintenance and paperwork. And I’ve realized that most of our customers have more money and newer cars than we do! Who’s counting?

Teaching workshops and making things that create a bit of joy and intimacy with food and people’s daily lives keeps me in the clay community. It’s a good community.

Where to See More:

AKAR design, Iowa City, IA
www.akardesign.com

Blue Dome Gallery, Silver City, NM
www.bluedomegallery.com

Boulder Arts and Crafts, Boulder, CO
www.boulderartsandcrafts.com

Harvey Meadows Gallery, Snowmass, CO
www.harveymeadows.com

Santa Fe Clay, Santa Fe, NM
www.santafeclay.com


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Mark Shapiro dries a thrown form with a weed burner
before shaping it further,
at Stonepool Pottery, Worthington, Massachusetts.

 

Faceted vase, 14 in. (35 cm)
in height, wood-fired salt-
glazed stoneware, 2007.

 

Teapot, 7 in. (18 cm) in
height, wood-fired salt-
glazed stoneware, 2007.

 

Bottle, detail, 12 in. (30 cm)
in height, wood-fired salt-
glazed stoneware, 2007.

 

Where to See More:

Stonepool Pottery,
Worthington, MA
www.stonepoolpottery.com

Ferrin Gallery, Lennox, MA
www.ferringallery.com

Lacoste Gallery, Concord, MA
www.lacostegallery.com

Mark Shapiro: Hard Work, Soft Clay (top of page)

 

I built my kiln in 1988. There was nothing I wanted more than to make pots every day, to work in the studio without interruption. I quit my carpentry day job a few years later, after my first American Crafts Council (ACC) wholesale show. It seemed an incredible privilege that I could make a living doing what I loved.

Each generation responds to and shapes the evolving environment through which they move. I started doing juried retail craft shows at a time when they had fairly consistent energy and profitability. I had a string of lucky years in which I did some of the best of them, while keeping a dozen or so wholesale accounts that I’d take each year at the ACC show in Baltimore. I was always trying to balance ordered wholesale pots with pots that I’d make for shows. My income has been supplemented by annual studio sales and occasional purchases from visitors to a small showroom I built. (I have no signage and do not advertise, so people have to seek me out.) At one point, I had ambitions of focusing on showroom sales, being the local potter, but I think I lacked some of the sustained sociability for that role. I was single then, and put all my profits into renovating my house, improving my studio buildings, and buying and fixing equipment.

At a certain point, I wanted to make pots that would be seen together as a coherent body of work. I was also beginning to make larger work and, as my relationships with galleries developed, I felt I had to choose between representing myself (at craft shows) and developing relationships with galleries that were investing in my career. I stopped doing craft shows around 2000 and have since been selling work through gallery exhibitions, my studio and at special venues such as the Old Church pottery sale in Demarest, New Jersey. My income has become even less predictable than when I did shows and wholesale, but somehow the pots find homes and bills eventually get paid. As a gallery artist, I find myself asked to spend more time on things that supplement the work-producing images, writing and speaking and attending events. All take time and energy.

For a dozen years or so, I’ve been teaching workshops, and this continues to be a significant source of both income and community. While preparation, travel and the time away interrupt the flow of studio work, I love teaching, the way working with clay enlivens and brings people together. It’s always exciting to meet a student who feels the same urgency to make pots that I felt. I try to bring some pots to sell at workshops. Often, that makes it possible to teach at places that cannot afford my day rate.

Along the way, I became interested in ceramic history, in particular, the early American salt-glazed pots produced in the region where I live. This has led me to meet collectors, dealers, archaeologists, curators and historians-a wholly different community of clay enthusiasts. I’ve become an advocate for this under-recognized ceramic heritage. This has opened up into other projects: documenting the thoughts and words of contemporary potters I admire and some critical writing. These activities take time away from the studio too (and are often even less remunerative), but they engage and expand other dimensions of the mind and bring different information into my pots. Thinking about excellent pots and trying to articulate what it is that makes them compelling challenges me to reach for a higher standard in my own work.

One of the reasons why I am able to continue without an outside job is that our-now I have a family-overhead is fairly low. I bought a house that was like a shipwreck before all this real estate inflation and began my slow salvage operation. Like the ad for that brokerage firm says, I renovated this place one mug at a time. I have always tried to stay away from debt, except for the mortgage. I buy used equipment and spend a lot of time maintaining it-sometimes this is pound foolish. The initial kiln, kiln shed and studio renovation were completed with the help of Sam Taylor and Michael Kline, with whom I worked for a dozen years, trading a variety of in-kind services for use. While not always simple, pooling resources worked on many levels to boost initially weak prospects. Not only were there enough hands, but there was plenty of energy, encouragement and needed criticism-plus a larger group of friends and relations who couldn’t refuse to show up for our early sales.

So much physical work takes a toll. Throwing is repetitive and asymmetric on your joints-so many potters have lower back issues, especially on the side of their dominant hand. I have been throwing standing-and seated on a treadle wheel for trimming and throwing off the hump-for the last twenty years, which has helped my back. I also try to use the softest clay possible for the pot I’m making. The softer the clay, the less resistance it has to shaping and the less stress there is on the body. For small bowls and the like, the clay I use is so soft it feels like you only have to look at it to move it. Of course, for taller and thinner forms I use the harder stuff, but I’ve taken to using a powerful propane torch-a weed burner, in fact-that I think of as fixative, enabling me to use softer clay, but adding stiffness where I need it. This has also opened up new possibilities of form and scale.

For the last fifteen years, I have worked with a series of apprentices-another form of pooling resources. He or she helps with the heavy lifting around the studio and brings in a shot of youthful energy. I have the satisfaction of sharing my knowledge and watching them develop as potters and people.

We all have to contend with the higher cost of being alive-increased housing, health care, energy and even food costs, not to mention (for those recently out of school) big student loans. Permits for kilns and buildings are becoming the norm and can be difficult and expensive to get. It’s all harder to do without institutional support. On the other hand, the Internet, the trend toward local artisanal products, and a general reconsideration of the human and environmental costs of corporate production and consumption, plus the movement of some craft galleries into the higher end of the market, are changing the context in which handmade pots are perceived and opening up new, diverse opportunities for potters to make a living.

This vocation has always demanded extraordinary skills, energy and tenacity. More than once, a customer has commented that it must be so much fun to be a potter. I hope that is due to a sense of playful wonder that they see in the work. Making things, especially out of a material as sensual as clay, evokes fantasies of a kind of pleasant messing about. But words like fun or play, to me imply a social dimension; studio work, in spite of its many pleasures, is fundamentally something else, something more solitary, sustained and rigorous. I am reminded of a response by the painter Chuck Close to the question, “Where do you get your inspiration?” “Inspiration is for amateurs,” he quipped, “The rest of us just show up.” It is hard work, but I still love showing up.


 

 





John Glick slip decorating 26-inch plates at Plum Tree Pottery, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.


Handbuilt plate, 141/2 in.
(37 cm) square, stoneware,
with imprinted clay detailing
and multiple glazes,
reduction fired, 2007.


Unfired floral arrangers.


Floral arrangers, to 12 in.
(30 cm) in height, thrown
and handbuilt stoneware,
with multiple glazes,
reduction fired, 2007.


Where to See More:

Red Lodge Clay Center, Red Lodge, MT
www.redlodgeclaycenter.com

The Clay Studio, Philadelphia, PA
www.theclaystudio.org

Pewabic Pottery, Detroit, MI
www.pewabic.com

AKAR Design, Iowa City, IA
www.akardesign.com

The Works Gallery,
Philadelphia, PA
www.snyderman-works.com

Plum Tree Pottery,
Bloomfield Hills, MI
http://johnglick.com


John Glick: Foundation Stones (top of page)

Dear Mr. Glick,

I had loved your work and purchased a 16-inch plate about 25 years ago. Workers in my home accidentally broke it and I am devastated. I need to determine the value of this plate and I wonder if you can help with this problem.

Sincerely, Gloria Smith

 

Dear Mrs. Smith,

Such a plate today would be approximately $450 to replace.

John Glick

Dear Mr. Glick

Thank you for your feedback. At your suggestion, I have asked for reimbursement of the amount you stated. I do hope I can find a plate as wonderful at your gallery.

Best regards, Gloria Smith

Dear Mrs. Smith,

Any plate from this phase of my work will be notably different than one from 25 years ago. But, then, that is why I am still at work making things-the fun of exploring new ideas!

Thanks, John Glick

That was an e-mail exchange that took place recently (I have changed the name of the client for privacy reasons). It struck me as I began this task of writing about core issues in my beliefs about potting for a living that what mattered to me was to keep my focus on things I have come to think of as the foundation stones in my professional life. One thing is for sure; having been at this for 43 years, I know that what keeps me interested is exploring ideas that motivate me.

So, if I were to say where my artistic recharging comes from, I would say it comes every day that I work. I feel blessed that my way of working has formed itself around allowing “surprises” to occur on a regular basis and the playful pursuit of things that are born out of the question “what if?” This leads to color changes, shape variables, turning things around to see other options, surprises, changing the rules-having no rules. So, the e-mail exchange above speaks to the reasons why I continue to work this way; it feeds my enthusiasm.

It is tempting to consider trying to lay out a plan about how to survive creatively in a career in clay. I could list a series of “must do” things that would help ensure survival both financially and emotionally. Frankly, I didn’t do that during those heady days in 1964 when I rented a building and began Plum Tree Pottery. I wonder if anyone really does such strategic planning at the outset?

From the safety of hindsight, there have been things that have helped knit together my sense of wellbeing as an artist over the past 43 years. Here are some for consideration:

Having a Showroom

My studio showroom has been my window to an ever-growing and changing cross-section of supportive clients. Some families have been using my work for over three decades, meaning that at special times I may see family members from all three generations during one visit. My heart is often melted by the goodwill felt during such visits. Seeing folks sitting on the floor of my showroom poring over choices, chortling over discoveries and passing pots back and forth with one another-great moments for the soul! Countless times, I have returned to work reassured that this way of interacting with my supportive clientele has a wonderful impact on my life.

Consider the almost daily feedback from a wide range of clients over so many years. This has been a wonderful, ongoing, real-world education, since I am privileged to observe people reacting to the evolutions in my work year in and year out. Naturally, not everyone is uniformly pleased with the changes that occur in some aspects of my work. But, almost to a person, I sense an acceptance and respect for the fact that in my studio, the work will evolve and old favorite phases of work a client recalls will not be revisited.

Gallery Involvements

For wider community involvement, I have worked with galleries throughout my career. But I have kept the numbers of such involvements low so that I never feel driven or tempted to make work aimed at satisfying an external demand, which could potentially diminish the feeling of inner commitment to my natural working process and the resultant pots. So, I do have a desire to be in good company with other artists whose work I respect in clay gallery settings, but only in moderation.

Working Rewards; Daily Experiences

When I know I am on the right path in my work process, I notice clues that have become like old, welcome friends showing up during the quiet moments, when I am alone in the studio. I especially love the pre-dawn moments when I re-encounter pots from the previous workday, perhaps waiting for further resolution. Magical.

A recent session produced a large series of constructed floral arranger vessels. (See the image below of raw vessels and a fired example.) They were engaging to do and surprisingly effortless in the making, which is exactly what I want to happen since it is my instinctive way of working. The pots seem to make themselves.

I think the hardest feelings for any artist to engender and protect are those of joy and discovery while working. I have observed the long careers of many colleagues in the arts and what fascinates me is how different artists keep their creative spirits alive. Some seem to do it on what I think of as a microcosmic level; I observe tiny explorations carried out over a long span of time. Other times I see huge leaps of discovery make their way into the workflow.

All this is good, all worthwhile for moving along a path where pleasure in the making for the artist is encouraged-and in the eye and soul for the viewer/user who can find their own rewards in work that comes from a challenged and evolving maker.


 

 






Ayumi Horie works at the
wheel in her Cottekill, New
York studio.

 

Cup, 4 in. (10 cm) in height, earthenware with sgraffito decoration and glaze, fired
to cone 02, 2008.


Plate, 101/2 in. (27 cm) in diameter, earthenware with sgraffito decoration and
glaze, fired to cone 02, 2008.


Postcard image of a cowboy drinking coffee out of a mug
by Horie. Photo: Chloe Aftel.

Where to See More:

www.ayumihorie.com

Greenwich House Pottery,
New York, NY

www.greenwichhousepottery.org

Harvey Meadows Gallery,
Aspen, CO

www.harveymeadows.com

High Falls Merchantile, High Falls, NY

www.highfallsmercantile.com

Variegated, Catskill, NY

www.variegated.etsy.com

ReForm School, Los Angeles, CA

www.reformschoolrules.com

Ayumi Horie: Pots in the Real World (top of page)

 

The first time it occurred to me that I could actually be a potter was as a twenty-one-year-old, visiting a friend in Spain who was staying with a potter. At five in the morning, when I would start her kiln, the air was still cool and the lemon tree in the yard fed the idealism I had about what my life could be. While it’s not a lemon tree in my back yard now but dogwoods and lilacs, I have managed to hold on to some of the idealism I felt then, and it encourages me to keep making a living doing this.

Being a studio potter is a much more challenging and complicated job than I imagined then, mostly because of the many different skills required for running a small business. Bookkeeping, computer and teaching skills are all necessary, on top of the demands of developing the work. What suits me best about this job is the chance to set my own schedule and goals; every morning I make a list of the different projects I have going and what needs to happen in order to move them along.

I have had an operation for tendonitis in my wrist, and this has made me acutely aware of the limitations of my body. I no longer work twelve straight hours, making pots for days on end like I used to. Typically, I work six or seven ten-hour days per week, with anything less making me feel like a bit of a slouch.

The fact that my living room and kitchen open into my studio blurs all lines between work life and non-work life, creating a daily struggle for balance. I break up my work sessions with trips to the computer, woodstove, garden, laundry, kitchen and to the couch to visit my couch-potato dog. At times these things are distractions, but mostly they allow me to bring my world back into my work. Because my strongest work comes out of time when I am intensely focused in the studio, I am protective of my private time. Apart from my assistant, who comes in a day or two a week, I’m content to pass my work days alone. My solitude has been balanced over the years with a ceramics community that is the warmest, most generous community I’ve known. My assistants are also indispensable to steady production and good company, doing everything from preparing clay, mixing glazes, glazing work and loading kilns, to photographing and shipping.

Intense work periods in the studio are sandwiched between six or seven work-related trips each year. Getting out of the studio often re-ignites my desire to work. About every eight years, I travel to Japan and am fed for the next eight by my complete fascination with its visual culture. My recent trip has made me wonder how I can use abstract devices, like the red text boxes used in ukiyoe (a genre of Japanese woodblock prints), together with literal images to underscore the fact that the surface of a pot is an acknowledgment of the time and way in which it was made, rather than an illusion of the world.

Six years ago, I bought an old church and attached building and spent the next three years doing a full-time major renovation. Making daily aesthetic decisions about objects and details (i.e., fixtures, shingles, gutters) unrelated to clay increased my awareness of my own aesthetic in a way that would never have happened by solely working in the studio.

When, at twenty four, I finally decided that clay was the right medium for me, it was because I realized that doing what made me happiest was my only option for making a living. I used to think with cynicism that marketing was crucial in a competitive art and design world, but recently I’ve come full-circle back to the conclusion that there is no substitute for making good, interesting work. My advice to people getting into ceramics is to take the time to make their best work, to raise the bar on quality, to discard seconds and to not sell anything before it has integrity. Cultivate your work above all else and find a way to keep working every single day, even if the studio situation is not ideal. Residencies like those at the Archie Bray Foundation and the Watershed Center are great places to help focus intention in work. Over the past year, I have consciously made less work in order to more carefully tend to the making of each pot.

The burgeoning interest in a handmade aesthetic, relating to the quirkiness of individual, intuitive decision-making is a great opportunity for potters to bring their work into the consciousness of a new generation of buyers and collectors. The slow food movement’s emphasis on quality of experience, as well as food, is a model that could serve potters very well. I think potters could even take over the world if we cooked as well as we made plates and bowls (and many do!).

When I think about how to make this a viable business for all of us, given the reality of material costs and land values, I think mainly about desire, value and pricing. Choosing to support individual artists has become a political choice, as is choosing to value their work by paying higher prices. We ought to challenge people about why they will balk at a $50 cup, yet spend $50 on a meal or $200 on a factory-made sweater. As it should be, this puts more responsibility on the artist to put their best work out there and in turn, this will then create desire and a new market for handmade pots.

The smartest business decision I ever made was setting up my website about six years ago at a time when most potters hadn’t yet created an online presence. As people became aware of the Internet as a research tool, I put effort into updating my website by using Dreamweaver and Photoshop and, as a consequence, I have saved quite a bit of money and time. I now have an amazing web designer, Kelly Curtis, who does the more complicated coding for me, so I can give my energy to other projects.

Two years ago, I started selling pots online and I now earn about half of my income from website sales. (The balance comes from my annual studio sale, group and solo shows, and through teaching workshops.) Photographing and reformatting images of a piece takes time, as does uploading information, but having 100% of the sale makes it worth the effort. An e-mail management company has also helped to expand my database by allowing customers to sign up for notification of new postings online, better targeting customers. Selling online makes me less dependent on the local market and makes my work more accessible to a wider audience, from New York to Australia.

My postcards are lenticular (3D) images of pots in real world situations, like a cowboy drinking steaming coffee out of my cup and winking at you, rather than the standard convention of shooting a pot in front of a value-graduated background. My philosophy about this has been twofold; to create a beautiful object (and sometimes funny) for its own sake so that people will want to keep it and to remind people how pots exist in the real world.


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