50 years a potter:
written retrospective with historic pot photos

(first pot, high school, 1971--don't be discouraged by your first pots)
I have broken through the 50 year barrier as a potter, and wish to share a victory lap with you.  I started throwing pots in 1971 by hanging out in the art room in high school to be with friends.   When I went to St. Olaf College in Minnesota, it had pottery facilities but no instructor, so the more experienced students kept the gas kiln firing for the wannabees… I was rebuilding the gas kiln and running the studio by the time I graduated as an art major in 1975. 

sculpture, college days

sculpture from the same period, cone 10 gas fired.

covered jars, college, cobalt slip with scriffito done on the wheel.

I made several sculptures and a tall lamp encorporating planters into the design.

vase, 1975, helped win the heart of a fair maid...

I apprenticed with Chris Holmquist and Steve Guntner who had worked and studied pottery in Japan and Norway, and I adapted to electric high fire…

I think this glaze was reddish from rice ash, a recipe Chris brought back from Japan.  Early use of squirted Hamada style pours... Probably around 1977

 In two years I became a literal journeyman, setting up brief studios in Dennison Minnesota, Portland Oregon, and Chelan Washington, before settling down to Spirit Lake Idaho in 1983 which has been my sales studio ever since.

    Settling on one location, with feasible on site sales, was key to continuing as a professional potter.  Equally so was having a supportive spouse and family.   Although there were a lot of years with meager sales, in the long run being in one place led to a steadily increasing market. I really appreciate the many local families who shopped regularly and sent their visiting friends here also...

Vase from early 1980s (Joyce Baker collection)
    When my son graduated from Carleton College, University of Minnesota ceramics instructor and potter Warren MacKenzie was the keynote speaker.  He started teaching the year I was born (1953) and represented to me a success in stature I’ve never attempted to attain.  (It didn’t even occur to me to try to introduce myself to him, despite the fact I might have been the only parent there who was also a potter).  But I mention him because he spoke of the power and fickleness of chance in making a success of your life-- a possible lesson to the talented students setting off that day.
    Chance decreed that I was born in the middle of the baby boom, making jobs a bit dicey at the time I graduated (and self-employment more attractive).  I wandered by chance into making pottery, at a time that it wasn’t a likely career choice (is it ever?)  By good fortune our family health did not require expensive insurance that would have made living on so little impossible. 
    In recent years the struggling old mill town we moved to has benefited from Idaho’s becoming a major destination for migration, resulting in  many more new customers.   Covid is a challenge for art fairs and galleries in general, but our outside showroom with self service sales has proved to be popular throughout the last two years resulting in record growth. These things could not be predicted, but along with chance is will and determination.  It takes a lot of will to produce thousands of pots every year, as well as to sell the same.  It requires determination to figure out how to market, how to overcome materials and glaze composition issues, how to keep from turning yourself into a machine…

Crystalline glaze 1980s-2000s, lovely, but fickle, tending to slide off the pots, and proved to be an unstable glaze.
    Here are a few ways I’ve managed to thrive: 
    I never wanted to produce pottery that I couldn’t afford myself, so I’ve kept my prices low, and output higher…  As a result I think I’ve made about 150,000 pots over the years…
    Having a storefront pottery, I’ve found it helps to produce a variety of shapes and sizes in up to 15 decorations, to keep people coming back.  The decorations are simple and easy to repeat, but elegant from mastering their application.
    I have accepted wholesale orders, which are great when my stock is caught up but troublesome in the main summer season.  I have phased out sales on commission as they are a slow way to sell…
    Art fairs are great for volume sales, but hard work for potters with all the packing and carting… They can help get your name and work into the community, but I was happy to step back from that circuit long ago.

    After 50 years, the subject of retirement rears its weary head…  I don’t plan to retire unless physical issues force me into it.   But I don’t want to just be a manufacturer, either.  So I am cutting down on the parts I don’t like such as shipping and special orders, and adding in more time to enjoy nature, photography,  music, and leisure…