Just the Facts
local earthenware and stoneware clays, small-batch porcelains mixed with local earthenwares, and a commercial mid-range dark stoneware
Primary Forming Method
Primary Firing Temperature
wood firing, 2350°F
Favorite Surface Treatment
Apple music and Pandora, anything the Reverberation Appreciation Society is playing
My studio is located outside Taos, New Mexico, on the way to the Taos Ski Valley and an hour and a half from Santa Fe, New Mexico. The property was purchased in 2006 with the dream of expanding a one-car garage into a much larger working studio with a variety of kilns. Over the course of 2015, this dream came to fruition. My current work space is 1500 square feet. The studio is completely offset, boasting a 10-kilowatt solar array; it is pitched to the south to allow passive solar gain in the winter. A large part of the materials for building the studio were salvaged from friends over the years and it took a buddy and me about a year to build. With the help from my good friend Justin Lambert I was able to put together plans for a smokeless anagama with an attached charcoal chamber built from various sizes of brick from all over the four corners region (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah). The front third of the studio is a showroom exhibiting pieces from my three different lines of work: wood, salt, and single-fired white stoneware. The middle third is the making space, flanked by two wheels, benches, and work tables. There is also a combined bathroom, photo booth, and library extending off the south side. The back third of the studio is unheated and holds the kilns, pugger mixer, and slab roller. This has a garage door that opens out to a shed, which houses a clay processing and finishing area. There is an attached wood shed off the end of the building and right next to that is the kiln shed housing the anagama and salt kiln.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I am primarily self taught in ceramics and originally moved to Taos to help build a clay community and rebuild an anagama salvaged from brick from a coal-fired electrical energy plant in southern Colorado. At that time, I took over Taos Clay, a community studio educating tourists and the locals about ceramics. I organized classes, a summer workshop series, and an artist residency, built wood and charcoal kilns, as well as a gallery.
The most helpful thing about being self taught is that pursuing an education in other things besides clay helped me understand how passionate I was about clay. I started to understand that passion and how it creates its own drive. I bought books without worrying about the cost. I would take workshops because I was hungry for more knowledge.
I took ceramics and learned some skills in high school in Durango, Colorado and at the University of Colorado Boulder. I had great teachers who were encouraging and also had a passion for clay. However, I was intimidated to pursue making ceramics as my sole livelihood. Most of the potters at the time were commercial production potters working with gas kilns. I wasn’t aware of atmospheric kilns like salt, soda, or wood. The lifestyle of the potters making a living within my circle made it discouraging to pursue.
Once I started to see wood-fired pots and understand flashing in salt and soda kilns, I was confident that making pots would be fulfilling. It was just understanding how to do it.
Learning from all the artists giving workshops at Taos Clay helped immensely. Having my own gallery also helped immensely; I was able to try new things and test the marketplace. I started to develop a voice through informal critiques from my customers. I could stop making something if I got tired of it. I was surrounded by my work, so that I could analyze what I liked about it and what made it successful.
Being self taught I am constantly breaking the rules; it’s made me innovate with materials and ideas. I am influenced less by my peers and more by environment. I have had to come up with my own formula as to how I want to make a living, which has made it easier to critique myself and let go of things that didn’t work. I don’t mind taking risks with the work.
In 2014, I transferred Taos Clay to the current resident artist, Brandi Jessup and opened a retail gallery in downtown Taos. Taos Clay is still thriving and provides a great place to bring in new ideas and educate the community.
Working at Taos Clay was an incredible learning experience and provided me with the invaluable opportunity to learn from established potters and sculptors from all over the world.
Taos Clay helped me set up my own studio in several different ways. I was able to foresee how spaces could become holding areas for unfinished projects or unnecessary clutter, and learned how to effectively organize all the equipment, clay tools, and materials so they did their specific job and were not forgotten about or lost. It helped me to develop a systematic organization where everything has a designated place so that the most used items were the most accessible and that each item was in the right spot in relation to the workflow from making to firing. I also started to understand minimalism and its effectiveness in freeing up space for both clarity and cleanliness. Bringing different artists for workshops also helped me learn through conversations and the opportunity to ask questions.
In 2016, I decided to focus less on retail and more on making. I finally felt confident in my capabilities and insights to make the work.
Research and Inspiration
The studio is situated along a scenic road outside Taos known for its beauty and proximity to the mountains. I am able to go skiing, fishing, and biking right out of my studio doorstep.
I built the studio to be able to have more flexibility with my time and capitalize on my lifestyle. Working out of my studio next to the house, I am able to work at all hours, take on a larger production load and have more time to be creative. It is not unusual for me to go skiing or for a long ride and then make work late into the evening. Having the freedom to be inspired by these forages into the local New Mexico landscape makes the work stronger by kindling inspiration and a happy heart. It also helps me be on the lookout for new materials that I can use in my craft. Most of my clay is dug locally around Northern New Mexico, I search for clay deposits in road cuts, historically rich pottery areas, and in certain geological regions. I also integrate local irons, feldspars, and sands into the clay to promote flashing and create more depth and texture in the work. I also like the proximity of the studio to my house. It allows me to have after school visits from my daughters to do homework, help out, or relax.
At the moment, I sell my work in many different ways. A large part of it is sold directly out of my gallery a few miles up the road. I also work with chefs, restaurants, spas and farm shops. In the future, I would like to develop web sales, and a kiln opening event. When I am traveling I am always looking for galleries or shops that would do well selling my work, as well as trying restaurants that would be a good match for my pots.
I would advise others to always make time to experiment and try new things with each firing. Never rush the clay and ask yourself if the clay would be better off touched further along in the process.