Just the Facts
white stoneware, Continental Clay B Clay
Primary forming method
wheel throwing, handbuilding, and drape molding
Primary firing temperature
cone 11–12 wood firing
Favorite surface treatment
texturing tools (rope, paddle, wiggle wire)
Podcasts: Radiolab, This American Life, Marc Maron WTF, Joe Rogan Experience. iTunes: Tyler Childers, John Fullbright, Levon Helms. Sirius XM Radio: Howard Stern, Dave Ramsey, Outlaw Country, Blues, Bluegrass.
treadle wheel, extended kiln shed for gas kiln, pugmill dies to extrude coils
In 2013, my wife and I made the decision to move from Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Jasper, Indiana, where our children and grandkids live, to build our forever home and studio. We originally discussed building a detached, three-car-garage that would serve as a studio; however, the layout of our property dictated a walk-out basement. This ended up being the perfect solution, allowing us to build a large and private 800-square-foot studio with big windows and French doors on the southwest facing wall of the house’s lower level. Since I’ve had several studios over the course of my life due to my many job relocations, I was able to gain insight into how to improve each future studio. Knowing this would be my forever studio, a lot of consideration went into the idea of growing older in the space and working smarter rather than harder. Some of my favorite features of this studio include an L-shaped work station around a double sink and an ergonomic glazing station with a lower level on two sides to keep buckets of glaze and slip at the optimum height for me. Another one is a racking system concept that I borrowed from Matt Gaddie of The Meadows Pottery, in Bardstown, Kentucky, which is adjustable and mirrors the interior of my kiln, helping me manage the amount of work needed for each firing.
The studio makes up 60–65% of the lower level of the house, with the garage/woodworking workshop and center storage room making up the balance. I have a 65-cubic-foot cross-draft kiln and fire to cone 11–12 over a 40-hour period, yielding approximately 200–225 pieces per firing. The kiln design has an internal firebox that offers flashing effects on pots closest to the firebox and flame-kissed glaze ware in the back, which I particularly love.
I have my studio set up for economy of steps and I tend to work in making/glazing/firing cycles. With that said, I have my wheels, wedging tables, and work tables in one centralized section, my glaze making station and glazing buckets close to the sink, and finished work displayed on racks installed along the studio wall.
My large studio gives me everything I need to be a functioning artist and since I work in cycles, all areas get used somewhat equally. My work cycle starts two weeks after a firing is completed. I spend 4–6 weeks making pots on the wheel and work tables. After bisque firing them, I move to glazing and slipping in the glaze area, which is then followed by the final firing. The most used item in my space is the large center work table, which is integral in all of my work cycles.
My studio is akin to what would be the family room in a traditional home with a walkout basement and has a traditional staircase coming down from the main level. We had a second stairway installed from the garage for hauling materials to the studio without needing to access the home. Finally, for larger items we had French doors installed leading from the studio onto an outdoor patio.
I’ve had approximately 8–10 studios over the years and none have had the beauty of this one. I love everything about it: beautiful landscape to view through huge windows, tons of work space all to myself, but most of all I love the hot running water.
In 2020 I’m planning to add on 6–8 feet to my kiln shed to house a smaller gas kiln that will share a chimney stack with the wood kiln. The gas kiln will most likely be built in 2021.
The beauty of a home studio lies in all the conveniences, like covering pots in the middle of the night and checking on a bisque firing during supper, etc. I would encourage everyone that makes pots to have a home studio; more time is invested in becoming a potter this way.
Paying Dues (and Bills)
I was first introduced to clay in junior high school at 13 years old and knew instantly I was hooked. I still remember carrying those first finished pots home, mesmerized by the magic of how the kiln transformed the raw glaze into the shiny finished product. After high school, I went to the University of Northern Iowa, in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where I earned a BFA (1984) with an emphasis in studio ceramics.
After college, my roommate and I moved to the picturesque river town of Galena, Illinois, where we started Galena Clayworks, which is still in operation today. I stayed in Galena making pots for a little more than a year, then moved back to Iowa with my first wife and ended up working for Earthworks Pottery in Alexander, Iowa, as a production potter. Earthworks was a well-known facility in Iowa at the time, with several apprentices and production throwers on staff.
After a little more than a year with Earthworks, we needed to move closer to family when our second daughter was born in 1987. I had to make a financial life decision because I wasn’t in a position to start my own pottery at that time, so my dream quickly became a hobby. Begrudgingly I knew this was the right decision for our family, so I went to a local manufacturer of engine components and took a factory job, promising myself that after a couple of years, I would return to making pottery full time.
As time went on, my manufacturing job became a management career, eventually morphing into leadership roles across four different industries. I ended my manufacturing career as vice president of operations with 1600 employees in 3 states manufacturing kitchen and bath cabinets. In 2013, I moved into a sales role so that I could work from home and move back to Indiana. During my 30+ year manufacturing career, I moved my family 11 times across 4 states, and I always kept a studio of some sort, spending much of my spare time making pots.
The decision to have a career outside the pottery field blessed us with a lifetime of financial stability and a funded retirement plan. Although counterintuitive, I personally feel young potters need to focus more on their long-term financial future before diving into the deep end and making pottery for a living, especially if there is borrowed money to make it happen. More often than not, I hear other artists preach the opposite path and I wouldn’t disagree if you are making this decision for yourself alone, but I was a family man, and I cared more about my family’s security than my personal needs. I also had no inclination to become a teacher, which seemed to be the best way to make it as a potter/artist at that time, so I felt the factory route was the only way for me to make ends meet.
When I discuss this with young potters today, I get a sense that the amount of time I put into making pots before and after work doesn’t seem palatable to them. Due to my schedule, this is the time I have had available, and in my opinion to become an above average potter who’s proficient at making pots, you need to put the time in.
Finally, for years I’ve been an advocate of the teachings of Dave Ramsey who teaches debt-free living. I preach his program to every young potter I come into contact with and believe it is truly lifesaving.
Working from home for both my day job and my studio life has been a blessing, as I’m an early riser and typically start my day job long before dawn, which allows me to transition in and out of my studio life throughout the day.
When working in the studio, I keep up with world news by listening to Sirius XM Radio newscasts, along with music on iTunes, and a group of comedy podcasts that at times have gotten me chuckling so hard I’ve ruined what I was working on. I’ve never been a big reader, but do listen heavily to self-improvement podcasts and audiobooks along with poring over my Ceramics Monthly and Studio Potter magazines. My wife and I also have eight grandkids who live close. They come out to make pots every chance they can and keep us busy outside the studio with all their school and sporting events.
Over the many years of making pottery, somehow the pots always seem to disappear through friends, family, shops, and fairs. With my other career paying the bills, my only real need for selling pots has been to invest back into my studio, allowing me to keep my prices very competitive. Currently I sell work though Etsy, art fairs, galleries, and involvement in Indiana Artisan, which is a state funded organization that recognizes and promotes the work of Indiana’s highest-quality artists.
Most Valuable Lesson
For the last 12 of my 30+ years in manufacturing, my job focused on process/flow improvement, which is now an integral part of my studio life. In my studio work cycles I try not to build up too many raw pots, since I use each firing as a learning tool for continuous improvement on the next cycle of work, helping me grow as an artist.
I also realized when working as a production potter that repetitive throwing to an exact dimension is key to making work later in life that doesn’t come across as sloppy. I love the Shoji Hamada quote, “Technique and skills must be absorbed, wrapped up, and put away to become an integral part of yourself that will be revealed in your work without thought.”