This mug by Royce Yoder was the first pot I purchased that was made by a professional potter. His studio is located close to where I went to undergraduate school (Kutztown University) in Pennsylvania. Up to that point, I had acquired pieces through trades with fellow students. We put up with (and teased one another about) the wonky aspects of each others’ pieces as we used them. In contrast, I remember thinking how Royce’s mug was a pleasure to use (and many years later, it still is). I was impressed with the balance of the handle, the minimal foot (I hated trimming), and the fact that it was sturdy, but not too heavy.
Josh Manning, one of the working potters featured in this issue, recounted when he first realized that making pottery could be a career path. Once he started working with clay in high school, he was hooked. Then he started to notice that people in his area, near Floyd, Virginia, who were making a living that way. When I read that, I was reminded that I was similarly amazed, excited, and inspired to learn that Royce earned his living as a potter. He had a house, a studio in a barn, and supported a family by making and selling pots.
This mug by Royce Yoder was the first piece I purchased that was made by a professional potter. See more of his work here: https://royceyoder.com. Photos: Forrest Sincoff Gard.
The stories that self-employed artists share about the decisions that made their careers possible are always informative and often instructive. Each of the working potters in this issue has built a career that reflects their creative and practical needs, and they derive their primary income from making pots. José Sierra has a mobile studio and has learned to embrace firing in electric kilns, as that fits his family’s current situation. Josh Manning chose to settle close to home, rather than take an opportunity to join a fellow potter and set up shop in a different region. Zak Chalmers wanted a rural studio with a wood kiln, and has built a local and regional customer base even though his home and studio are 2 miles down a dirt road in Victoria, Australia. Hitomi and Takuro Shibata traded Shigaraki, Japan for Seagrove, North Carolina, to help start up STARworks Ceramics, and they discuss the benefits of each.
In addition to the Working Potters focus, this issue includes the story of Bob Briscoe’s move to a new home and studio as Matt Krousey takes ownership of Briscoe’s former property, as well as Bob’s role as a host on the St. Croix Valley Pottery Tour. They talk about what it takes to make a successful transition, knowing when to make a change in your career, and how to value a pottery business.
After experiencing the negative effects of gentrification and wanting a larger space to expand her business, our Spotlight artist, Karin Kraemer, knew she needed a change. She moved her studio from a space in Superior, Wisconsin, to a building she purchased in an arts-oriented neighborhood in Duluth, Minnesota, just across the river. Her customers can still visit her easily, the studio is larger, and the environment is more creative.
If you’re looking into starting a career as a self-employed artist, these stories will help you see the possibilities out there, and perhaps focus in on an area where you’d like to work, or where you would have the best support network. Perhaps the ways these artists have customized their careers to adapt to their needs, build on their strengths, and sell their work could be a model for your own business.
Above all, after reading the stories these artists shared in this issue, I took away a sense of awareness about the importance of recognizing and valuing the ways that finding or cultivating a creative community (and lots of persistent, hard work) provide a foundation for an artist’s growing career, and sustain it over time.