Working full time as a potter is a dream for a lot of people, and a reality for only some. It’s not an easy career path, even if it is a rewarding and creative one.
Working artists in general were on my mind when I traveled to the Republic of Korea last week to attend the opening for the Gyeonggi International Ceramics Biennale (GICB). I was a member of the biennale’s International Committee, and in addition to the advisory work, and seeing the finalized exhibitions, I took part in a ceramics-focused tour. This gave me the opportunity to meet a few working potters in different parts of the country. We visited potters as they fired their wood kilns in Oegosan Onggi Village. We also had the chance to watch Heongyu Kim, who has made a living as a potter in Gyeongju for over 30 years, demonstrate how he uses traditional Onggi tools and techniques in his studio to make a variety of forms using earthenware clay. During our tour of Yido Ceramics in Yeoju, we met some of the many potters who worked in the small dinnerware factory and showroom.
The six artists who are a part of this issue’s working potters focus write about how they have combined their studio know-how with business and marketing skills (learned from mentors or on the job) and personal strengths.
Malcolm Greenwood changed his focus in response to market realities in Australia and he now works almost exclusively creating tableware for restaurants, hotels, cafes, and shops. For Anderson Bailey, life as a working potter involves combining a line of studio work with a collaborative line of slip-cast production work he makes with his wife, Jessie Bean.
While the other artists featured have more traditional studio practices, their sales and marketing strategies vary depending on their locations, lifestyles, and interests. Amelia Stamps has decided to target local and regional fairs, markets, shops, and galleries within driving distance. Steven Rolf has built his career on working with both individual collectors and galleries in his region. Jeremy Ayers has found that half of his sales come from businesses he has approached directly, and that a diverse marketing approach works best for him. Kristin Pavelka is at a transitional point in her career, rebuilding her business and studio after moving across town.
The visit to Korea confirmed for me that there are many ways to approach making a living as a potter. The artists I met there, and the artists we had an opportunity to work with for this issue of the magazine have made it a viable career choice. Along with creativity and technical skills it requires a focused intent, hard work, and a business plan that evolves out of experience and takes personal interests into account.
–Jessica Knapp, editor.