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...
apprenticed with Chris Holmquist and Steve Guntner who had worked and
studied pottery in Japan and Norway, and I adapted to electric high
think this glaze was reddish from rice ash, a recipe Chris brought back
from Japan. Early use of squirted Hamada style pours... Probably
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…